For as long as there has been an MLS, there have been fights about whether the traditional system of promotion and relegation would work for the league. And for as long as there have been pro/rel fights, there have been pro/rel fights on the Internet. So during this international break, with Austin FC news at a bit of a standstill, we here at The False 9 decided to gather together the veterans of these wars so that they could tell their own stories. And now, we are proud to present the first-ever oral history of people fighting online about promotion and relegation.
Editor’s note: in the interest of historical accuracy and personal safety, we have allowed our participants to identify themselves by their original screen names.
Part One: The Early Battles
TampaBayMutineer: What most people don’t realize is that arguing online about promotion and relegation actually predates MLS in this country. My grandfather used to tell me stories about logging onto government ARPANET machines in the late ‘70s and posting that a league pyramid was the last hope of saving the NASL. He eventually lost his security clearance because of it, but he never had any regrets.
JeffGreyGoose: Man, those fights when the league started [in 1996] were brutal. It was all done on newsgroups back then, so you’d have to log on to alt.sports.soccer.northamerica.unitedstates.leagues.professional.mls just to get a word in edgewise. By the time you finished typing all of that out, you were pissed.
PrekiForPrez: One time, I think it might have been the Spring of ‘97, I posted on a BBS that a closed league was the only way to guarantee significant financial investment in MLS. The next day a stranger emailed me a picture of himself wearing a Tab Ramos MetroStars jersey and nothing else. It took six hours to download.
Part Two: The AOL Wars
FutureMrsClintMathis: By the late ‘90s, a lot more people had gotten online, and so the fights became a lot more frequent. Log onto any MLS chatroom on the Internet and you’d get asked two questions: “ASL?” and then “Pro/Rel?” It was pretty creepy in retrospect.
JeffGreyGoose: Every time I hear the sound of a dial-up modem I’m instantly reminded of staying up until 3 in the morning fighting with some random dude about the long-term financial health of the Miami Fusion. It’s like Proust biting into a madeleine.
JoeMaxLess: I remember that the folks who wanted an open league started calling themselves the Proponents of Professional Promotion. After a while they developed a call-and-response whenever someone entered the chat.. “You down with PPP?” “Yeah you know me!” “Who down with PPP?” “Every last homie!” God, the ‘90s were stupid.
MastroenisDreds: One time this kid logged on and had us all convinced that he was Lamar Hunt’s grandson and that pro/rel would be implemented after the 2002 World Cup. He knew so much about the MLS league structure that he really had us going for a while. It turned out that he was actually Don Garber doing some kind of guerrilla marketing stunt. We’re still not sure what his objective was.
ChivasUSSR: For a few months my AIM away message was “Relegation-ers… mount up!” The [Warren G and Nate Dogg] song was only seven years old at the time, so it was pretty topical as far as away messages go.
MLS2Shreveport: My family actually signed up for CompuServe, so the chatroom was usually just me and Roger Ebert talking to each other. I could never convince him that it would take decades to build a tiered soccer system in this country, but he was pretty persuasive in his argument that late-period Fellini was largely underrated.
Part Three: The Fight Goes Social
DaddyDomKinnear: When Myspace came along, the arguments became a lot more personal. Suddenly every clown you went to school with could see that you wanted pro/rel in MLS. Damn, I lost a lot of good friends that way. And while we’re on the subject: go fuck yourself Brandon Feidersdorf, McKinley High class of 2004. I made out with your sister once.
WondoWoman: I remember for like a week all of us who wanted to keep it a closed league changed our profile pictures to this drawing of a pyramid with the red-circle-with-a-line-through-it thing. You know, like the Ghostbusters logo, but with a pyramid instead of a ghost? It looked pretty sweet. Anyway, we eventually got accused of promoting anti-Egyptian hatred and had to change all of our pictures back. I guess everyone was really on edge about that kind of stuff after 9/11.
EverybodyMarkChungTonight: Don’t even get me started on what was happening on Xanga. You know how many sonnets I wrote about bringing back the Rochester Lancers and giving them a path to promotion into MLS? Too many, my friend. Far too many.
MeAndMikeMagee: My old website, pro-rel-proposals.geocities.com, suffered so many DDoS attacks that I eventually pivoted to only posting MLS slashfic. Much less controversial, and MUCH more lucrative.
ChivasUSSR: The greatest thing that Zuckerberg ever did was to force people to use their real names when posting their shitty MLS takes. It made them really easy to doxx.
Part Four: The Past Ten Years, and the Battles Yet to Come
HerbalifeIsNotAScam: Twitter has been such a godsend for fighting about promotion and relegation online. It’s like a chatroom but no one has to interact in good faith and everyone can just scream into the void all at once. It’s the future we’ve always dreamed of.
SeventhMiamiDP: The mainstream media would have you believe that Tumblr started dying when they decided to ban porn, but that was just a false flag operation. The truth is that the site was a hotbed of pro/rel arguments and they needed to deplatform us. But seriously, I promise to stop fighting if they bring the porn back. Is there, like, a petition I can sign or something?
DaddyDomKinnear: For the last couple of years I’ve been developing AI-generated YouTube videos aimed at the three- to five-year-old demo to teach them about the English league pyramid. It’s really bleeding-edge stuff, you know? And it’s only resulted in one FBI investigation that I know of, so that’s pretty rad.
JozyAndThePussycats: I miss the time when I could hop onto 4chan and tell people who prefer a closed league that I would [redacted] their families with a rusty [redacted] and then [redacted] their [redacted] while setting fire to their [redacted] and make their [redacted] watch. Cancel culture has really gotten out of hand.
YouDontMessWithTheZlatan: Just imagine how awesome it will be when we take the fight to VR. I’m gonna wander around the metaverse all day long wearing a Tab Ramos MetroStars jersey and nothing else.
MastroenisDreds: You know, it’s just so easy these days for a bunch of imbeciles, drunkards, and degenerates to dump their every vapid MLS thought into a WordPress template and spew a torrent of idiocy onto an unsuspecting public. And you wanna know something else? It’s awesome.