Monday, November 24, 2008

Let's Talk MLS as a Whole

The latest news out of the MLS is something of a mixed bag. There were some positive developments and some not so positive developments based on the MLS Board of Governors meeting and the Commissioner's State of the League address.

Taking some developments as good:

No team will play both the Superliga and the CONCACAF Champions League. This is good news on three fronts. First, it will ease fixture congestion for the teams--a huge complaint this year and to a certain extent rightfully so since it impacted the quality of play both in the MLS and in these competitions, there were too many teams playing reserves in these major competitions.

In superliga you will see: Chivas USA, Chicago, New England and Kasas City.
CONCACAF Champions League: Columbus, DC United, New York and Houston. (the MLS Cup winner, U.S. Open Cup Winnner, MLS Cup Ruinner up and Supporter's Sheild Runner Up-Houston)

Second, this set up gives more MLS teams exposure to international play. I would hope that Superliga would play in Mexico as well as in the U.S., but that may be a step down the road. Playing home and home in the group stages would be a good move and give even more exposure, but that is down the road I think. If there is a home and away series in the Superliga, I think teams should be able to get more revenue.

Third, it gives incentives for teams in the midtable and lower table to move up and compete. If the Supporter's Sheiled and MLS cup winners are the same team, you get the second place supporter's sheild team the second best in the league, going to international play. Of course, if there is a question of what happens if and when a USL team wins the Open Cup, does that mean only three MLS teams?

Roster Size trimmed. Teams will go from 28 to 24, which sounds like a negative, but the senior roster size can go as high as 20. This is a mixed move. Honestly, at this stage, there is not enough financial committment possible from the league to run a reserve division, although clubs like Houston and DC did pretty well in the reserves. If this is coupled with even a modest increase in the hard salary cap for next year (which I haven't heard about) then this might be a good move. With expansion coming up, Seattle and Philly and two more by 2011, shortening the rosters is probably necessary. In the short run, it may impact the availability of players, but in the long run, this move will enhance the quality of play.

In conjunction with this move, I would like to see the MLS consider expanding the Academy system and grant teams the ability to name two to three players from their academy to their developmental roster with no salary cap impact and no roster size impact. Thus, a team could have 20 senior roster players, four developmental players and up to three academy grads training with the first team. An academy player can make a maximum of two appearances or no more than 60 minutes of playing tim before they are considered to have displaced a developmental player.

I have more ideas on this, but for a later post.

One other item on roster size, I think that teams who make international competitions should be able to expand their roster by an additional 2-4 players under a 10%, one-time salary cap increase. But that may be a collective bargaining issue.

Playoffs system. I have to admit, I don't like the playoffs as they are currently formulated. Next year, the top two teams in each conference will get automatic berths and then the next four best teams. This bastardization creates some potentially pervers results, even stranger than this year where New York won the Western Conference, such as six teams from the East and only two from the west (it is possible and could have happened . This system attempts to create an American style conference with a single table format and at some point MLS is going to have to chose (and I much favor a single table format). Kartik Krishnaier argues that MLS will always have conference style play because geography demands it. However, the Russian top leage does not have that problem and to travel from Moscow to Vladivostok is like flying from L.A. to London. I don't like conference play, but if you are going to have conference based play, have conference based playoffs. I would like to see the top three teams in each conference advance, with the top team in each conference getting a bye in the first round.

Fixture Flexibility. I really like this idea. Essentially, teams will have the ability to take two weekends off or otherwise ease their MLS schedule to accomodate international play. What's that, a burst of common sense at MLS? Who knew? Look, after the embarassment that was the MLS performance in CONCACAF Champions League, this just makes sense, as it gives clubs an opportunity to restructure their schedule a little so that they are trying to play 3 games in 8 days during a couple of stretches during the hottest parts of the summer.

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