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.
Sep 29, 2014, 11:44 PM EDT
Sepp Blatter confirmed FIFA voted strongly to eliminate third-party ownership in all professional settings, with a transitional period of a few years to be instituted immediately.
Sep 29, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT
The Men discussed all things Premier League on this week’s episode, including Phil Jagielka, Wayne Rooney, and a Peter Crouch chicken dance.
Sep 29, 2014, 9:36 PM EDT
With plenty of tournament success, the Mexican youth is turning the head of the senior team’s manager.
Sep 29, 2014, 8:47 PM EDT
Things surrounding Newcastle’s managerial position have become increasingly untenable.
Sep 29, 2014, 8:01 PM EDT
If PSG fail to make serious noise against top Champions League clubs, Laurent Blanc could be on his way out of Paris.
Sep 29, 2014, 7:12 PM EDT
Making $400,000 more than anyone else in the league, Kaka is set to lead Orlando City into MLS with a colossal paycheck.
Sep 29, 2014, 6:33 PM EDT
With MLS movement at a high, the controversial Malaysian expressed his wishes to enter the US realm
Sep 29, 2014, 5:51 PM EDT
He’s out with a broken tibia, but Giroud still remains vital to Arsenal’s long-term success.
Sep 29, 2014, 5:10 PM EDT
According to an ESPN report, Chivas will take at least a 2-year break to allow for a rebrand to occur and a new stadium to be built.
Sep 29, 2014, 4:54 PM EDT
Peter Crouch’s early header put Stoke up early as Alan Pardew’s job security took another hit.
Sep 29, 2014, 4:26 PM EDT
He hasn’t managed to pick out a start for the Red Devils’ senior side, but getting minutes for the U-21’s, he showed off his bright talents.
Sep 29, 2014, 3:51 PM EDT
After playing over an hour for the U-21 team this weekend, Paul Lambert will have Benteke available for selection against Manchester City.
Sep 29, 2014, 2:54 PM EDT
Gunners lose star midfielder for a month after hamstring injury.
Sep 29, 2014, 2:15 PM EDT
All eyes on Pardew. Watch Stoke host Newcastle, right here.
Sep 29, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
Klinsmann to select NASL star for October camp?
Sep 29, 2014, 12:59 PM EDT
Watch Stoke vs. Newcastle live on Monday at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
Sep 29, 2014, 12:13 PM EDT
Will United head back to the USA, the Middle East or elsewhere if they schedule friendlies during the current season?
Sep 29, 2014, 11:41 AM EDT
PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an in-depth look at the PL during Week 6.
Sep 29, 2014, 10:31 AM EDT
Rooney: “I saw the West Ham player making a counter-attack and I tried to break-up the play but I just misjudged it. I apologized to the lads.”
Sep 29, 2014, 9:58 AM EDT
After up and down start to the season, Brooks has been sent to the reserves.
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