Thinking Ahead: Possible Conference Realignment In MLS

Thinking Ahead: Possible Conference Realignment In MLS

  • Posted by Drew Epperley
  • On September 26, 2013
  • Features, MLS Expansion
What will Don Garber and MLS do with 24 clubs? (Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)

What will Don Garber and MLS do with 24 clubs? (Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)

I’ve had several folks ask me recently my thoughts on future conference alignment in Major League Soccer. Once MLS expands to 24 clubs, how will things look and play out is a big topic of debate around the league right now. Then there is the news that came from the All-Star break, MLS publicly discussing their contemplation to condense the schedule to 28 games.

I’ve discussed my thoughts on this here already. There are some pros and cons to a smaller schedule, that much we know.

One thing we know in the MLS expansion race is that Orlando looks to be in, as does Miami and Atlanta. For argument sake for this post, we’ll say that either San Antonio get in that fourth and final spot.

I won’t go into how the schedule factors into things with 24 teams. I think by now that has been done enough around the web. Not to mention I’m rubbish with numbers and would muck it all up if I tried to.

So here are some possibilities:

Two conferences – no divisions

Eastern Conference Western Conference
Atlanta Chivas USA
Chicago Fire Colorado Rapids
Columbus Crew FC Dallas
D.C. United Houston Dynamo
Montreal Impact LA Galaxy
Miami Portland Timbers
New England Revolution Real Salt Lake
New York City FC San Antontio
New York Red Bulls San Jose Earthquakes
Orlando Seattle Sounders FC
Philadelphia Union Sporting KC
Toronto FC Vancouver Whitecaps

This is called the simple approach. It would be as close to the lovely single table as possible. Seriously, you’re not going to get single table in MLS anytime soon. I won’t even begin to go into why it won’t happen either. But a two conference set up is still a very likely scenario come 24 teams.

In this set up, you add the three Southeast teams to the East, move Houston and Sporting KC to the West and add in a San Antonio.

Two conferences with two divisions

Eastern Conference Western Conference
North South Central Pacific
Montreal Impact Atlanta Chicago Fire Chivas USA
New England Revolution Columbus Crew Colorado Rapids LA Galaxy
New York City FC D.C. United FC Dallas Portland Timbers
New York Red Bulls Houston Dynamo Real Salt Lake San Jose Earthquakes
Philadelphia Union Miami San Antonio Seattle Sounders FC
Toronto FC Orlando Sporting KC Vancouver Whitecaps

Here is where things begin to get tricky. Two conferences, with two six-team divisions within said conference. Personally, I like this set up if the teams that are being rumored to be added end up being these four. The one hang up is you lose one rivalry between FC Dallas and Houston, along with not being able to keep all three Texan teams together in one division. That is tough but Houston made more sense to be back in the East in the “South” division rather than having a Chicago or Sporting KC back in the East in that “South” division. I tried to keep things tied geographically as much as I could with this one.

The “Pacific” division keeps a lot of traditional rivalries in tact, just like the “North” does. While not completely perfect, this proposal would be pretty darn good if the league had to go to it.

Two conferences with three divisions

Eastern Conference Western Conference
Ralston Division McBride Division Valderrama Division Rhine Division Jones Division Keller Division
Montreal Impact Columbus Crew Atlanta FC Dallas Colorado Rapids Portland Timbers
New England Revolution Chicago Fire D.C. United San Antonio Chivas USA San Jose Earthquakes
New York City FC Philadelphia Union Miami Houston Dynamo LA Galaxy Seattle Sounders FC
New York Red Bulls Toronto FC Orlando Sporting KC Real Salt Lake Vancouver Whitecaps

Now we get to the fun. Two conferences with three four-team divisions. You can ignore the divisional names here, they’re placeholders for the most part until I become more creative.

So, in the Eastern Conference you have a mostly northern division, a mid-western division of some sorts and a south division. I must admit, splitting the Eastern teams up into three groups of four is tougher than it looks. I ended up moving Houston back to the West for this purpose.

The four team divisions keep most rivalries in place and will likely create new ones along the way. The one thing I don’t like seeing is splitting up D.C. United and New York. Though it appears that with any conference split into divisions that will be bound to happen. I tried to keep as many rivalries in place within a single division as I could here. The “Rhine” division not only has the three Texan teams together but geographically it adds the next closest team to them in Sporting KC.

Splitting up the rest of the Western teams wasn’t an easy call but I opted to go with a Mountain/SoCal group and then a Northwest group. That seemed to make the most sense in the end.

Final Thoughts:

Now a lot of this is pure speculation and for fun. Don’t take the inclusion of San Antonio with anything more than a grain of salt. They were an easy patsy for this demonstration. I think Sacramento would have been another easy city to work with here on these three proposals. I merely wanted to point out some possibilities that very well could happen over the next few years.

Personally, I hope to see a way to keep as many rivalries in place as possible. When it comes down to it, I almost would rather see the two conferences just be that – two conference and nothing more. I’m fine with more or less games too in the schedule. But none of that is up to me anyways so I’m just here to present it for discussion.

  • this guy

    I like sticking with the 2 conference for now. with KC and Houston moving over to the west. I also like the San Antonio idea.

    the 2 conferences works better with the playoff format too. with divisions, divisional winners usually get automatic seedings even if their records aren’t that good. I’d prefer the current way where the top 5 teams from each conference gets in.

    eventually MLS will be closer to 30+ teams and then they can split into different divisions just llike MLB did not that long ago. (or maybe it was that long ago and I just don’t want to admit that I’m getting old)

    • MLS is a long, long way from 30 teams. At best, they’ll end with 28 but that is even another 15 years away, at best from what some executives around the league have mentioned to me.

  • Michael Haefele

    The second example also breaks up the DC/RBNY rivalry. Maybe swap with Toronto (I know they’re geographically in that group, but they’re not really considered a rival in that group)…

    What about 3 divisions of 8? West, East, South/Middle.
    Current east would drop Chicago, Houston and Sporks, pick up NY2. Nearly everything is drive-able (as an RBNY fan, those houston/kansas games are a waste)..
    Current west drops Dallas.
    Everyone else is in the “Other” conf.

    Yeah, three-way playoffs are weird (maybe 4th spot goes to supporters shield winner?), but it would maintain all the rivalries and 8 teams is a good size for a conference.

    Key thing is they’ve got to keep geographic conferences. The easier it is to get to away games, the better it is for supporters culture.

    • I’ve never liked the idea of a three conference league. MLS tried that once and it was a miserable failure. With any conference realignment, there will always be at least one or two rivalries that will suffer from it.

  • Jackson Scofield

    Eastern Conference Atlantic: Atlanta, D.C., New England, New York City, New York, Philadelphia
    Eastern Conference Central: Chicago, Columbus, Miami, Montreal, Orlando, Toronto
    Western Conference Midwest: Colorado, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Salt Lake, San Antonio
    Western Conference Pacific: Chivas, LA, Portland, San Jose, Seattle, Vancouver

    Also considered this for the west at first:
    Western Conference Northwest: Colorado, Kansas City, Portland, Salt Lake, Seattle, Vancouver
    Western Conference Southwest: Chivas, Dallas, Houston, LA, San Antonio, San Jose

  • Sultan Cordoba

    How about the arrangement the NASL had when the league was of 24 teams. With American and National Conferences, and whatever geographical criteria in each Conference.