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.
Jul 4, 2015, 1:15 AM EDT
Tyrone Mears scored an absolute beauty late in the match to down a ten-man D.C. United.
Jul 4, 2015, 12:59 AM EDT
The English defender is still getting over the heartbreak of an own goal.
Jul 4, 2015, 12:08 AM EDT
Despite leaving Nashville with a 4-0 win, Jurgen Klinsmann was far from pleased with how the United States played.
Jul 3, 2015, 11:32 PM EDT
Substitutes scored the goals for each side, as the Fire leave Houston with a point.
Jul 3, 2015, 11:00 PM EDT
Wambach gets a second chance in a World Cup final against Japan again on Sunday.
Jul 3, 2015, 10:45 PM EDT
Seventeen players saw action in the USMNT’s 4-0 over Guatemala. See who helped (or hurt) their standing heading into the Gold Cup.
Jul 3, 2015, 10:10 PM EDT
The U.S. turned things around mid-tournament and now finds itself in the World Cup final.
Jul 3, 2015, 9:35 PM EDT
For the second straight Copa America tournament, Peru has left with a third place finish.
Jul 3, 2015, 9:01 PM EDT
Three second half goals led to an easy win for the USMNT, as the Gold Cup is now just four days away.
Jul 3, 2015, 8:21 PM EDT
Deemed as excess talent by their Premier League clubs, Nani and Lukas Podolski are headed to the Turkish Super Lig.
Jul 3, 2015, 7:30 PM EDT
With Queens Park Rangers relegated to the Championship, the club wants to get top dollar for star striker Charlie Austin.
Jul 3, 2015, 6:34 PM EDT
Pride is on the line as Peru and Paraguay look to take home third place at the 2015 Copa America.
Jul 3, 2015, 5:40 PM EDT
Anelka now a manager? Oh how times have changed…
Jul 3, 2015, 4:45 PM EDT
Women’s players can get representation from FIFPro for the first time in the continued fight for equality.
Jul 3, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT
The West Midlands club released a statement today that new ownership should be in place “by the end of this month.”
Jul 3, 2015, 3:33 PM EDT
Fiorentina has lawyered up as the Chelsea winger has reportedly refused to return to the club on another loan.
Jul 3, 2015, 2:36 PM EDT
Three suggested lineups for Jurgen Klinsmann ahead of the USA vs. Guatemala on Friday.
Jul 3, 2015, 1:40 PM EDT
Martunis’ incredible story will now continue in Lisbon.
Jul 3, 2015, 12:53 PM EDT
Analyzing where the final in Santiago on Saturday will be won and lost.
Jul 3, 2015, 11:50 AM EDT
Another day, another healthy dollop of gossip from around the Premier League.
- Klinsmann on USMNT’s win over Guatemala: “I’m not happy with that performance” 0
- USMNT player ratings: How Klinsmann’s men fared against Guatemala 1
- USA 4-0 Guatemala: USMNT cruises into Gold Cup with win in Nashville 0
- World players’ union FIFPro opens door to women for first time in 50-year history 0
- How will USMNT line up vs. Guatemala in final pre-Gold Cup friendly? 3
- Chile vs. Argentina – Three key battles that will decide the Copa America final 0