Photo: Courtesy of Orlando City SC
Congratulations are in order for Orlando City. Welcome to MLS!
So much for that nice, neat, even, 20-team league.
New York City F.C., entering Major League Soccer in 2015, was going to end this ugly, unbalanced East-West conundrum. At the very least, one factor that muddied the playoff waters would be solved.
On Tuesday, MLS announced the awarding of franchise No. 21 to Orlando City S.C. at an event in central Florida. They will also join MLS in 2015. The quotes coming from the event indicate that the league is likely to keep the expansion to two teams in 2015, leaving an odd 21.
While I have been wanting to see MLS go from 20 to 22 to 24 in succession, this makes something rather clear to me – MLS is going three conferences. And if they’re not, maybe they should.
Could it be 3 conferences?
Now, we don’t know that for certain yet. But it’s not a huge stretch to see 21 teams and come to the conclusion that a three-conference league is on the horizon. Simple math begs for that solution, especially when you consider that 24 teams are the goal by 2020, as stated by Commissioner Don Garber.
So let’s get at it already. What might three conferences look like in 2015?
Northeast Conference – DCU, MTL, NE, NYCFC, PHI, NYRB, TOR
Central Conference – CHI, CLB, COL, DAL, HOU, OCSC, SKC
Western Conference – CHV, LA, POR, RSL, SEA, SJ, VAN
This makes the most sense as a conference realignment for MLS with all of the current teams, plus NYCFC and OCSC.
- It keeps most cup rivalries intact.
- It reunites Dallas and Houston, a Texas Derby that has been a glaring hole.
- It’s the best split geographically. If MLS wants 4 matches between each conference rival (2 home, 2 away), the only glaring issue is Orlando City’s lack of proximity to any team.
- Two rivalries get nixed – the Rocky Mountain Cup (ouch) and the Trillium Cup (oh well).
- Most of the power is located in the East and West, respectively. The flyover Central Conference seems weak comparatively speaking, a group of teams that rely more on development than big name signings.
What if Chivas moved?
We still have the David Beckham arrangement as a potential twist in this caper. Beckham reportedly had a clause in his contract to purchase an expansion franchise for $25 million,which must be exercised by the end of 2013. According to reports about Garber’s remarks yesterday, the expected franchise fee from the Orlando City contingent will be around $70 million. That’s a $45 million discount for Golden Balls.
The league could still announce Miami as another expansion team for 2015, but Garber’s comments yesterday made a third expansion in 2015 seem less likely.
But what if Miami isn’t a new franchise at all? What if MLS instead brokered the sale of Chivas USA to Beckham with a move to South Florida? (Editor’s note: Yes, there have been reports that Beckham’s discount only works for an expansion team, but we know how rules change in MLS. Run with this a bit.) What might that look like?
Eastern Conference – DCU, MIA, NE, NYCFC, OCSC, PHI, NYRB,
Central Conference – CHI, CLB, DAL, HOU, MTL, SKC, TOR
Western Conference – COL, LA, POR, RSL, SEA, SJ, VAN
Now that actually kicks some tail. It nails every real rivalry in MLS, aside from losing the LA Derby (repeating myself, it nails every REAL rivalry). You keep Real Salt Lake and Colorado together. You still have the Trillium Cup, not a big ticket item, but also keep Toronto together with Montreal. You would have the Florida Derby, Texas Derby, New York Derby, I-95 Derby, and last and certainly not least, the Cascadia Cup..
NYCFC & Beckham FC would be great bargaining tools for the league in the next television negotiations. That could presumably raise expansion fees for new franchises.
MLS would be wise to help Beckham buy out Jorge Vergara. If anyone could have the clout to take the laughing stock of MLS and rebrand it towards success, it would be David Beckham.
The main trouble with this assertion would be this report, saying Vergara wanted $200 million for Chivas USA back before the NYCFC expansion announcement. I’m guessing Vergara would take a fraction of that and run, seeing that he paid just $10 million back in 2004.
The league could later expand into the LA market again, if they so choose, possibly for a nice profit over the buyout of Vergara.
The next three teams
This would leave MLS in an excellent position heading towards the end of the decade. Expansion into Atlanta (East), St. Louis, Minnesota, or San Antonio (Central), and Los Angeles, Las Vegas, or Sacramento (West) would align pretty well with this 3 conference makeup.
Of course, MLS could just as easily keep Chivas USA in Los Angeles with a rebrand, expand to Miami and two other markets, it would look pretty similar.
The future is quite exhilarating for the league and its fans. The possibilities are more than numerous, but Don Garber has some major decisions to make in the next month and a half to steer this league into smoother, and potentially more profitable, waters.