Apr 17, 2014, 9:03 PM EST
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.
Nov 28, 2014, 11:10 PM EST
A Carlos Vela hat trick helped the ex-Manchester United manager earn his first win in La Liga.
Nov 28, 2014, 10:15 PM EST
Loius van Gaal’s side received a huge boost with the news of the return of injured stars Radamel Falcao and Maros Rojo.
Nov 28, 2014, 9:05 PM EST
With Bradley Wright-Phillips out due to yellow card accumulation, it could be up to Tim Cahill to produce for New York.
Nov 28, 2014, 8:10 PM EST
Cristiano Ronaldo’s club was upset after the UEFA president said he believed a world champion should win the Ballon d’Or.
Nov 28, 2014, 7:04 PM EST
According to Gary Neville, there may soon be a changing of the guards for best goalkeeper in the world.
Nov 28, 2014, 6:13 PM EST
No team has been hit harder by injuries than Arsenal, who will look to bolster their squad during the January transfer window.
Nov 28, 2014, 5:20 PM EST
Tottenham’s Europa League match against Partizan Belgrade was briefly suspended after multiple fans stormed the pitch.
Nov 28, 2014, 4:30 PM EST
Sunderland face a daunting task as they host a Chelsea side that hasn’t lost since a friendly on August 3rd.
Nov 28, 2014, 3:50 PM EST
Cameron talks turkey, playing at one of his favorite stadiums, sickness bugs and more in his first piece for PST.
Nov 28, 2014, 3:07 PM EST
LVG is bringing managerial swagger back to Old Trafford.
Nov 28, 2014, 2:13 PM EST
It’s no surprise that the Liverpool manager is feeling the heat after the Reds 12th place start.
Nov 28, 2014, 2:00 PM EST
Here’s how PST’s lead writer and editor sees things panning out this weekend.
Nov 28, 2014, 1:20 PM EST
It’s a vibrant and informative take on the big following in Seattle, one that even Sounders haters can respect for its size, dedication and creativity.
Nov 28, 2014, 12:35 PM EST
Top Four and Bottom Three match-ups take the battle for Premier League places to a different level this weekend.
Nov 28, 2014, 12:00 PM EST
Where and how to watch all the PL games during Week 13.
Nov 28, 2014, 11:52 AM EST
Hull City is looking for a historic win when they visit surging Manchester United on Saturday.
Nov 28, 2014, 11:01 AM EST
We pick three clubs in three countries that could be a landing spot for the out-of-favor Sunderland striker in the January transfer window.
Nov 28, 2014, 10:10 AM EST
The Baggies are coming off losses to Chelsea and Newcastle, and are four points back of eighth place Arsenal. The NBCSN match kicks at 745am ET.
Nov 28, 2014, 9:37 AM EST
Spain (4) and Germany (3) are the only nations with multiple members.
Nov 28, 2014, 8:35 AM EST
Manchester United’s legendary midfielder will stay in his assistant coach role for Ireland, spend more time with his family.
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