Even though MLS is old enough to drive and can legally drink pretty soon, discussing promotion/relegation is like recommending Rogaine and hip replacements for toddlers. It’s too soon.

“I think it’s still a challenge,” FC Dallas head coach Oscar Pareja said after his team beat the Colorado Rapids 1-0 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park last Saturday. “As much as I want the league to keep growing, it has to make sense. We still have some franchises that are getting stronger in the community and we would like to be more solid. It’s probably too early.”

Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni identified the economic elephant in the room.

“Owners wouldn’t buy into franchises if they knew they might go down to Triple-A, for example,” Mastroeni said. “I think that has to be a part of the culture. The clubs over in Europe and South America have had it for so long, it’s an understood aspect of the game. Knowing you could potentially lose a hundred million dollars without TV rights next year would be a hard thing for any investor to swallow.”

The bucks stop here, and a string of issues go far beyond money. For one, where is “here?” You can’t say “U.S.” because the Whitecaps, Toronto FC, and Impact will correct you. You can’t say “MLS” either because the presumption is to immediately fill the lower tiers with teams from non-MLS cities. As the U.S. Open Cup has shown us since MLS began, plenty of teams want to challenge this presumption. Or, if you restrict it to MLS, without a reserve league and 60-men rosters for each club, you can’t fabricate a first and second division using the busy-bees of the collective hive. And you can’t propose a NAFTA-type solution because Liga MX already has a promotion/relegation system.

In the meantime, the 100-year-old U.S. Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League will have to satisfy curious fans looking for Cinderella stories that challenge the boundaries between the Good, the Better, and the Best.

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