U.S. Soccer’s PLS (Professional League Standards) sound good when you first hear about it, but as you learn more you see how it they can actually hold the game back.
The US Soccer Federation instituted the PLS in 2010 for good sounding reasons like protecting the safety of fans, preserving the experience of the game (e.g. field size requirements), to help make sure the teams are well financed to protect pro players from not getting paid and providing markets stable teams.
Some things the PLS dictates are the minimum number of teams a league can have, the population size of the area where the teams play and the minimum number of seats needed in stadiums.
I’d like to illustrate one negative unintended consequence of these standards.
The Kansas City market has a Division 1 (MLS) and Division 2 (USL) soccer, both operated by Sporting KC/MLS.
The Division 2, USL team, Swope Park Rangers, used to play their home games in an easily accessible, small, quaint venue with 2,000-3,000 seating capacity.
This field sits in a complex where youth teams play and has hosted Kansas City’s former NWSL team, college championships, the DA championships last summer, as well as USL’s Swope Park Rangers (see below).
It was a nice, convenient alternative to Sporting KC. Low key, easy to get to and made for a nice relaxing, and inexpensive evening of soccer.
I coached on other fields at the youth complex while Swope Park Rangers and NWSL games were going on and encouraged players to go watch after our game.
I saw youth and their parents walk across the street and pay the $5 so sit on the grass berm to enjoy and learn from high-quality soccer being played on this field.
But, that venue did not have the minimum number of seat required in the PLS for a Division II team, so mid-season last year, the Swope Park Rangers moved their home games to Sporting KC’s home field to satisfy the requirement.
That quaint, small soccer atmosphere now looks like this:
The empty, cavernous feel makes you a little sad for the players and fans.
You can dictate the number of seats a stadium can have, but you can’t dictate that they be filled with fans.
Swope Park Rangers were better off at their previous field as was the Kansas City soccer community, for having this convenient alternative.
Sporting KC fills the above stadium for its games and Swope Park Rangers used to draw a pretty good crowd to make for a nice atmosphere at its previous venue.
They also lack the convenient draw of the youth players in the same complex.
In my opinion, if US Soccer wants to grow the game, it needs to stop doing dumb stuff like this.