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.
Mar 27, 2015, 11:35 PM EDT
Roundup of Euro 2016 qualifying matches from Saturday.
Mar 27, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT
Both Danny Welbeck and Raheem Sterling will most likely be out of England’s friendly vs. Italy on Tuesday.
Mar 27, 2015, 8:52 PM EDT
Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahmovic buries a strange one.
Mar 27, 2015, 8:20 PM EDT
England trounced Lithuania 4-0 in a Euro qualifier for their seventh-straight win since the World Cup, and captain Wayne Rooney likes what future lies ahead for his country.
Mar 27, 2015, 6:42 PM EDT
22-year-old Ventura Alvarado asserts that he would like to play for USMNT in the long term.
Mar 27, 2015, 6:00 PM EDT
Manager Chris Coleman say Gareth Bale is only focused on the Wales’ “job in hand.”
Mar 27, 2015, 4:50 PM EDT
Suarez doesn’t think he could be classified as hooligan after his biting incidents.
Mar 27, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT
The New England Revolution have been on the losing end early in the season before.
Mar 27, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT
No first cap just yet for Kane, though he’s expected to come off the bench in the second half.
Mar 27, 2015, 1:27 PM EDT
A resounding result for the 2016 Olympics hopefuls, away from home.
Mar 27, 2015, 12:18 PM EDT
Stoke City are on the verge of their first-ever top-10 finish in the Premier League, and Mark Hughes has been rewarded for his success.
Mar 27, 2015, 11:04 AM EDT
Another bitter injury blow for Juventus, who now have just one fit, first-team central midfielder.
Mar 27, 2015, 10:11 AM EDT
Lampard is in the Big Apple, where he’ll spend time with his future teammates and watch them play Sporting KC.
Mar 27, 2015, 8:25 AM EDT
With a six-point lead in the league (and a game in hand), do Chelsea really need a “blessing in disguise” to win this year’s Premier League title?
Mar 27, 2015, 8:03 AM EDT
A star-depleted (international duty) Week 4 of MLS should still provide lots of entertainment and quality.
Mar 26, 2015, 11:30 PM EDT
If punditry doesn’t work for Scholes, sign him up as Man United’s top player recruiter. At least he aims high.
Mar 26, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT
Watch in 90 seconds the construction of Avaya Stadium, from Day 1 to Game 1.
Mar 26, 2015, 7:17 PM EDT
Another month out for Sturridge, just when Liverpool’s top-four dreams rest on his shoulders the most.
Mar 26, 2015, 6:54 PM EDT
You couldn’t get this one anymore wrong, UEFA. 10-times worse than racism? Not OK.
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