I filled in my PE readers on the ever-changing MLS in my weekly column. With expansion a hot topic right now, I figured I'd put some more thoughts down right here about the matter.
As it stands, we have 16 teams who will play in the 2010 season, with Seattle and Philadelphia joining the fray in '09 and '10 respectively. The league will likely expand to 18 but when that happens remains unknown. If two teams are added this year, perhaps they could get in line with Philly and join the league in 2010 as well.
I don't think adding two more teams is that great of an idea, however. Yes, the league could stand to gain some interest in some cities where MLS is not a presence, St. Louis being one of them. But adding two more teams means another 36 senior roster players, not to mention the 18 senior roster players Seattle will add and the 18 Philadelphia will add over the next two years.
Are there really enough top-flight caliber players in this country to fill out those rosters? Some would argue there aren't enough of those around as it stands today, in 2008, with 14 teams.
Yes, there are international players available and that pool will never run dry. But teams can only count on foreigners to fill so many spots. American lads still have to form a sizable part of teams' rosters. Depth is still a problem MLS teams have. Look at Houston. They lose two players off their forward line and they're scrambling to fill those spots, and frankly neither Nate Jaqua or Joe Ngwenya were top-caliber players to begin with.
Also, you have to consider finances. Salaries are low and it's difficult to bring in players from abroad with such low salaries. And also it's difficult to keep mid-level talent around with such low salaries as well, guys like Jaqua, Ngwenya, Pat Noonan and Clarence Goodson - all of whom walked on free transfers after the 2007 season.
As far as future expansion, it seems that St. Louis is a given. Beyond that, it's pretty wide open. Personally, I'd like to see another western-based team but that might be more of a bias than anything. Still, I think adding Portland or Las Vegas would be good. I'm not sold on San Diego, though. That city has had attendance problems with both the Chargers and Padres before, though those fan bases are pretty loyal to their teams. Miami had their chance. Thanks, but no thanks. Can we stand to have a second Canadian team? If it would be anything like the first, then I'd say yes but can that be replicated elsewhere north of the border?
Ideally, however, the league would stop expanding. Sixteen teams seems ideal. I'd like to see the conferences done away with, and have one table with the top six teams getting into the playoffs. Raise salaries so teams can be competitive and have the ability to add true depth and force teams to develop true and effective youth development systems. That seems like the makings of a good league.