What Might a Brazil-Style Regional League System Look Like in the USA?

Article by Ben Griffis

Before the national championships each year, Brazilian soccer clubs compete in their State tournaments. These are leagues including only clubs from each state (São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, etc.). These leagues have promotion and relegation, although the specific format varies (round-robin, groups, etc.).

MLS Buzz had an idea that I decided to run with… What if the US, with a closed top division, formed a state/regional league system, including all clubs from the MLS, USL, NPSL, and NISA?


To do this, I used Wikipedia to get a list of teams in the MLS, MLS Next Pro, USL Championship, USL League One, USL League Two, NISA, NISA Nation, and NPSL. My list is as up to date as I can find, but there may be a few clubs missing (or defunct ones that have folded recently). For the purpose of this idea, it does not need to be exact, just fairly accurate, which I’m certain it is. The list includes 348 clubs (I didn’t realize we had so many!) and includes MLS reserve teams and the few USLC youth teams as well.

Next, I used Google Maps to get the latitude and longitude of every stadium for the clubs. For clubs with no stadium yet or if I couldn’t find info, I just used their city’s coordinates. Close enough works, as a difference of a few miles is fine.

Then, I used QGIS to help me come up with the initial regional boundaries by performing a K-Means cluster. This basically spit out groups of clubs. I then went in and manually adjusted some groupings, and split a few clusters which were too large.

Overall, I have 15 regions. I tried to make sure that either the Clustering algorithm or my manual changes kept some geographic/cultural boundaries (such as where to split the “East” and “West” Rust Belt – being from this region helped me subjectively do that!)


I’m not the best at names, so none are that original. Some regional leagues naturally have more teams than others, but overall these groups could be a relatively realistic distribution.


All but the Appalachian region, which has just 12 teams, can be divided into at least 2 separate leagues with promotion and relegation. I’ve split the regions into roughly equal-sized leagues (usually 2, sometimes 3) that you can see in this Google Sheet. For a sample, I just put all MLS, USLC, and USL1 teams in the first division, and then put the other teams in the 1st tier or 2nd tier by league or random selection after that. The point of this article is to show a sample, not to attempt to create per-defined leagues, so a weak USL2 team in a region may be in the 1st tier when a stronger USL2 team in the 2nd tier should be in its place… that wouldn’t happen in real life but I can’t track almost 350 teams!

Again, here’s the Google Sheets link.

Below is a screenshot showing the Southern, Rust Belt East & West, and Prairie regional leagues. Like most pro-rel leagues that have senior and academy sides in the pyramid, I would think academy teams in this fantasy US regional system would not be able to play in the same league as their senior side. Those teams are auto-placed in the league below their senior side. In the case of the senior side being relegated to the lowest tier, we would just make an exception that year.

These are also rough leagues. Some regions you could separate further into more geographic-based groups whose group winners play the other group winners for the regional title. Or you could separate some of the 12+ team divisions into further divisions and have a 4-tier system… There are tons of clubs in most regions that there are countless possible forms.

Final Thoughts

Overall, a region-based tournament in the US, taking place before the national league seasons, would not only be fun to watch but it would likely help the development of the game in the country. An MLS team playing away to a USL League Two side each year would bring eyes and likely new fans to the local clubs. This would also increase the number of times amateur or semi-pro players get to play against fully-professional players, helping to develop them and maybe earn a pro contract or a trial at an MLS club.

Even if a league system (instead of a knockout cup like the US Open Cup) would make it nearly impossible for a non-MLS team to win the title, this regional system could do wonders for the level of play in leagues below the MLS as well as for the sport itself.

It’s likely unrealistic, but it’s a very interesting thing to think about.

One thought on “What Might a Brazil-Style Regional League System Look Like in the USA?

  1. Love the idea. I am not sure if Canada teams fit in this though. I think Florida, Texas, and California should have their own leagues for sure just within that state. Maybe SoCal and NoCal champs can play a match for overall CA championship. You can regionalize the others. I think your google sheets listing is fantastic. I will forward this link for sure to multiple twitter and youtube comments sections.


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