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.
Dec 20, 2014, 10:57 AM EST
It’s half time in the six 10 a.m. ET games in the PL. Here’s what’s going on…
Dec 20, 2014, 9:52 AM EST
Huge relegation six-pointer at Loftus Road. Watch it live, here.
Dec 20, 2014, 9:51 AM EST
Abel Hernandez and Nikica Jelavic will form the Tigers strike force.
Dec 20, 2014, 9:47 AM EST
Can the Clarets upset Spurs at White Hart Lane? Watch live.
Dec 20, 2014, 9:42 AM EST
Can the Saints stop their slide against the Toffees? Watch live, here.
Dec 20, 2014, 9:41 AM EST
Andy Carroll starts up top with Diafra Sakho, with Stewart Downing in support.
Dec 20, 2014, 9:36 AM EST
Citizens go level on points with Chelsea at the top of the PL.
Dec 20, 2014, 9:23 AM EST
United looks to keep back with their noisy neighbors this morning on NBCSN.
Dec 20, 2014, 9:08 AM EST
The NBC team discuss when Lamps may head stateside.
Dec 20, 2014, 8:11 AM EST
Sterling, 20, follows the likes of Rooney, Messi and Aguero after being named the best youngster in European soccer.
Dec 20, 2014, 7:20 AM EST
Can the Citizens make it six wins on the spin without a striker? Watch live, here.
Dec 20, 2014, 7:10 AM EST
How and where to watch every single PL game from Week 17 live online or via the app.
Dec 19, 2014, 11:20 PM EST
Harry Redknapp believes he could be Ravel Morrison’s “last chance” to prove he is ready to play top-flight football.
Dec 19, 2014, 10:25 PM EST
Since returning from injury, the England international has been key to United’s six-game win streak.
Dec 19, 2014, 9:40 PM EST
Rog and Davo are joined by Downton Abbey’s Laura Carmichael, who discusses her short stint selling hot dogs at St. Mary’s and the rivalry between Southampton and Portsmouth.
Dec 19, 2014, 8:50 PM EST
With 45 points through 17 matches, Bayern Munich is having the best season in Bundesliga history.
Dec 19, 2014, 8:00 PM EST
The opening weekend of MLS play features Orlando City SC and New York City FC facing off in a battle of expansion teams.
Dec 19, 2014, 7:10 PM EST
Newcastle and Sunderland may be bitter rivals, but their managers are telling supporters to behave on Sunday.
Dec 19, 2014, 6:20 PM EST
The Blues’ boss said his Belgian playmaker can become a Chelsea legend, but must win titles first.
Dec 19, 2014, 5:30 PM EST
England’s number one keeper finally put pen to paper with a new deal that will keep him at the Etihad until 2019.
- Manchester City 3-0 Crystal Palace: Citizens level with Chelsea, play without a striker 0
- Watch Live: Aston Villa vs. Manchester United (Lineups and Live Stream) 0
- Raheem Sterling named best young player in Europe, wins ‘Golden Boy’ award 0
- WATCH: Premier League online via NBC Sports Live Extra – Week 17 0
- MLS announces home openers for 2015 season 2
- Mourinho says Eden Hazard can become an all-time great 2