October 25, 2010
By Michael Lewis
One writer's MLS conference realignment and playoff plan for 2011
While eight teams prepare for the MLS playoffs, yours truly will be looking ahead until next year for the next few minutes.
If I had my druthers, the league would have a single table, with the top eight teams reaching the MLS promised land. It would be simple and direct.
But we're in America, which is ruled by the playoffs and smaller four-, six- and eight-divisions and conferences. The powers-that-be in sports obviously don't think the U.S. fans can fathom, well, long divisions. So, saying that, I offer a compromise solution if the league doesn't want to go to a single table like the rest of the world.
Three conferences have six teams apiece. As it turns out, it is a perfect fit geographically. While teams would play their foes an equal amount of time, they would be in the same time zones, more or less. The East in the Eastern time zone, Central in the Central and Rocky Mountain Time and the West in the Pacific.
The three conferences:
Eastern -- Columbus Crew, D.C. United, New York Red Bulls, New England Revolution, Philadelphia Union, Toronto FC
Central -- Colorado Rapids, Chicago Fire, FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, Kansas City Wizards, Real Salt Lake
Western -- Chivas USA, Los Angeles Galaxy, Portland Timbers, San Jose Earthquakes, Seattle Sounders FC, Vancouver Whitecaps
When the Montreal Impact joins in 2012, put them in the Eastern Conference.
Let's not devalue a post-season berth and keep it at eight berths.
But how do you divide them up?
Well, the conference champions would get a bye. So would the top second-place team (which would get advantage in the first round of the playoffs), which would make a scramble for the final four wild-card spots.
The two top first-place teams would secure home-field advantage as long as they win, through MLS Cup.
It makes a lot of sense, doesn't it?
Whether MLS would be willing to adopt such a concept would be another matter entirely.