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.
Sep 2, 2014, 10:36 PM EDT
The beginning of a long World Cup cycle allows the normal questions to be put aside for Wednesday’s friendly.
Sep 2, 2014, 8:48 PM EDT
FC Dallas’s short reign is over, with a familiar name returning to the top spot.
Sep 2, 2014, 7:15 PM EDT
Houston’s defense suffers a setback, with Hall expected to be sidelined for 6-9 months.
Sep 2, 2014, 6:08 PM EDT
A one-goal, four-assist week means another legend claims our honor.
Sep 2, 2014, 5:18 PM EDT
This was supposed to be Guzan’s audition. Instead, this looks like competition.
Sep 2, 2014, 4:05 PM EDT
Altidore’s 72nd cap will feature the U.S.’s armband, with Jurgen Klinsmann having handed his striker the honor for tomorrow’s friendly in Prague.
Sep 2, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
Colombian hotshot signs for the Red Devils on Deadline Day. Will his move guarantee goals, and maybe more?
Sep 2, 2014, 2:17 PM EDT
Four reasons why Welbeck could thrive at the Emirates.
Sep 2, 2014, 1:45 PM EDT
At just 18 years old, Emerson Hyndman has come through the Fulham youth ranks and is turning heads at all levels. He speaks to ProSoccerTalk about the chances coming all at once.
Sep 2, 2014, 1:01 PM EDT
Blues sign full back to new long-term deal at Stamford Bridge.
Sep 2, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Scorpions reveal stunning stadium plans, as the latest lower-league side plans for MLS expansion.
Sep 2, 2014, 11:29 AM EDT
Cleverley arrives at Villa Park after late, late loan move on Deadline Day.
Sep 2, 2014, 10:23 AM EDT
Speaking ahead of the USA’s clash in Prague, here’s what Klinsmann had to say.
Sep 2, 2014, 9:47 AM EDT
Bayern Munich midfielder to lead Germany after Lahm’s retirement.
Sep 2, 2014, 9:08 AM EDT
Where did the cash go? Who spent the most? Which records tumbled?
Sep 2, 2014, 8:26 AM EDT
Ronaldo’s not happy that Alonso, Di Maria were allowed to leave in the window.
Sep 2, 2014, 7:33 AM EDT
Is he a Red Devil or a Villan? Confusion over Cleverley.
Sep 1, 2014, 11:30 PM EDT
“Today two powers were brought together, the hand of God and that of the Pope,” Maradona joked. No, really. That’s what he said.
Sep 1, 2014, 10:30 PM EDT
How do you think United will line up?
Sep 1, 2014, 10:29 PM EDT
From a 18-year-old Jamaican-English midfielder to a 34-year-old veteran goalkeeper, this team takes a ride through all types of players.
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- PST’s Major League Soccer Player of the Week: LA Galaxy’s Landon Donovan 0
- What tomorrow’s goalkeeper platoon tells us about the U.S. goalkeeper void 5
- Jozy Altidore to captain U.S. Wednesday against Czech Republic 0
- With Radamel Falcao, can Manchester United challenge for the Premier League? 11
- Why Danny Welbeck’s move to Arsenal was the best Deadline Day deal 9