COMMENTARY | Note: Nothing mentioned here is official, and it's possible that Major League Soccer will go in a very different direction. All that's below is merely me throwing things to a wall to see what sticks.
Here is what we know about the future of MLS. Three new clubs, New York City Football Club, Orlando City Soccer Club, and a team located in Florida, possibly in Miami and one that will be at least partially owned by David Beckham, are all a'comin'. NYCFC in 2015 is a sure thing. The other two franchises will enter the league sometime down the road.
All of this means that MLS will go from having 19 franchises to having 22, most likely by the end of the decade. I have, in the past, been told by multiple individuals with knowledge of the situation that the US top-flight moving to a single-table format isn't happening. The country is too large, and MLS wants rivals in close proximity to one another (i.e. RBNY vs. DCU, RBNY vs. Philly, RBNY vs. NYCFC, etc.) to face off more than twice in one season. Also, since the idea of uneven conferences is one that leads me to drink far too early into the day, I'm sticking with only two conferences/divisions until Teams 23 and 24 become more than ideas.
It's been made clear that MLS is far more interested in showcasing rivalry match-ups such as Portland vs. Seattle as much as possible than in having a balanced schedule. I've fine with this. I honestly don't need to see New York play against FC Dallas once in a year let alone twice. Thus, here is what I came up with while putting not all that much thought into it.
Proposed MLS East
New York Red Bulls
New York City Football Club
Orlando City Soccer Club
New England Revolution
Proposed MLS West
Real Salt Lake
San Jose Earthquakes
Chivas USA/Relocated team (we can dream)
Sporting Kansas City
Proposed MLS schedule
This was put together assuming that MLS will continue to want rivals to play each other three times per regular season AND that the league will keep the schedule at 34 total matches. Conference opponents would play each other twice (20 games), teams from the MLS East would face off with teams from the MLS West once per year, with home teams for those contests rotating each season (31 total games). Add in rivals, or so-called rivals in some cases, playing each other one additional time to get to 34 total matches.
Jason Iapicco of the Red Bull Rant podcast broke it down much simpler on Twitter.
I also have to touch on the MLS Playoffs. 10 of 19 teams being granted postseason berths isn't much less ridiculous than is allowing 10 of 22 teams into the playoffs. The amount of total playoff teams has to be cut to validate what is supposed to be considered to be the champion of the league, the club that wins the postseason tournament.
My ideal scenario for right now and for when NYCFC, OCSC and Beckham FC arrive remains the same: Six teams, the top three from both conferences, earn playoff berths. The regular season champion, winner of the Supporters' Shield, gets the 1 Seed. The winner of the other conference wins the 2 Seed.
From there, re-seed teams 3 through 6 based on points total and NOT conference. Team 3 would host Team 6 and Team 4 would host Team 5 in midweek one-off Wild Card match-ups. That following weekend would be the first leg of the semifinal round.
The lowest surviving team would host the 1 Seed in the first leg, and the other survivor would host the 2 Seed. Those teams would meet again the following weekend, with the top seeds hosting those matches. The MLS Cup Final is played on the final weekend of the season, with the highest remaining seed hosting that game.
Everything above is, of course, just ideas from one MLS observer/fan. Some have suggested that the league should move to three permanent conferences. Other have even created scenarios that feature two conferences and four divisions. Whichever your preferences, logic indicates that changes are coming and soon.
It's going to be a very interesting several years for MLS.
Zac has been covering the USMNT, Holland, Tottenham Hotspur, New York Red Bulls, Major League Soccer and other soccer leagues for Yahoo Sports since 2010.
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