At some point today, I'm sure we'll post a complete recrimination of last night's debacle. For now, I thought it might be nice to allow ourselves to focus on something else.
Tucked deep inside the AP story about Don Garber's designs for MLS moving forward in this wonderful little nugget:
Garber thinks the league will grow larger than comparable first divisions in Europe. While eventually he would like to see relegation and promotion, it's not on the horizon because there isn't a financially viable second division that would be acceptable to MLS owners if their teams went down.
"In 2011 we'll have 18 teams in our league," he said. "That's the size league that FIFA would like their first divisions to be. My guess is we probably expand beyond that in the years to come. Our country is a lot bigger than many of the European countries that might have 75 or 80 million people — ours (is) 300 million-plus crossing (four) time zones, We probably have some room for more than 18 teams."
The bold is mine.
I know this is a bit of a favorite subject for some of the commenters here, so I figured I may as well share. I have, in the past, been one of the wet blankets on this subject. My assumption has always, and to a degree still, is that MLS won't do this because they don't have to. There's just too much to lose for the current owners, by my thinking.
Maybe I underestimated Garber, though. He must know the hornet's nest he's opened up with these comments. If he wasn't being bombarded with calls to do something like this before, he most certainly will now.
I'm sure he sees games like last night's in Dallas in which there were far less than the announced 8,000-and-change in attendance and realizes that something has to be done to shake up some of these markets that stops short of folding franchises. Relegation is one obvious solution. Maybe if Dallas was in danger of slipping back into the USL/NASL their owners would be more interested in settling their problems.
I will say that I've come around to the belief that relegation is a pretty awesome marketing tool. Currently reading "Bloody Confused" which has plenty of problems, but one of them is not capturing the excitement that comes with teams battling relegation and for spots in the various tournaments around Great Britain and Europe.
Carlos and I had a very long discussion mainly circling around this kind of stuff in the aftermath of last night's game, and I thought I came up with a rather ingenious idea: Instead of finishing the season with a playoff, MLS should push for the final three rounds of the U.S. Open Cup to occur after the regular season is over.
This would put more emphasis on winning the Supporter's Shield (since that would be the defacto MLS championship), and still allow teams to pocket their playoff money (which for some teams isn't that much anyway). I'd bet this would end up being insanely more popular than the current U.S. Open Cup format in which MLS teams usually sleep walk through the first few rounds before treating the last couple rounds with somewhat more importance. If MLS is so in love with the idea of having a Super Bowl-like, end-of-season, winner-take-all game, I'd suggest simply constructing the U.S. Open Cup final in this way.
I think it would also lead to more attention, in general, being paid to MLS. It would honor the tradition of world football by allowing teams of multiple levels to compete against one another (which it obviously already does), while still allowing MLS teams to compete in a playoff for a championship. (I don't know a lot about the Canadian equivalent to this tournament, but coordinating with them would probably be a good idea, too.) It would also vastly expand the number of markets that are paying attention, which MLS would obviously love.
Taking this one step further, I think this would also provide the opening and impetus to take the CONCACAF Champions League more seriously.
Combined, these three championships would make relegation an even more palpable solution, since even if teams are relegated they'd have ample opportunities to play against top-flight teams and give their fans reasons to show up.
I won't pretend to try to answer all the questions relegation brings to the fore regarding the current model of expansion and fees. No matter how much you may believe this is wrong, it has to be reconciled for relegation to gain any sort of foothold. Someone with a much more ingrained knowledge will have to address this issue.
Anyway, hope this gives you something to think about and discuss that doesn't involve burning Terry Vaughn effigies.