MLS Cup Playoffs: Why MLS Still Has Conferences

Deleted UserContributor IIJanuary 29, 2011

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 21:  Captain Pablo Mastroeni #25 (2nd L) of the Colorado Rapids and captain Daniel Hernandez #2 (2nd R) of FC Dallas smile with the referees before starting the first half of the 2010 MLS Cup match at BMO Field on November 21, 2010 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
Abelimages/Getty Images

The chance that Major League Soccer would dock the Eastern and Western Conferences were practically equivalent to the league's receiving any praise for the retaining of conferences.

Well, as unnecessary they may seem, MLS is going to have conferences at least through the end of this year. Knowing that we may only have 19 clubs in MLS for 2012, it's likely (and unfortunate) that we can say bye to the balanced schedule and not bye to the conferences. 

Needless to say, MLS' announcement that the Houston Dynamo were transferring from the West to East, unsurprisingly, failed to receive any joy amongst the fans. If anything, it simply reignited the same topics that have been hot topics of debate for the past few years now: conference vs. single table, open league vs. closed league model and MLS Cup vs. Supporters Shield. 

There was minor praise, in very short doses. Most of it was claiming that MLS would expand to around 30 clubs in the future, and would need as much conference emphasis as possible. While I cannot see that happening anytime soon, nor do I see FIFA allowing that happen ever, their reasons are not valid presently. Especially in a league playing a balanced schedule.

Right now, with no legitimate need for conferences for the past year now, it has come down to one reason MLS is retaining conferences.

It is not that they have aversions to a single table, nor is it they want to assemble an NFL-style division structure. This goes back to the good old topic that every fan and foe of MLS can agree on: MLS and money. 

Think about it. While MLS puts on a post-season tournament to crown their "league" champion, it is the sole showcase that television networks put the most of their minimal emphasis on. Amid extremely poor TV ratings, the only way the league can receive any chance of earning contracts is if there is a guaranteed possibility that an MLS franchise (everyone's favorite word) from the East or West Coast makes the playoff chase.

With conferences now at nine apiece, and with the minimum of teams qualifying from each conference remaining at two, it perfectly ties into the reason the league is expanding its playoff size from eight to 10 clubs.

Sure it waters down the regular season, makes it less meaningful and emphasizes the unwanted playoffs, these conferences ensure that at least one Eastern or Western Conference club will truly earn their place in the playoffs. Following last seasons' West Coast domination, it is critical that an East Coast club makes it into the playoffs. 


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