A Glimpse at MLS in 2011

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.

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15 thoughts on “A Glimpse at MLS in 2011

  1. I’d leave it on Gazidas’ desk of course, then go back to web-surfing NFL fantasy and high ticket Harley Davidson merchandise.

    He what?

  2. I always thought 4 groups of 4 worked out perfectly for 2010, and would be a fun way to break things apart with the top 2 teams in each group advancing. Perhaps 4 groups of 5 once we get to 20, but the geography is less perfect.

    2016:
    1: NE, PHL, DC, NY
    2. CLB, TOR, CHI, KC
    3. COL, SL, DAL, HOU
    4. SEA, SJ, LA, CHV

    2012ish:

    Northeast Group:
    NE, NY, PHL, DC, MTL?

    Midwestern Group:
    TOR, CLB, CHI, KC, StL?

    Northwest Group:
    VAN, SEA, POR, COL, SL

    Southwest Group:
    LA, CHV, DAL, HOU, SJ

    top 2 in each group move on… sounds perfect, no? The groups would be a bit awkward in 2011 obviously.

  3. Single-table doesn’t necessarily mean no playoffs and pro/rel. Have one table, top 8 qualify for the playoffs, go from there.

  4. That’s always been the system I have liked most, except that my playoff system has only six teams with the top two finishers getting byes past a two-leg first round.

  5. Any teams in the mid to mountain west in any league deal with this issue. Travel stinks for the Utah Jazz, it stinks for the Colorado Rockies, it stinks for the Detroit Red Wings. Single table, however, would make that much worse and would really, in my opinion, give an unfair advantage to the “corridor” clubs that would have minimal travel.

    I like 3 divisions fine.

  6. Why on Earth would you play August to April?

    Trying to play a full winter schedule in Toronto, Montreal (assuming an outdoor stadium), Seattle, Portland, New England, Chicago, and perhaps New York and Philly is suicide. The league has enough challenges as it is, adding bad weather for much of the season to crap on the level of play is a bad idea.

  7. Dude, I completely agree. I envision the conferences also becoming a way of deciding who gets promotion/relegation within a future MLS 1/MLS 2. I think pro/rel, even though it clearly won’t happen for years, makes sense if and when we get to the point where 40 markets (including all current and future MLS teams, current USL markets, and brand new soccer markets) want to be in MLS in the next few decades. For instance, if you have 40 teams, you break the league into 20 MLS 1 and 20 MLS 2 teams; each broken down into a handful of conferences.

    If a bottom-fishing team loses a relegation playoff game, they will go back down to MLS-2 and the top team from their conference moves up to replace them in conference play within MLS-1. Yeah, the promoted team might not necessarily be the #1 team in MLS-2 moving up; but if it isn’t done this way, then you could have a scenario where — let’s say the West Coast teams become the best teams in MLS — you risk alienating MLS’ nationwide audience if entire conferences are playing in the MLS 2.

    But I won’t pretend that pro/rel will happen even in the next 10 years. There needs to be 20 teams in the top division (we’ll see what that looks like come 2012), and therefore 40 teams total if we want equal sizes in the two divisions (this could be another 20 years away…).

    But multiple conferences set up is a good way to lay groundwork for a strong nationwide league in a country the size of the U.S.

    Props, dirtskier.

  8. Once and for all can we put to bed any thoughts of MLS playing games in December thru Feb? AINT happening, folks. Neither is promotion/relegation. NEVER.

    A single table with top eight making playoffs, now that could happen.

    I suspect the East and West conf set up will always remain, at least until MLS goes past 22 teams. You will play teams in your own division twice, then the teams in your other conf once, with the extra game or two added against the other conf either based on previous year’s finish or a rotation.

    With 22 you would play your conf twice for 20 games, 11 more from the other conf then one more against the team in the other conf who had the same finishing spot from the previous year. When you get to 24 clubs the three conf set up does have some real draw.

  9. The day when we have 40 MLS clubs will be a fine day, and might happen in the next century, but even baseball has trouble sustaining 30 clubs that make money. I would prefer max 24 MLS clubs that are all financially excellent. Down the line…

  10. Space and money, space and money, space and money… MLS competes in a geographic cachement comparable in size to UEFA. Pro / rel in say, England, operates in a space the size of, say, New England. So the Revs can be worried about promotion and relegation with the other viable professional soccer clubs in the region…. umm….. umm….. *crickets*

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