A Cascadian Regional League?
Coach Jürgen Klinsmann’s recent suggestion that his US men’s national team would benefit from an 11-month MLS season didn’t account for a northeast winter, but MLS sides could look to Brazil’s state leagues as an inspiration for more competitive games. The Whitecaps are currently playing out their preseason in Arizona, but imagine taking on Seattle and Portland in a regional Cascadian league instead?
Brazilian clubs warm up for the domestic campaign by playing in their state league, a separate pyramid for each of the country’s 26 states distinct from the nationwide Serie A. These local championships were the primary competitions in the country until a unified league developed in the 1960s.
As an example, the Rio state championship is being played this year over several months by the top teams in the state, including top level teams like Flamengo and lower tier teams. Teams are relegated and promoted within the state leagues without it affecting their standing in the nation-wide league setup.
If North American soccer was to heed Klinsmann’s words with an extended preseason, we could do worse than playing out similar regional leagues in February.
Individual state leagues might work for places like California or Texas, where MLS teams Houston Dynamo and FC Dallas would take on the likes of San Antonio Scorpions from the NASL and USL new addition Austin Aztex.
Current infrastructure and scheduling issues might not allow for promotion and relegation, unless local regional leagues could be convinced to adjust their own preseason to work as an effective division two.
In the case of Cascadia, limited competition in each state would suggest a more regional approach. The Vancouver Whitecaps, Seattle Sounders, and Portland Timbers could be joined by the best and most willing teams from leagues like the NPSL, PDL and EPLWA.
I had a taste of what a Cascadian league might be like at the end of 2013, when I attended three Cascadian derbies in the space of two weeks involving all three of the local MLS teams with a game in each stadium.
This was made possible by a quirk in the fixtures calendar and the generosity of supporters’ groups like the Whitecaps’ Curva Collective, with whom I lifted the Cascadia Cup at Portland’s Providence Park.
It was mostly a friendly rivalry between fans of the Pacific Northwest’s MLS teams, but one thing was clear – each team was capable of bringing thousands of fans to each other’s cities.
It was reminiscent of leagues from smaller countries, where London-based club sides in the EPL are able to fill each other’s grounds for the city’s countless derby days.
A brief Cascadian league would see even more local rivalries and the associated ticket sales, while places like Eugene, Bellingham, and Victoria would benefit from the thousands of fans descending on their bars and restaurants when hosting one of the big three. The existing Cascadia Cup could even shift to this newly established bioregional tournament.
It may be fantasy at this point, but taking a page from Brazil’s state leagues to hold a Campeonato Cascadense could satisfy both Klinsmann’s desire for a longer season and MLS’ refusal to start any earlier than March. That schedule – based partly on the realities of winter in the northeast – needn’t prevent those cities who can play through the winter from taking on regional rivals in a competitive preseason.