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.
Aug 30, 2015, 7:50 AM EDT
Ronald Koeman must pick up a win fast or risk seeing Southampton seriously slip early in the season.
Aug 30, 2015, 7:30 AM EDT
A single coach had yet to be fired as we approach the start of September, but that changed as Montreal made a change.
Aug 29, 2015, 11:37 PM EDT
The playoffs look a might big ask of RSL, as they sit rock bottom, 10th place, in the Western Conference.
Aug 29, 2015, 11:08 PM EDT
Three losses in a row for Sporting KC, and the team with the highest points-per-game total is slipping in the West.
Aug 29, 2015, 8:37 PM EDT
Man United fell twice at the hand of Swansea City in 2014-15. On Sunday, Louis van Gaal takes his crack at revenge.
Aug 29, 2015, 6:34 PM EDT
Michael Bradley powered TFC to a 2-1 victory in the 401 Derby, and essentially locked up a playoff place in doing so.
Aug 29, 2015, 6:20 PM EDT
NYCFCs struggles continued on Saturday, as they lost to a very poor road team in Columbus Crew SC.
Aug 29, 2015, 6:01 PM EDT
James Rodriguez scored two filthy goals on Saturday. We need your help deciding which one was more impressive.
Aug 29, 2015, 4:55 PM EDT
Bayern Munich continued its strong start to the Bundesliga campaign, and will be the only team to boast a 3-0 record unless BVB beats Hertha Berlin on Sunday.
Aug 29, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT
Being the “better” side is a subjective thing, of course, especially when you fail to win.
Aug 29, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
Catch up on all the action from eight games on Saturday, as there were plenty of shocks in the PL.
Aug 29, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT
Arsene Wenger isn’t panicking over another close call against Newcastle United. The way he sees it, they did well to win 1-0 on an own goal.
Aug 29, 2015, 3:25 PM EDT
With Howard back in a U.S. jersey next week, he put in a Man of the Match display to grab Everton a point at Spurs.
Aug 29, 2015, 2:35 PM EDT
Here’s three things we learned from the Lane.
Aug 29, 2015, 2:24 PM EDT
Spurs attacked for much of the match but were held off the scoresheet by American goalkeeper Tim Howard.
Aug 29, 2015, 1:18 PM EDT
The Liverpool manager was disappointed in the Reds play but also criticized the referee.
Aug 29, 2015, 12:34 PM EDT
Jose Mourinho gave lots of credit to today’s worthy opponent, but did stay somewhat true to his nature.
Aug 29, 2015, 12:04 PM EDT
Afellay and Adam sent off as Baggies down Potters on Pulis’ return.
Aug 29, 2015, 12:01 PM EDT
Artur Boruc got a piece of Vardy’s penalty attempt, but not enough. 1-1.
Aug 29, 2015, 11:57 AM EDT
Hammers win at Anfield for first time since 1963.
- Premier League Sunday preview: Man United looking for revenge vs. Swansea City 1
- Premier League roundup: Chelsea, Liverpool suffer stunning home defeats 0
- Tim Howard ready for USMNT return, as heroics rescue Everton 1
- Three things we learned from Tottenham Hotspur vs. Everton 2
- Liverpool 0-3 West Ham United: Hammers stun Reds at Anfield in fiery encounter 2
- Chelsea 1-2 Crystal Palace: Blues stunned at home by Eagles 5