The 2018-19 Scottish Premier League season starts this weekend, a league that is now only occasionally identified with USMNT players. Perry Kitchen's time at Hearts was the latest example, but it's a list that includes the Alejandro Bedoya - Carlos Bocanegra - Maurice Edu era at Rangers and prior to that DaMarcus Beasley and Claudio Reyna spending time with the club. The collapse of Rangers' finances relegated them to the Third Division in 2012-13, leading to the exits of Bedoya, Edu, and eventually Bocanegra. It also drew a line under the Scottish Premier League's continual problems.
It's been decades since the Scottish topflight was a realistic rival to England. In the modern era, most of the conversation has been about Scottish club soccer as a problem seeking a solution. Sending the Glasgow duo of Rangers and Celtic south to join the English setup never got serious enough as a solution. Instead, it normally ended up a theoretical conversation about where the two teams would start in the English pyramid. At the time, nobody saw one of those two clubs having to start over in the Scottish pyramid.
Plenty of people are happy to argue that Rangers as we knew them ceased to exist when they went from the Premier League to the Third Division in the summer of 2012. In that version, what we have now is a reconstituted club that happens to play in the same stadium, wear the same logo, and claim the same mammoth haul of trophies. Regardless of your take on the Rangers saga, it created another issue.
Celtic left on their own did exactly as expected. They've dominated Scottish soccer ever since. The problem is turning the Scottish Premier League into a one-club league impacted their UEFA coefficient. That means Celtic having to start early in the Champions League qualifiers.
Rangers returned to the Premier League in 2016-17, finishing third and third again last season. Celtic finished 9 points ahead of Aberdeen and 12 ahead of Rangers. Anything but a 1st-place finish in the SPL means the Europa League. Since none of the Scottish clubs advanced to the Europa League group stage, they didn't get the opportunity to play for coefficient points over a schedule of guaranteed games. Celtic didn't advance in the Champions League, falling to the Europa where they exited at the first opportunity in the round of 32.
The knock-on effect is that same old story. Instead of two clubs spending to compete, it's now one with the question of whether or not that's even necessary to succeed in Scotland. It's a parity question domestically that translates into teams that can't compete in Europe. With that in mind, little will change this season. Celtic should win again. Rangers may pull closer to them with a 2nd-place finish. With the future still tied to now old ideas like a regional Atlantic League, the primary concern is the same. How does a league like Scotland's compete with the rest of Europe? There's plenty to suggest that we already know the answer.
MLSsoccer.com's Joe Patrick asks if this is a must-win season for Atlanta United. The Washington Post's Steven Goff explains DC United's ownership structure. Everybody Soccer's Bill Reno explains why a goalkeeper might favor a bottom hand save.
We updated our Championship preview with Antonee Robinson joining Wigan Athletic on loan from Everton. World Soccer's Tim Vickery on expectations for Leeds United under Marcelo Biesla. The Independent's Miguel Delaney wonders if the early end to the Premier League transfer window is a good idea.
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Logo courtesy of the Scottish Premier League