Monday, October 14, 2013

State of Major League Soccer

*Note: This post is the second in the MLS series. For the first part, check out Transfer Monday: Vol. Dempsey

This has been a long time coming. Sorry for the break in between updates. No excuses, play like a champion. Let's just get right into it by breaking down MLS into three categories: Format, Schedule, and Quality.


Here's the rundown of how MLS works, for those unfamiliar with the rules:

Right now, the league has 19 teams split up into two conferences (Eastern and Western). The schedule is unbalanced to favor regional rivalries. After a total of 34 games (fairly divided based on said rivalries,) 10 teams make the playoffs. The fourth and fifth placed teams of each conference play a wild card round, with the winner advancing to play the top seed of the division. From there it is a, somewhat, standard American-style elimination bracket with the Western Conference champion facing their Eastern Conference counterparts in MLS Cup.

Now, traditionalists (like I once was) tend to dislike this format. They call for a standard, one-table, home-and-away, no-playoffs system. That's fine. I can understand the draw of playing the the rest of the leagues in the world. But this is 'Merica. We do things our way.

On a serious note, I have actually grown fond of the way MLS schedules games. For one thing, the country is huge. It is exhausting to fly five hours, and over three time zones from coast-to-coast. Limiting these types of trips to two or three times a year, as opposed to five or six is beneficial for the players. Additionally, I love the fact that the Cascadia Cup consists of nine games. And the the Galaxy face Chivas USA three times each season. And that New York, DC United, and Philly all play each other three times. The league is still in its infancy. These rivalries have been drawn up on paper, but the way they become real is with the passion of the players and fans. You want to be the best team in your area, you want bragging rights over your neighbors; the way to achieve either of those is repetition. Winning on a consistent basis, or thwarting your opponents' attempts.

Playoffs are another staple of American sports. I stand to be corrected, but the only other major soccer league in the world, that I can think of, which uses a playoff system is Liga MX in Mexico. They do two post seasons every year. The Brazilian Serie A used to have a playoff system until 2003 (which led to my Botafogo winning the league in 1995,) as well. Again, I am okay with playoffs. They are an exciting way to end the season, and to determine a champion. My one problem with the system is that, as it stands, more than half the teams in the league make the post season. This tends to water down the importance of the regular season. Of course, right now there is a tight race for the last few spots in either conference, but where is the exclusivity of the post season if a team with more losses than wins, or a negative goal differential can squeak in? The current playoff format is too forgiving, it should be for teams that earn the right to be there throughout the season.

Túlio, o artilheiro, o herói. Fogão, campeão de 1995!


This is the reason I was motivated to write again. There have been talks, again, about switching the MLS season to the European calendar. As you may have guessed by my pro-MLS stance, I am against this idea. FIFA president Sepp Blatter is the one pushing MLS to make the change. To be honest, he does not make a strong point. His only arguments is that it would be better for the USMNT and for American fans. However, he has no reasons why, other than the fact that American players in Europe are accustomed to this schedule, and the public wants their heroes at home.

I have never put much stock in Blatter. And this is no different, but for the sake of taking this idea into consideration here are a couple of the pros and cons:

Pro: MLS players will be in the same condition as the rest of the world come summer tournaments such as the World Cup, Gold Cup, and Confederations Cup.

Con: This condition players will be in is exhaustion from a long league schedule.

Pro: MLS can work FIFA dates into its calendar, avoiding scheduling conflicts for international games during the season.

Con: MLS teams will battle the NFL, NBA, NHL, and NCAA for ticket sales, and more importantly viewership. MLS and its teams could lose millions in TV contracts because networks like FOX and NBC will not televise a soccer game over any of the aforementioned leagues.

Con: Weather in cities such as Toronto, New York, Denver, etc... will not be forgiving in the winter. Snow games like March, 2013's USA vs. Costa Rica will become the norm.

Con: The argument that this is a worldwide standard is blatantly false. The Scandinavian leagues, along with Russia, Brazil, and others do not operate on the August - May calendar.

Ultimately, I could see MLS caving to FIFA's demands, but I do not think it would be in the league's best interest. Instead, I propose extending the MLS season. By starting the season one month earlier, MLS could accommodate FIFA international dates into the calendar more readily. This would prevent teams from losing their best players at the most inopportune moments (Robbie Keane, anyone?)


Easily the biggest knock on MLS by naysayers. MLS will never be as good as Europe. Well, those naysayers have no idea what they are talking about.

I concede that the league is incomparable to the Barclay's Premier League, the German Bundesliga, La Liga, etc... But I dare anyone to convince me the the Danish Superliga is a superior competition. Or Superleague Greece. Or the Czech Gambrinus Liga. Bigger picture, guys.

One differentiating positive I have noticed watching MLS games over the years is the speed and tenacity of the game. MLS is one of the most physical leagues I have ever seen. If there is one thing American coaches know more about than anyone else in the world, it is strength and conditioning. Talent will come.

For what Major League Soccer is - arguably the fifth most popular professional sports league in the US - it is solid. We live in a society of instant results, which is especially true in the sports world. Fair weather fans forget that the league only started play in 1996. Rome was not built in a day, and neither was MLS. It's an ever-growing process, and better players are emerging in this country every day. While the level of play is not at the top tier, yet, I have no doubt in my mind that it will one day get there. 

The next step is for the one of the league's teams to lift the CONCACAF Champions League trophy. Let's get to Liga MX's level, then we'll worry about "Europe".

Feel free to leave comments and feedback, suggest future topics to cover, whatever. Also follow me on Twitter @biasedsoccer

No comments:

Post a Comment