Tuesday, August 9, 2011

My Thoughts on the MLS League Structure

A tough weekend for the Eastern Conference with none of their teams winning.  There is now a definite imbalance between the East and West.  Columbus leads the East with only 34 points.  This point total would be good for only 6th place in the Western conference.  I'm now questioning why the MLS is split into conferences.  The geographic alignment of "East" and "West" should encourage rivalries between conference foes, but since every team plays every other team in the league twice, teams actually play more games against the other conference (18) than against their own conference (16).  Based on the way that teams are seeded in the current playoff structure the MLS Cup will likely feature a matchup of the best team in the league (LA) against the 5th or 6th-best team (whoever comes out of the East).  This is not the marquee matchup that the league needs to generate buzz for the Cup final. 

If the league goes to a single table structure, which every other major soccer league in the world plays, they can seed the playoff teams 1 - 10 strictly on record and increase the likelihood that the two best teams in the league will meet in the MLS Cup final.  It will make the regular season more meaningful because teams will be seeded based on their performance rather than conference alignment.  For example, Colorado currently has the fourth best record in the league.  In a single-table league they would be seeded fourth.  In the current structure, although they have the 4th-best record, the three teams ahead of them are in their conference.  So Colorado has to step aside while the league allocates the next three spots to the top teams from the East, which all have a worse record than Colorado.  So the 4th-best team is relegated to a wild-card slot and has to play an extra-match while the weaker teams from the other conference get a bye.  This is certainly not fair.

With the Montreal joining the league next season, the MLS has a golden opportunity to change their league structure.  Going to a single table will, in my opinion, be better for the league.  Regular season games will be more meaningful because teams will know exactly what they need to do to finish in the top 10.  The playoffs will become more meaningful because we will have matchups based on performance rather than conference alignment.  This will lead to better matchups in the MLS Cup final which should generate more buzz for this championship.

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