Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Expanding thoughts

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.


Evan said...

I don't think it's unfairly biased to want to see another Western team to balance out the geography. Chicago, Toronto, and Columbus are far closer to NJ, Boston, and DC than they are to LA, SJ, or Seattle. Make those Eastern teams travel!

ELAC said...

I say Vegas! Portland would be good for Seattle and us here in Cali.

No doubt, we need a WEST COAST TEAM if St. Louis gets in.

I don't think San Luis (ooops), I mean St. Louis is a done deal if Canadian teams in Vancouver or Montreal jump in.

Marmaduke said...

I think the standard argument for the East coast is population density, but it's so over-saturated with sports teams. I think there is more room in the west for establishing a fan base for a new sports franchise.

Portland would likely come with great fan support. It's a very soccer-savvy town.

How many more teams need to be added before two divisions with promotion/relegation is a serious option and not just pie in the sky?

Anonymous said...

Relegation/Promotion will always be a pie in the sky. As much as most soccer fans would love to see it happen, I hightly doubt it ever will. Americans prefer top flight entertainment. If a team were relegated, it would suffer financial losses, preventing it's ability to afford players, making it even more difficult to make it back in to the top flight. Add in the sheer size of the US and the high cost of travel from coast to coast, and you might as well place a team on it's death bed than to relegate it. A single-table however, would be nice. Get rid of these silly conferences, and as for expansion, put a team in Vegas!

Lucas said...

If Portland ends up left out of the MLS party, I will cry. USL is a crackerjack league (viz. the current problems in Rochester, who just two years ago were the jewel of the league, moving into a shiny new soccer specific stadium, drawing 11K+ crowds; now they're about to go tits up and might not even play this year!).

If Vegas gets a team, that'll help me dry my tears.

CACuzcatlan said...

When Vancouver won the NASL Soccer Bowl in '79 an estimated 120,000 (yes, 120 thousand!) people took to the streets to celebrate. If even one fifth of that fan base is left Vancouver can be equal to or bigger than TFC. Not to mention the Northwest rivalries and the Canadian rivalry.

The Hammer said...

Given recent events, maybe MLS should start shopping around in Colombia/Venezuela for cheap players.

Colombian players have done very well in Mexico [especially for Pachuca, Colombia's most beloved Mexican team]. It may be insensitive, but based on what I'm reading, there's a business opportunity right there if certain situations escalate.

Anonymous said...

Portland is almost a lock to be in MLS someday soon.

Passionate loyal fans, only one major sports team and a pretty good size growing market where soccer is appreciated and played a lot. Not to mention Nike, Adidas.

Seattle, and California teams vs. Portland, would be instant rivalries and get my heart rate up.

It's too bad the city government is clueless about sports and only supports condo towers.


Misareaux said...

They should move Chivas USA to San Diego where the franchise should have been placed the first time.

After the next round of expansion, the league should start trying to move franchises that are not profitable or hitting certain attendance numbers such as KC or Columbus.

CACuzcatlan said...

The league can't force a franchise to move, right?

KC is getting a stadium and has dedicated ownership.

Columbus has had good attendance (average 16-17k) in the past, and with the right people in the FO they can surely get there again.

just another one of you said...

Miami had a chance? WTF? Ft. Lauderdale had a chance, which is no where near the same thing.

The main thing holding back the MLS is it's minimum salary. If it were around 60K and not 20K then the league would have no trouble expanding to 22-24 teams by 2015.

Nick said...


The previous poster beat me to the punch, but you are incorrect when you say Miami had its chance. Miami has never had an MLS team. It almost happened, until Horowitz had a blow up with the mayor over the terms of the Orange Bowl lease and took the team elsewhere.

If you make it down to Miami or Ft. Lauderdale some day you will see that not only are they not close driving wise, they are two different COUNTRIES.

Anonymous said...

Montreal & Vancouver!

papa bear said...

marmaduke: pro/rel won't happen because of 1 word: Franchise fee.
No owner is going to pony up $30+ million to be in the top flight if they could get knocked down a year later for lord knows how long. Compounding that issue, no one is going to pay #30+ million to be in the second division with no guarantee of moving up and the top flight club owners aren't going to allow a reduced fee for second division clubs.
I know a big draw is the co-ownership of SUM but the Franchise Fee isn't all about that. That is but one issue with the whole thing. (Geography being another. Russian football has pro/rel and it's a very weak, poorly attended league becaue of it outside of a few Moscow clubs)
@justanotherone of you: same old story. Miami had a chance. Ft. Lauderdale is ridiculously near Miami and you sound like the MetroBulls apologists who insist the extra 20 minute freeway drive from the city center is why their team was woeful. Look at other teams in Miami, they all have massive attendance problems as well (Marlins anyone? And they've won 2 World Series in 20 years!)
Miami has simply shown it's not a pro sports city. The entire South East for that matter has the same issues.

Eugene said...

Just a couple of comments Luis:

-Ngwenya is not an American player, so he counts toward the foreign talent that was playing in MLS (and could be replaced with other foreign talent)

-The salary cap is very likely going up, perhaps substantially in 2009. If so, it would really help to keep top American talent here rather than having those players bypass MLS entirely. The best players in the U-20s and the best college players routinely skip MLS for Europe, if a number of those guys stay, we should continue to have top Americans in the league

-The wave of teenage talent coming up now is much better than in previous generations. These guys will fill out MLS and I would expect to see the avg. age in MLS come down. The source of these players will be: Bradenton, the US Soccer Development Academy, and MLS youth academies. Not necessarily in that order

PocketKings said...

Can anyone speak about how the NFL/AFL or the National League/American League historically started as seperate leagues and then combined into their current League situation?

Because if they can do it, why can't the MLS & USL?

Although I would prefer relegation/promotion........
All it needs to work is a little public, long term planning.

Cap the MLS at 16 teams for the next 15 years. Allow expansion into USL league to 16 teams, with the caveat that the USL teams must be prepared to cough up the $30 million by the end of the 15 years. (That's saving or gaining investment of $2million/year).

16 years from now, the bottom three teams get relegated, and the top three get promoted. This gives the newer teams (Seattle, Phily) at least 10 years to gain return on their $30 million investment, and solidify their personnel for that relegation season.

People keep saying that teams don't want to be relegated, but think about the amount of $$$$ a team will gain when they get promoted!!!!!! Think about how exciting games will be when you are towards the bottom of MLS, or toward the top for USL-1.

Of course, the other thing that must be planned for and discussed is, steadily loosening the salary requirement CAP.

L.B. said...

Ngwenya has a green card, I believe.

Short of raising salaries substantially, I don't see a deep talent pool there at all. If current salaries aren't high enough to keep a guy like Ty Harden around, a decent player with marginal upside, how are they going to attract the mid- to top-level young talents?

Anonymous said...

I think 24 would be a good number (by 2020-2025)

Take the current 14

Subtract Chivas USA

New York 2
St. Louis
Las Vegas

Bubble Teams:

Cap = $15-20 mill