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Major League Soccer - State of the League preview

MLS Logo 2
MLS Logo 2

So on Thursday afternoon Don Garber will address the media with his State of the League address and while I don't expect any of the more controversial topics to be addressed I do think there are a few things we can count on:

  • The Success of the Designated Player - As more teams have added DP's the impact on the pitch has been greater as well, and while no team has won MLS Cup (yet) with a DP on their roster, I am willing to be that trend ends next weekend.
  • The Success of the New Playoff Format - Finally a MLS Cup with a team from the Eastern Conference and Western Conference will face off for the Championship. This will be the first time since 2007 that each conference is represented. I for one still dislike the format of Wildcards and the reality is that the #1 team will be playing the overall #7 team.
  • The Success of the New TV Deal - I have to say that this is the one area that I think is actually a huge success of this year. The move to Versus or NBC Sports Net will be a huge one that will instantly double the exposure of the league over Fox Soccer.
  • Success of World Football Challenge - There were some great teams and great matches that brought out fans in huge numbers. No mention of the debacle in Vancouver will be made.
  • Schedule changes for 2012 - I am not sure if this topic will be hit or not but I am sure a question will be asked or generic comment made. It is almost a lock that there will not be a balanced schedule in 2012, the question is how much will they screw up the schedule trying to get their "rivalry" on?
My comments and thoughts after the jump:
I think it was a great year for MLS, a lot of good things happened but there are some concerns for me: lack of consistency and transparency in MLS (allocation money, disciplinary committee), there are clearly issues with the quality of the officials being used by MLS, I still think the playoff system is bad, when the 3 top teams have to fight each other for one of the spots in the final we are sacrificing quality for geography.

I know some readers think I am very much against Don Garber and the staff at MLS, I wouldn't say I am against them but I believe as a fan and a blogger that I have a right to demand better. The sport and league have made huge progress over the last 7 years, I believe it will continue to but I truly hope that we don't start to pander to casual sports fans (which has been done in the past) and that we allow those who truly love the sport for what it is to become the central growth target of the league.

I think having a leader pulling for one city to get a franchise is wrong, I think a league that allows so many teams to be overlooked for national TV coverage is wrong, I think that annual changes to the payroll rules, playoffs, and conferences are wrong. While evolution must happen, there are some fairly basic things that should be thought out further than on a year by year basis.

Some things are relatively easy to solve, a single table would allow you to not have to worry about conferences, it also would allow you an easier way to reward regular season performance for teams by not using geography as the standard for your playoffs but rather quality.

As a league you have bigger issues than YSA, you have some teams and their delegates (3rd party security teams) who make your most ardent supporters feel like outcasts. You have some organizations that do not take all competition seriously, you have a sport that most in the industry see as ready to pop on a national level unlike anything we have seen before, but what product are you going to give them?

Oh I also expect a level of integrity from the leaders of the league, I don't expect them to be just another PR tool but I expect a yes to mean yes and a no to mean no, without regard to who is asking the question or who is listening to the answer. The sport is lacking integrity at the highest levels and MLS has a chance to set the bar much higher, to be better than FIFA, to be better than CONCACAF, it will require some changes but I truly believe it must happen for the best of the sport and the league.

Just so you don't think I am all negative, I think the two new franchises (Portland and Vancouver) did great jobs in their local markets of building their teams and markets, wile Portland had more success on the pitch they also have set the bar high for fan experiences at matches. Seattle continues to raise the bar with their marketing and sales, no matter how you get there, 60K in the stands for a MLS match is inspiring. The talent level continues to rise across the league, and for me the important this is the young players (Shea, Sapong, Gil, Montero, and others) who can inspire the next generation of potential players. The fact that new players both DP and not joined the league and continued to raise the level. I love that so many teams and players continue to use social media to interact with their fans, it is a really good thing. While I wish MLS (and all sports) would report actual attendance instead of tickets distributed, it is clear that despite a couple years of a weak economy that attendance is on an upward climb in most markets.

I think it was a great year for MLS, but there is more that can and should be done, if we want continued growth then the bar must be raised each year. I would love to hear a 5 year and a 10 year plan be discussed, with details and goals that can be measured, let your fans join in the vision of the future.