Some exciting news (although not unexpected) flew over the wire a few days back as it was announced that Orlando City SC was awarded the 21st franchise in Major League Soccer. Orlando is scheduled to join the league in 2015 along with New York City FC and will continue the changing of the MLS landscape. 2015 is poised to be an exciting year as the league re-enters the Southeast for the first time since 2001 and New York gets a second team.
But what will this mean for MLS? If they continue the traditional Western and Eastern Conference alignment, two teams will need to flip to the West and how would scheduling be altered? (Will that be the time that MLS goes to a Winter schedule?) Will more Designated Players be added? I don't think that anyone knows, but when there is major news in MLS I always think about what I would do if I were commissioner. So here goes... if I were commissioner for a day, here is what I would do:
- Keep the playoffs as they are - I know many in the football world think MLS playoffs are stupid, or they don't get it. After all, most leagues around the world have the team that finishes with the most points as the overall champion. And I certainly get that, but I prefer the system we have in the United States. If you look at the 2013 MLS season (with the exception of Chivas USA, DC United and Toronto FC) all teams had a shot getting into the playoffs going into the final couple of weeks of the season. And if you make the playoffs, anything can happen. Real Salt Lake in 2009, Colorado Rapids in 2010 and the Los Angeles Galaxy of last year (Ed: Don't forget 2006 as well!) can all thank a playoff system for their titles. It is exciting and fun and it means if you make the final tournament, you have a shot.
- That being said - No matter how many teams eventually join MLS (currently set at 24) I would not let the playoff field grow. As it is now, over half the teams make the playoffs. MLS is not the NHL or NBA. Please do not grow the playoff field anymore.
- Scheduling - The biggest pet peeve I have right now with MLS is the insistence of playing games over International Breaks. It screws with teams and messes with overall records. In American sport it is unheard of to "shut the league down" for time periods (think of NFL, NHL or MLB doing that regularly), but in football it is a must. As MLS continues to grow in stature, more and more of our players will be called on internationally. Most every team suffered in 2013 with this and it is stupid that it still happens.
- Which means more midweek games - Some teams (Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders FC, Sporting Kansas City, etc) will always draw well regardless when a match is played. For others, including Colorado Rapids, a midweek game will always be tough to get fans out. But for MLS to continue to grow as a league and gain credibility, midweek games, with full rosters, are a must. Schedule more midweek games in the summer to encourage more people to come out, but the time has come to stop playing over the breaks.
- Accountability for Referees - I would love the league to continue to work with its referees to improve their performance and ability to make the correct calls. As a supporter I have the ability of hindsight, and it is easy to say "hey ref, you suck for blowing that call." But there have been a number of calls, soft penalty kicks, or missed penalty kicks that can impact a match. I do not expect referees to be perfect, but I hope that when they do miss calls, they are held accountable and the incident is used a training opportunity.
- Mass Confrontation needs to stop - There is nothing better than watching grown men surround a match official and act like spoiled children. It is a disgrace to the league and it could be stopped quickly. If you confront an official, and you do not carry the armband, you get a red. Period. It is terrible to see and if you red card people, it will stop. The players need to have more self respect and respect for the game.
Well that is my two cents if I were commissioner for a day. MLS is an exciting and dynamic league and with these easy (in my opinion) fixes, it can be even better. Will any of this happen? I could see the International Break fiasco being fixed (come on Don Garber, you have the power to make it happen) and that would be my first priority.
Is it March yet?