Sunday, November 7, 2010

Major League Soccer Can Improve It's Product!

Yesterday I had a great time attending the second leg of the Columbus Crew/Colorado Rockie Eastern Conference semi-final.  The Crew were down one goal after the first leg in Colorado, won the second leg 2-1, making the aggregate 2-2. After 30 minutes of overtime, the game went into penalty kicks, with Colorado ultimately winning 5-4 and advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The match was exciting, the Crew Supporters Group (Nordecke) was in full force and although the result was disappointing to me as a Crew fan, I still had a great time.

I woke up this morning thinking that the MLS needs to make some fundamental changes next season to capitalize on it's recent success. Vancouver and Portland expansion teams will be added to the league next season, there will be a 34 game regular season, and the product on the field has improved dramatically!

But here's the thing. It's time to get in line with the rest of the World regarding the make-up of the league table, the importance of the playoffs and the MLS Cup, and the fixture congestion that happens in September and October for many of the clubs:

1) Two of the best clubs in the regular season were upset in the Conference semi-finals, the Columbus Crew and Real Salt Lake. What do these two teams have in common? They both prioritized success in the Concacaf Champions League, and advanced out of their respective groups to make it to the knock-out stage beginning in February 2011. Each team not only played a full slate of MLS matches in September and October, but also played six Concacaf Champions League matches. Both teams looked tired in the MLS playoffs and lost to fresher teams.  Neither team now has a chance to qualify for the 2011-2012 Concacaf Champions League.

2) Although the MLS Cup has traditionally been the trophy to win in MLS, it now seems as though more emphasis should be placed on winning the Supporter's Shield, given to the team who has the most points in MLS play at the end of the season (Los Angeles Galaxy this year). The rest of the World, with the exception of Mexico recognizes the regular season winner as Champion-time for MLS to do the same.

3) Of course, how does it work out that Colorado and San Jose are competing for the Eastern Conference championship, yet neither is located East of the Mississippi?

I propose:

1) A single table format for MLS. The regular season champion will be given the Supporter's Shield and be recognized as League Champion.

2) The MLS Cup will be played as an end of season tournament, with the top eight teams qualifying and playing. The first two rounds will be two leg aggregate goal knockout rounds (1st vs 8th, 2nd vs 7th, 3rd vs 6th, 4th vs 5th etc) with a single game MLS Cup Championship Match played at a neutral site.

3) MLS will lift the restriction on charter planes for travel to away matches in the Concacaf Champions League.

4) Expand rosters.

5) To emphasize the importance of winning the regular season Championship, the first and second place teams will automatically qualify for the Concacaf Group Stage. The MLS Cup end of season tournament winner and US Open Cup winner will be put into the Concacaf qualifying stage.

6) Place emphasis on local rivalry trophies, like the Trillium Cup and the Rocky Mountain Cup. Add a cup for the regular season points leader for the Pacific Northwest Teams (Seattle, Portland, Vancouver) and a little cash prize to go with them for the players.

The changes above won't change the fact that there will be a lot of games in September and October for those teams that qualify for the group stage of the Concacaf Champions league, but those same teams will be able to manage their season to prioritize winning the Champions League and the MLS regular season (and the rewards that go with it), rather than coming into the late October/November MLS Cup worn out, with less of a chance than weaker teams who didn't play so many games.

Commissioner Garber, what do you think?

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