With the news that Vancouver is going to join Major League Soccer in 2011, and with reports circulating that Portland will be joining them, it’s time to take a look at what MLS might look like in two seasons.
It’s hard to believe that, in a sense, the fledgling league we have all grown up with is now going to be an 18-team powerhouse (so to speak) in a span of 15 years. I remember one soccer writer proclaiming that MLS Cup 1997 was going to be the final match played in what at that time would have been the league’s infant history.
Now, things haven’t been all rosy – what with the now long departed Tampa Bay and Miami. But I don’t think there’s any reason to be anything other than optimistic about Vancouver and Portland’s entrance into the league in 2011 (and not to forget Philadelphia next season).
When these three teams push the league to 18 clubs, there are several possibilities as to how the league will be constructed.
If MLS wishes to keep its current East-West setup, you’re left with two 9-team conferences in this possible scenario:
NOTE: It is assumed that no teams relocate between now and First Kick 2011.
EAST: DC United, New York, Philadelphia, New England, Toronto, Columbus, Chicago, Kansas City, Houston or Dallas.
WEST: Portland, Vancouver, Seattle, San Jose, Colorado, Los Angeles, Chivas USA, Real Salt Lake, Houston or Dallas.
You see the problem here, of course. The West has seven natural residents with the two new teams, the Sounders, Earthquakes, Rapids, Galaxy, Chivas, and RSL. The East would definitely include United, Red Bulls, Philly, Revs, TFC, Crew, Fire, and probably Wizards.
The question is, what do they do with FC Dallas and the Dynamo? I wouldn’t want them in different conferences – they are somewhat isolated enough from the rest of the league as it is.
So – the second possibility is going back to the old three division alignment. I’m not a fan of this really. I prefer two divisions or one. But, we’ll give it a shot in the interest of fairness.
EAST: New England, DC, New York, Philadelphia, Toronto, Columbus.
CENTRAL: Salt Lake, Colorado, Houston, Dallas, Kansas City, Chicago.
WEST: Portland, Vancouver, Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles, Chivas USA.
The Central is sort of a problem here in my book. It’s not logical to have RSL and the Fire in the same division. Even though the combo of Colorado, Houston, Dallas, and Kansas City seems to work. You wouldn’t change the West; those six make too much sense. You could exchange Chicago and Columbus in the East and Central, but even if you did, there would be the same oddity with the Crew and RSL in the same division.
So, that leaves … (gulp) … single table. Now, let’s be clear. I’m not one of those freaks who insist that MLS must go to single-table and pro/rel and all that other stuff to survive long-term. I think the league is doing fine. But if you wanted a neatly tuned 34-game season, with one 18-team table, there would certainly be a good argument for it. The disadvantage here, perhaps, lies against with Houston, Dallas, and Kansas City, who would in theory do more traveling than other teams because you have good clusters of clubs on the east and west coasts.
I don’t know the answers. I’m just presenting the options. I’m curious to hear how you, if you were head of MLS for a day, would align the league come 2011.