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.
May 23, 2015, 12:37 AM EDT
Final: LA Galaxy 1-0 Houston Dynamo
May 22, 2015, 10:31 PM EDT
Final: Columbus Crew 2-2 Chicago Fire
May 22, 2015, 9:52 PM EDT
PSG is willing to dish out the cash to bring Ronaldo to France. The problem? He would have to leave his built-up glory at Madrid behind him.
May 22, 2015, 9:00 PM EDT
PST’s Joe-Prince Wright discussed the final relegation battle between Hull City and Newcastle United.
May 22, 2015, 8:08 PM EDT
Mancini: “If we find players with the right characteristics, we’ll be able to improve the existing players in our squad as well. It won’t be easy….”
May 22, 2015, 7:00 PM EDT
Ivory Coast manager Hervé Renard is leaving on good terms and with a new challenge ahead of him at Lille.
May 22, 2015, 6:14 PM EDT
Mexico will have a roster full of their talent from Europe for the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Despite calling himself the “godfather” of women’s soccer, Sepp Blatter didn’t recognize Alex Morgan
May 22, 2015, 5:15 PM EDT
FIFA president Blatter called himself the “godfather” of women’s soccer earlier this month, yet he couldn’t recognize one of the biggest stars in the game.
May 22, 2015, 4:40 PM EDT
Preview of Chelsea-Sunderland match on Championship Sunday, available to watch on NBCSN beginning at 10 a.m. ET.
May 22, 2015, 3:54 PM EDT
As usual, several Americans are ready to take the pitch in Europe this weekend.
May 22, 2015, 3:20 PM EDT
If the Magpies win they will survive on the final day. Watch them host West Ham live on USA, online via Live Extra, 10 a.m. ET.
May 22, 2015, 2:52 PM EDT
Are the Red Bulls willing to take a risk on Osvaldo to bolster their attacking options?
May 22, 2015, 2:08 PM EDT
Can the Tigers pull off a “great escape” on the final day? Watch live on NBC at 10 a.m. ET on Sunday.
May 22, 2015, 1:20 PM EDT
The Red Devils boss is confident DDG will be around next season.
May 22, 2015, 12:40 PM EDT
Here’s how and where to watch every PL game on the final day of the season.
May 22, 2015, 11:15 AM EDT
In his latest blog, our man in the PL gives us a glimpse of what life is like at Stoke’s training ground.
May 22, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT
It’s that time of year again ladies and gents. Get ready for the rumors regarding European veterans heading to MLS.
May 22, 2015, 9:56 AM EDT
The Brazilian defender wants to put the record straight. David, over to you…
May 22, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
After already winning two trophies this season, Chelsea cleaned up once again.
May 22, 2015, 8:20 AM EDT
After Sterling’s agent says his client will not sign a new deal at Liverpool, Reds boss is adamant he will remain at Anfield.
- Premier League Preview: Hull City vs. Manchester United 0
- TV SCHEDULE: Premier League finale – 10 games, 10 channels on Championship Sunday 0
- Geoff Cameron takes us behind-the-scenes at Stoke City 1
- Brendan Rodgers insists Raheem Sterling will remain at Liverpool 0
- US Open Cup draw: Sounders-Timbers, NYCFC-NY Cosmos highlight possible 4th-round clashes 1
- Agent: Sterling wouldn’t sign new Liverpool deal, even for $1.4 million a week 6