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 26, 2014, 12:33 PM EDT
Saints have no need to sell the France international, and hope that pricing him higher than Luke Shaw will deter the likes of Arsenal and Spurs.
Jul 26, 2014, 11:40 AM EDT
It’s no surprise that the forward would tip his side for the title — but is he wrong?
Jul 26, 2014, 10:47 AM EDT
It’s not really sounding as though the Colombian is prepared to take a 50 percent wage cut in order to secure a move to the La Liga giants.
Jul 26, 2014, 10:09 AM EDT
Manchester United face Roma in Denver on Saturday. The match is scheduled to kick off at 2 p.m. local time — when temperatures will be high
Jul 26, 2014, 8:59 AM EDT
West Ham may be regretting their trip to Australia and New Zealand, while Newcastle are honoring fans’ memory with wins.
Jul 26, 2014, 8:06 AM EDT
Is the Chelsea manager gearing up for a season of back-and-forth with new United boss Louis van Gaal?
Jul 26, 2014, 7:13 AM EDT
The Brazilian will have a chance to prove himself once more, challenging Rob Green for the starting goalkeeper spot for QPR.
Jul 26, 2014, 12:01 AM EDT
Two goals in the first half hour allowed the Rapids to cruise at DSG Park.
Jul 25, 2014, 10:35 PM EDT
The 26-year-old will try to improve an attack that averaged fewer than one goal per game last season.
Jul 25, 2014, 9:11 PM EDT
Gonzalez resumed full training on Friday with the hope of starting in Seattle.
Jul 25, 2014, 8:32 PM EDT
Roberto Martínez is ready to spend close to $35 million to secure the 21-year-old’s return.
Jul 25, 2014, 7:44 PM EDT
Medical with Gunners and fee agreement has Chambers on the verge of departing for North London.
Jul 25, 2014, 6:48 PM EDT
LCL injury could sideline former Southampton star for six weeks.
Jul 25, 2014, 6:04 PM EDT
23-year-old brings another ball-winner to the Dynamo midfield.
Jul 25, 2014, 5:01 PM EDT
One of Alex Ferguson’s most notorious transfers has found a new home with Benfica.
Jul 25, 2014, 4:15 PM EDT
Five years of development by the Blues ends with the 23-year-old’s departure.
Jul 25, 2014, 3:11 PM EDT
From Sanchez and Luiz to Suarez and Sidwell, a breakdown of the top names to have come and gone from the Premier League.
Jul 25, 2014, 2:28 PM EDT
If anyone spots Will.I.Am with Willian, let us know.
Jul 25, 2014, 1:39 PM EDT
Things are looking dicey at Southampton, where yet another player is set to skip town.
Jul 25, 2014, 12:51 PM EDT
A one-year move and mutual respect between the coach and player could make this a relatively-shrewd move for the Blues.
- Everton willing to set club transfer record to bring Lukaku back 3
- Arsenal on the verge of signing Calum Chambers from Southampton 1
- Knee injury will keep Lallana out of Liverpool’s Premier League opener 0
- A quick guide to who’s come and gone from Premier League teams 2
- Didier Drogba has officially rejoined Jose Mourinho at Chelsea 4
- FIFA says World Cup will stay in Russia, “can achieve positive change” 9