Apr 17, 2014, 9:03 PM EDT
It’s not a universally held opinion, but I’ve made no secret about my evaluation: There is an unfair imbalance in MLS, one which gives the top Eastern Conference teams an unfair advantage. Over the past few seasons, the West has been a much tougher, much deeper conference. Combined with the unbalanced schedule, that means the Supporters’ Shield and home field advantage are more likely to end up with the East’s leaders, a team likely to have played a weaker schedule.
If that’s the situation now, imagine what happens if Houston moves back to the Western Conference. Or if, in 2017, Sporting Kansas City follows. That’s the future the latest round of expansion offers.
The conferences are currently uneven, with an extra team residing in the 10-club Eastern Conference. When New York City FC joins the league, it’s assumed Houston will move West, but what happens when Atlanta, Miami, and Orlando all come in? At least one other team will have to move West, leaving 12 teams in the East. That team will likely be Kansas City.
If that happens, every team that’s appeared in the last five MLS Cup finals will be in the West, and while you could argue these things run in cycles, the success of Real Salt Lake suggests otherwise. Seattle has never had a bad season. The LA Galaxy has been a rock since Bruce Arena came to town, while Houston and Sporting have been consistently good under their current management teams. Time will catch up to each of those squads, but when you look at the rebuild the Dynamo undertook four years ago and the reshuffle RSL engineered last season, it’s worth wondering whether, at this point in MLS history, good management can transcend traditional sports cycles.
If you were to make a list of the best front offices in Major League Soccer, Real Salt Lake, Sporting, Seattle and LA would probably be near the top, as would Houston’s. Each organization, over a prolonged period of time, has shown the ability to address problems, usually without a debilitating impact on the field. In a few years, all of those groups will be competing against each other in the West, further compounding the league’s imbalance.
Once they’re there, trying to beat each other to playoff spots, the problem will only get worse. Already strong front offices will be forced to find new, more efficient ways to beat heighten competition. The result will be better teams, better organizations, all in one conference.
Unfortunately, there’s no obvious solution. For competition’s sake, MLS needs to stop the unfair practice of giving home field for MLS Cup to the team with the better regular season record, instead alternating between Eastern and Western Conference venues. But the league can’t forego realignment. If you are going to have conferences (and MLS seems destined to have conferences), you have to break it up by region.
Eastern Conference teams need to improve. Organizations like Toronto and Columbus appear to be going so. With potentially ambitions teams like Atlanta, Miami, New York City, and Orlando joining the fold, maybe new blood will change the culture. Maybe that influx of competition will force teams to step up. Regardless, the imbalance won’t last forever.
In the interim, the West will remain the tougher group, with the competition set to get brutal once Houston and Sporting move over. Maybe that strength will cycle out, or maybe the league’s best planners will end up grouped together, forced to fight through a stacked conference until the league finds its balance.
Jul 31, 2015, 9:52 PM EDT
The leaked images of United’s kit were the real McCoy, and the Red Devils white-cuffed kits are pretty sharp.
Jul 31, 2015, 9:09 PM EDT
What’s 5,000 or so miles amongst fans?
Jul 31, 2015, 8:14 PM EDT
Guardiola can erase a minor Bayern demon with his first Super Cup win on Saturday versus Wolfsburg.
Jul 31, 2015, 7:08 PM EDT
In the PDL, Seattle Sounders U-23, New York Red Bulls U-23, K-W United and Ocala Stampede are left, while the NPSL has New York Cosmos B, Chattanooga FC, Indiana Fire and CD Aguiluchos USA remaining.
Jul 31, 2015, 6:45 PM EDT
Arsenal looks to win its second-straight Community Shield, something that only Manchester United has been able to do since 2000.
Jul 31, 2015, 6:03 PM EDT
Dick Advocaat is hoping familiarity will combine with a couple buys to help Sunderland avoid a relegation fight for the 1st time in a while.
Jul 31, 2015, 5:30 PM EDT
In a BBC feature, Bill Peterson makes it clear he thinks the desire for pro/rel is real.
Jul 31, 2015, 4:41 PM EDT
Johannsson had already said he wants to play Stateside in “his prime”, but a Yahoo Sports report said his desires have obstacles.
Jul 31, 2015, 3:54 PM EDT
The Lions will continue to play at the Citrus Bowl until the new venue is completed.
Jul 31, 2015, 3:16 PM EDT
Is this the case of a 33-year-old who’s over the hill, or can he return to the form which saw him score double-digit goals and assists?
Jul 31, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
Will the Saints keep marching up the PL standings? Maybe a European campaign will derail their progress?
Jul 31, 2015, 1:18 PM EDT
After signing nine new players this summer, is Sherwood taking a gamble?
Jul 31, 2015, 12:40 PM EDT
Here’s the latest gossip from around the PL.
Jul 31, 2015, 11:55 AM EDT
Can the Potters build on their best-ever PL finish last season? The top eight is a possibility for Hughes’ side.
Jul 31, 2015, 10:59 AM EDT
Blues boss compliments Gunners, gives update on injured duo ahead of Community Shield match.
Jul 31, 2015, 9:47 AM EDT
Soaking in the atmosphere on a special night at St Mary’s, as Saints’ Europa League campaign began.
Jul 31, 2015, 8:50 AM EDT
Terry: “Regardless of what people say, you can’t take away what I have won and done in the game.”
Jul 31, 2015, 7:55 AM EDT
Gunners keep experienced duo around, as Walcott decides to stay at the Emirates.
Jul 30, 2015, 9:27 PM EDT
Louis van Gaal seems to have misplaced his club’s $90 million investment, purchased just 12 months ago.
Jul 30, 2015, 8:10 PM EDT
With three attacking signings already made this summer, Balotelli and Borini look destined to leave Liverpool before the transfer deadline.
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