I realize many have theorized on MLS Expansion in the last, oh, 17 years or so, but it's something I've kind of obsessed over in the last few years since being an Inaugural Season Ticket Holder in Seattle and then moving three years later to Detroit (I had to see about a girl...) and subsequently becoming a witness to the (local) phenomenon that is NPSL's Detroit City FC. I figured I could post these theories up on SaH to see what critiques my fellow Sounders fans might have. Shoot them down if you like... or let me know what would and wouldn't fly... but I really want to see Detroit (albeit bankrupt) have an MLS team soon, as the connection I built with Seattle in my four years out there centered around the Sounders. Here goes.
Quick tease: expansion to 27 teams and then ceasing... teams in Orlando, Miami, Austin, Carolina, Detroit, St. Louis, and Phoenix... three conferences based on multiple three-way rivalries... here goes.
As the expansion in the Pacific NW showed over the last few years, MLS (and soccer all around the world) does best when it is supremely local. Hatred between Seattle-Vancouver-Portland makes every single game count, but those rivalry games count even more. With the desire to build into a league built around those rivalries, while also hoping to increase the national footprint of MLS, I'm proposing seven more expansion teams over the next 10 or so years.
With the addition of NYC FC in 2015, an Eastern Conference team will likely move West, most likely the Dynamo in Houston. The conferences then will look like this:
2015 West: Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Jose, Los Angeles, Chivas USA, Salt Lake City, Colorado, Houston, Dallas.
2015 East: Montreal, Toronto, New England, NYCFC, NYRB, Philadelphia, DC United, Columbus, Chicago, Kansas City.
Listed like this, obvious geographical groups start to appear in the West: Cascadia... California... Rockies... Texas. The East is a little more concentrated, with seven teams in the Northeast, and three in the Midwest.
Another pairing is poised to likely join the league soon in Orlando and Miami. With Orlando City and Beckham's Miami being the hottest expansion rumors right now, I'd hope to add them to the league (and the East) in 2016 and jump the league to 22 teams. That would bump another team West, with Kansas City being the logical answer for now.
2016 West: Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Jose, Los Angeles, Chivas USA, Salt Lake City, Colorado, Houston, Dallas, Kansas City.
2016 East: Montreal, Toronto, New England, NYCFC, NYRB, Philadelphia, DC United, Columbus, Chicago, Orlando, Miami.
Again focusing on local rivalries, Miami and Orlando joining at the same time provides another such pairing, but as we've seen in Cascadia, three is better than two.
In 2018 then, I'd hope to expand the league to 24 teams, with Austin joining the West and Carolina joining the East. Austin is one of the fastest growing cities in the country, and similar to Seattle and Portland, has a younger population captivated by soccer. Carolina too is growing fast, and either Charlotte or Raleigh would make a good home for an MLS team. Austin also boasts a large Hispanic population, and Carolina (especially Raleigh-Durham) boasts a highly educated population, where European stylings are more in play. Friends in both of these cities are rabid MLS fans, sadly without a team (for now).
2018 West: Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Jose, Los Angeles, Chivas USA, Salt Lake City, Colorado, Houston, Dallas, Austin, Kansas City.
2018 East: Montreal, Toronto, New England, NYCFC, NYRB, Philadelphia, DC United, Columbus, Chicago, Orlando, Miami, Carolina.
Austin falls to the West, Carolina to the East. The league could easily stop here at 24 teams... but of course, I haven't added Detroit yet... or made it as three-centric as I'd like.
In 2020 then, Detroit, St. Louis, and Phoenix join the league. Detroit City FC has a ridiculous following for such a minor level of soccer, and the Metro Detroit area loves, loves, loves soccer (and plays it, everywhere). While the city has certainly had its financial problems of late, a new arena for the Redwings and probably Pistons is in the works right downtown, and the waterfront area around Joe Lewis Arena could make for an incredible downtown venue on the water. Just a pipe dream I realize, but it would be flippin great. St. Louis has deserved a team since 1996, and if it could've gotten financing in place, would have a team already. By 2020, someone would hopefully pop up. Phoenix is the largest US metro area without an MLS team, and fans there have asked for one for years. Makes sense to me.
These three teams would bring us to 27, and make for three perfect conferences of 9 teams each, divided (unofficially) into three divisions each. Here goes:
2020 West: Vancouver-Seattle-Portland, San Jose-Los Angeles-Chivas USA, Salt Lake City-Colorado-Phoenix.
2020 Central: St. Louis-Kansas City-Chicago, Houston-Dallas-Austin, Detroit-Columbus-Toronto
2020 East: Montreal-New England-NYCFC, NYRB-Philadelphia-DC United, Orlando-Miami-Carolina.
Now, I know many would be skeptical of three conferences, but look at how the trios work out. Cascadia, California, Rockies... Texas, Midwest, and Great Lakes... Northeast, Southeast, and the I-95 rivalry of NYRB, Philly, and DC... each of these works. Each could have their own Cup tournaments based on regular season games, or even have preseason friendlies to build the brand and rivalry even more. Incredible branding opportunities here.
Scheduling would be simple as well... home and away against every team in your conference, home against another conference, and away against the last conference. That makes 34 games... and you're guaranteed to see every team in your conference every year, and every team outside your conference every other year. You could even add in an extra game against each of your rivalry teams (or two) and have a 36 or 38 team sched. It makes for a much more regional league, and in a nation the size of the US, this matters. Half your games are in your time zone (or close). Yes please.
Playoffs would be reseeded at the start, with the 3 conference winners getting the top three seeds, and the next 5 best records getting wild card spots. Please MLS, no more than 8 teams in the playoffs. I know that's a pipe dream on par with the waterfront Detroit MLS stadium, but I'm begging you. Or, I guess you could do 12 teams in the playoffs with the three division winners and a wild card getting a bye... but come on, lets make the playoffs something you have to work hard for.
Alright. I finally typed it all out, so thank you for reading it. Let me know what you think in the comments. I'd love to tweak it for any comment that makes any sense at all. It just feels good to get it off my chest. Now if only someone at MLS would read it.... (and if $$$ fell from the sky to people in each of the seven expansion cities)...