With confirmation emerging yesterday of the long-suspected conference shift taking place in 2015, we can start to wonder what will happen to Real Salt Lake in the transition.
The West, after all, will now hold every MLS Cup winner since RSL won it in 2009 (we were, as ever, the harbingers of that particular trend). And if you go back even further, only two winners — D.C. United in 2004, Columbus Crew in 2008 — since 2000 are currently Eastern Conference teams.
But what does that mean for the West now? It's clear that winning the league doesn't necessarily lead to long-term success. Sporting Kansas City this season is a good example, and Colorado Rapids ever is an even better one. Still, the two teams coming over aren't exactly weak, particularly where RSL is concerned. (This is where we talk about our profligacy in Texas generally, but I think we've avoided that this season.)
The big question we should all be asking ourselves: Will the Western Conference be sucked into an arms race to rival any global thermonuclear war we could imagine. If not, we'll probably just eat ourselves, and the Eastern Conference, with its skewed (or at least question-inducing) competition will be ripe for disruption. If so, though — what happens? Can we keep up?
We've kept up with the race just fine already, even if we could have done more at various times of the season. But even with players like Robbie Keane, Obafemi Martins, Clint Dempsey, and Landon Donovan around — and again, this season's problems weren't about player personnel, necessarily — we've managed to do pretty well. Not as well as we could have, but a couple wins against the worst team in the conference, and we're sitting neck-and-neck.
Here are a few concepts on what could happen to RSL and the rest of the Western Conference. Think they're far-fetched?
Scenario One: The Western Conference becomes too competitive
Through the fray, the Supporters Shield could just permanently move to the Eastern Conference. The West might produce great playoff teams for a couple years, but at some point, the fervor to just make the playoffs becomes such that by the time the playoffs roll around, everyone's basically walking wounded.
Scenario Two: The Western Conference declines in quality
A few clubs really jump ahead, as with greater financial resources, they're able to really blow everybody out of the water. Everyone else starts dipping in form and quality, unable to compete, and eventually, we're left with a few superpowers who control the league.
Scenario Three: Nothing really changes after all
Aside from the moving of teams in the conference, the Western Conference continues the scrap for the playoffs below the first three spots, but everything else remains the same. If RSL stays in this top three, we'll be happy, and we'll find competing through consistency is not that hard. Ideally.