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Major League Soccer isn't perfect, but will it get worse?

So recently Sports Illustrated writer Grant Wahl, one whom I have a lot of respect for, wrote about some suggested changes to the MLS schedule and playoffs. I suggest you read it and then realize that he isn't joking and that there are those out there who clearly have some bizarre ideas and thoughts about how to "fix" MLS. Now I will say that his thoughts about the playoffs are interesting, but still his ideas make the NFL playoffs look easy and simple to understand.

You also have those "soccer reform" people who think the league and sport should run like it does in England and anything else is a joke, including MLS. Then you have a camp (which Wahl appears to be joining) who think MLS must try to copy the NFL, NBA type of model and needs things like matches in neutral locations, more geographic based conference divisions, and more. Now as much as I love that people have opinions, I do think that both of these types of people honestly believe they have ideas that will propel soccer and MLS to the top of the pro leagues in the USA. They are wrong.

I belong to a camp that I think most fans who actually own season tickets, who actually go to matches, who actually support their home town team will chose to belong to. We love our sport, we love our teams, and yes we do think there are some minor things that could be done to make the league run a bit better. Now I happen to think that the pending change to an unbalanced schedule is a move in the wrong direction, but it is likely going to happen, but I can see a possible upside to it.

more thoughts after the jump:

So is it simple of me to believe that MLS should either stick with a balanced schedule, yes even when there are 20 teams in the league, and do away with conferences? Yes, I understand that would mean 38 regular season matches which is more than some people think are possible to schedule and it would mean that rivalries would have to be real and not manufactured by the league office.

Or that they hang on to their conferences and still try to do the right thing, which too is relatively simple? Two conferences of 10 teams each, each team will play each team in their conference twice (home and away) for 18 matches, and then each team will play each team in the other conference once (alternate home and away) for a total of 10 matches.

Now this new 28 match schedule would allow for a better schedule for teams in Champions League, it would allow MLS to work with US Soccer to get the US Open Cup restructured (neither will happen), and likely neither will expanding the length (not the number of team) in the playoffs. It should however allow the league to avoid playing on FIFA dates.

Now I am not really a fan of the group stage thing that Grant Wahl suggested but rather that the top 8 teams make the playoffs and they face off 1v8, 2v7, 3v6, and 4v5 in a new format for MLS, best of 3 for all rounds of the playoffs with the top seeded team getting the home field advantage. I am going to really go out on a limb and say that each playoff match would need a winner, and that we follow extra time, and PK's in each match where needed. Now there would be a real distinctive advantage for the teams with the best regular season records.

It does mean that to lift MLS Cup a team might have to play 9 matches in addition to the regular season, which is more than double the current 4, but I think it both would reward the regular season and allow us to really see which team is the best.

Now I would still love to see a league that had:

  • Single Table - rivalries don't need conferences to make them exist
  • Balanced Schedule - It sure seems like it would be possible
  • Higher Salary Cap - I know that this is directly tied to the TV deals but one has to lead the way and I think we are close to owners taking control of their own salaries with the cap moving quickly to $5 million with DP's counting $500,000 each and with the limit remaining at 3 per team for now
  • More Full Time officials or more officials - We have all seen the problems with poor officials this year, I think more full time officials and more accountability would be a step in the right direction. Or perhaps we add two more officials, with one behind each goal.
  • Goal line technology - It hasn't been as big of an issue this year, but still this seems like a no brainer to me.
  • Instant replay on Red Cards - We have seen far too many bad red cards given this year, the two to three minutes it takes to clear the field is more than enough time for a review from video replay.
Now I am sure there are more ideas out there and as you can see I fall somewhere between those who call themselves "reformers" and those who believe that MLS must adopt more typical American sports ideas.

Instead we will be left with a scheduling mess that will have teams facing a mix and match list of opponents which will of course lead many to wonder about teams who get to play the softer teams and why their team has to play the better quality opponents, oh trust me it will happen as soon as the schedule is announced. Nope we have about 5 months until MLS will announce the 2012 schedule, and one thing is sure there will be plenty of people (probably including me) who will question the decisions they make.