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A Four Division Re-alignment Plan That Might Be Crazy Enough To Work

Don Garber has recently brought talks of expansion to the forefront of the MLS. With the plan to have a 24-team league by 2020 and the ideal of a 28-game schedule, might a four division system make some sense?

Richard Wolowicz

According to MLS Commissioner Don Garber, MLS will expand to 24 teams by 2020. The first team, New York City FC will be joining MLS in 2015, leaving five years for the four other teams. During the All-Star break, MLS publicly announced their contemplation to condense the schedule to 28-games. Might this be a better idea than first believed by the majority public?

First - lets think of the major advantage and disadvantage of a 28 game league schedule.

Advantage: You allow yourself to stop having games on international weekends. Pretty much every major league doesn't play on these game days. Let's not have Los Angeles Galaxy having to play without their stars and being hampered simply because they have lots of good players getting called up to international squads.

Disadvantage: You are going to remove three home games from every team's schedule. Teams need the revenue. MLS have been building slowly, but need to ensure they remain a viable league. Removing revenue sounds like it would be the same kind of mistakes people made before, ultimately leading to league bankruptcy.

There may be a solution, though. If the league is adamant about reducing the amount of league games, there are some things they can do to add some games to each team's home schedule.

1) Make more out of the US Open Cup. England's FA Cup and other European domestic cup competitions are popular and sell out, so should the US Open Cup.

2) Make an MLS type cup, regionalizing within the MLS teams to have groups of three (maybe add some non-MLS teams for now to make 24). Games can be played midweek that way. If you have groups of three, add in some local rivalries that will be more likely to sell out, and it will give you extra games.

Now let's say the 28-game season happens. In 2015, there are 20 teams, Houston Dynamo move back West and NYCFC make up the 10th team in the East. Scheduling is easy, 18 intradivision games (9 home, 9 away) and 10 interdivision games (5 home, 5 away). Simple.

However, let's think of 24 teams, two divisions, 12 teams per division. You play each team in your division two times for 22 games. That leaves six games left in a 28-game season, meaning NYCFC host LA Galaxy once every 4 years. That's not going to work.

Now let's say, for argument's sake that the other four teams at Miami (Beckham), Orlando (>20,000 fans at the recent final), Atlanta (according to this article there may be a "Blank" check-book to sweeten that pot). and San Antonio (a quick and informal poll between tBG contributors picked them as the fourth team).

While there is a bit of a stretch at times, one could easily see MLS going to four divisions of six. MLS East will have Montreal Impact, New England Revolution, New York Red Bulls, NYCFC, Philadelphia Union, and D.C. United. MLS North will have Toronto FC, Chicago Fire, Columbus Crew, Sporting Kansas City, Real Salt Lake and Colorado Rapids. Within MLS West there will be Vancouver Whitecaps, Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers, LA Galaxy, Chivas USA and San Jose Earthquakes. That leaves Houston Dynamo, FC Dallas, and new teams San Antonio, Atlanta, Miami and Orlando in MLS South.

This will give you six teams per division. You play each team home and away (10 games). You then play all other teams home or away (18 games). That gives you the 28-game season MLS wants with the top two teams in each division qualifying for an 8-team playoff.

Add in the MLS League Cup - (San Jose, LA Galaxy, Chivas), (Portland, Seattle, Vancouver), (San Antonio, Houston, Dallas), (Atlanta, Miami, Orlando), (New England, NYRB, D.C.), (Philadelphia, NYCFC, Montreal), (Toronto, Chicago, Columbus), (Sporting KC, RSL, Colorado). Give each team two home games and two away games; that's 32 guaranteed games. Add in US Open Cup and that gives you 33 guaranteed games. Do well in both cups and you can get to 40 games in a season, plenty to cover the loss of revenue in league games. The more localized travel most of the time is going to cut down on costs and allow more midweek games.

So if MLS really wants to drop the number of league games that are played, the only way to really do that seems to be to have four divisions of six instead of sticking with just East and West, giving MLS a system sort of comparable to the NHL's new system.

Personally? I'd rather stick with two divisions, 34 games, more local midweek games (as much as that would stop me going to some). But I don't have any say in this. What do you think? Should MLS keep their current system in place, or should they adopt a shorter schedule more friendly towards international competitions and aimed at promoting the U.S. Open Cup? Let me know in the comments section!