On October 22, the Orange County (FL) Board of Commissioners voted 5-2 to approve Orlando City's proposed new soccer-specific stadium (with the $20M expansion fee already approved) that would confirm the club moves up from USL PRO to MLS as MLS's 21st team. It marks a return for MLS to the Southeast (though it does not quite penetrate the heart of the South (South Carolina, Georgia, Northwestern Florida/Central (East) Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, North Carolina, Southern/Southwestern Virginia)) for the first time since TB Mutiny and Miami Fusion ceased operations after the 2001 season.
But could it mean for promotion and relegation? It is easy to think that teams paying to play in MLS, rather than earn their way into MLS through their play in lower leagues, hurts the cause for USSF-wide promotion and relegation.
That is not completely the case. Orlando City is MLS's 21st team--which is above the FIFA-mandated 20-team limit for top flights. The English Premier League so many Americans watch now originally had more than 20 teams. In fact, the Englsih Premier League had 22 teams its first couple of seasons. But in 1994, FIFA ordered the FA to reduce the number of teams in the Premier League from 22 down to 20. Without teams folding and a promotion/relegation system in place, this was easily accomplished. Four teams would be relegated from the Premier League following the 1994-95 season and only two teams would be promoted from Division One of the Football League (now known as the Football League Championship).
FIFA may be under pressure to enforce the 20-team limit in top flights from MLS' plans to expand beyond 20 teams, but it is also under pressure from FIFPro (the FIFA players' association) to reduce the number of games overall, with players concerned with the amount of national team matches and international club tournaments like the CONCACAF Champions League, UEFA Champions League, Club World Cup, and Copa Libertadores, as well as league/FA-wide cups like the US Open Cup, Copa do Brasil, Copa MX, and the Capital One Cup.
What does this mean for USSF IF FIFA DECIDES TO ENFORCE A MAXIMUM LEAGUE SIZE OF 20 TEAMS? (This writer, and most of the soccer community does not believe FIFA will actually take meaninful action on this matter, since they haven't taken action on more egregious transgressions of FIFA rules. The rest of this piece could be read " if FIFA actually enforces this 'rule', this would happen".) It will have to reduce the number of teams in Division 1 (MLS) or risk being ineligible for international tournaments at both the club and national team level, or being passed over for future World Cup bids.
There are two ways (outside of the buyouts required to get out of "single entity") that this could happen, assuming no teams are disbanded.
The first way could be to protect the USSF "closed system" and remove the Canadian teams from the USSF structure (TFC, Ottawa Fury, IMFC, Vancouver Whitecaps, etc.) and have them integrate into the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) ladder as part of a new pyramid - which may help the CSA regain a sense of credibility.
The second way could be to force promotion and relegation between the top several tiers, assuming the NPSL is the de facto 4th tier. If it's just Orlando City that enters MLS (as well as the previously announced NYCFC), USSF can and will decide to have one more team relegated from MLS than promoted from the NASL. (This writer wants to see 4 teams down, 3 teams up--as a way to add extra drama to the MLS playoff race.) The NASL teams promoted will be replaced by an equal number of teams relegated from NASL and replaced from USL PRO (with the caveat that U-23/MLS reserve sides in the pyramid will be relegated if the senior team is relegated to the division of the reserve side), and so on.
Using this writer's choice of 4 teams being relegated from MLS and 3 promoted from NASL following the 2014 season (assuming just NYCFC and Orlando City are joining in 2015), we could see teams like Chivas USA, TFC, DC United, or the Philadelphia Union all relegated from MLS - with New York Cosmos, Ft. Lauderdale Strikers, and ATL Silverbacks (or any other successful NASL team next season) promoted. As an example, on the other end, we could see Indy Eleven & Minnesota United relegated from NASL and replaced by Charleston Battery and Charlotte Eagles (for now). MLS at (21 + 3 - 4) = 20 teams. The NASL at (10 + 4 - 3 - 2 + 2) = 11 teams, USL at (14 + 2 - 2 + X promoted from NPSL - X relegated from USL PRO to NPSL) = 14 teams.
If any other division's size needs to be adjusted (or two divisions need to be merged), promotion/relegation would be easier than forming separate leagues and recruiting new teams - just use the teams that are already there.