US stars set to depart lowly Rangers

US stars set to depart lowly Rangers

Published Jul. 13, 2012 1:00 a.m. ET

Three American players had their future thrown into doubt today in Scotland as Glasgow Rangers were condemned to the fourth division.

Carlos Bocanegra, Alejandro Bedoya and Maurice Edu are all expected to depart the former SPL club for other pastures after Scottish football’s clubs voted 25-5 to send one of the world’s best-known teams onto the bottom rung of the professional ladder.

The Rangers case has thrown Scottish football into disarray, and it is unclear what the team’s future is.

In a prepared statement, Rangers said on their website that: “Rangers' future remains uncertain after the Scottish Football League clubs voted against the Light Blues playing in the First Division next season.


“At a meeting at Hampden today, the 30 member clubs agreed to accept Rangers into the SFL but voted against the SFL Board being allowed to broker a deal with the SPL and SFA over new structures and procedures which would also include Rangers playing in Division One.

“It was mooted last week that plans for an SPL2 would swing into action in the event of today's outcome but it is not known if this will be the case.”

The so-called “SPL2” would consist of a radical restructuring of Scottish football, consisting of a pyramid system and two 14-team professional tiers, expected to be expanded to 16.

Rangers have had long ties to the United States. The immensely popular club played host to the likes of Claudio Reyna. New Jersey-born Hugh O’Neill – a little known former NASL player – is credited with breaking the religious segregation barrier at the club; Rangers failed to inquire if he was Catholic. Recently, Bocanegra, Edu and Bedoya have all prospered at the club, and Rangers were making some inroads into the American marketplace as a result.

Now, that is all in doubt. Even the Scottish brand of the sport itself is in crisis. It is widely thought that the money the league gets from rights sales– currently $24m a season – will be reduced dramatically without the viewership draw of the Old Firm games. Rangers are now unlikely to face their bitterest rivals, Glasgow Celtic, for at least three years.

There has been no question about the gravity of this decision. It has been front-page news in this small nation for months. Opinions are as common as rain and just as difficult to avoid. Most painful of all is the siege the game is now under without one of Scotland’s biggest economic engines.

Scottish soccer has been in a long decline with the ascendance of the Barclays Premier League to its south and many clubs are barely breaking even. Average attendance in the league is a healthy-seeming 13,800 – which looks far worse upon noting that Celtic and Rangers combined draw nearly 100,000 fans a week. Remove those outliers and the SPL only is able to draw about 5,000 fans a game.

Without Rangers, Scotland’s only marquee matchup on the world stage - the famed Old Firm derby - disappears, and that is just when they play Celtic. It also dissolves several big gates for the other 11 clubs in the league where Rangers matchups would have been. In fact, prior to today’s vote, several clubs confessed that without Rangers in the top flight, they will struggle to keep their doors open.

But, Rangers’ problems are of their own making. Rangers used a tax-avoidance scheme that was found to be illegal by the government and subsequently liquidated and bankrupted, creaking under unsustainable debt. The bare-bones of the company were acquired by a consortium led by Charles Green, but under soccer’s rules the so-called “newco” cannot retain the rights to the players it held under the previous contract. Rangers are contesting that, but eight players have headed for the exit door so far and all three Americans are expected to follow rather than play in the Scottish Third Division against the likes of Elgin City and Peterhead.

This so disgusted fans of the game in the home of the sport that the outcome of today’s vote was in little doubt. Scottish soccer fans have been adamant about the matter, noting that sporting integrity counted more than fiscal stability. Notably, even a majority of Rangers’ fans thought the Ibrox club should have to begin life anew from the bottom of the table. Whether these fans come to regret that decision is an open question.

Other clubs have gone through this painful process, but none have been as high profile as the mighty Glasgow Rangers. Many in the media here were reduced to pleading for lenience, but the voices of the supporters of the game were firm.

Today, Scotland did put the sport first. The question remains whether they will have any sport left in six months. But one thing is quite easy to predict: Rangers are unlikely to play host to American players for several years to come.