Saturday, November 22, 2008

2009 MLS Changes

Here they are.

Let's take a look at them one by one:

1) The reserve division was eliminated and rosters have been reduced from 28 to 24. However, the number of senior roster spots has increased by two to 20.

Losing the 4 developmental spots results in a savings of $51,600 - $71,600 per year per team. However, that's offset changing 2 developmental spots changed into senior roster spots, at $30,200+ per year (likely more). Not to mention that the salary cap will continue to go up. So changing the spots wasn't done to save money, but rather to increase the talent level as teams should be able to add decent players to be #19-20 on the senior roster. There's also the reality that those final four spots aren't as necessary without the reserve division.

So why trash the reserve division? Apparently it wasn't worth the money spent. I guess once players have graduated from college, there's not much development left to be done. I certainly can understand that. Although, they certainly didn't commit fully to it. There were only 12 games per team, plus several this year and last were canceled and never made up. Plus there were many instances of teams forced to field guest players or goalkeepers out of position. With the 28 man rosters, you only have 14 players to work with who didn't play in the first team game, and that's before any injuries or absences.

While this is disappointing to hear, I don't think it's going to make much of a difference in terms of player development. We probably won't see as many late season signings from the USL like we did this year. And the 2009 draft (much like 2002) is turning out to be an unlucky one if you're a college senior.

2) Two conferences for 2009. If they aren't going to go to a single table with 15 teams, then why do it in 2010 for 16? Odds aren't looking good for that. Especially since Lew Wolff just revealed that he has an agreement with MLS for David Beckham's Galaxy to visit SJ twice a season for the first three years. How could a 30 game single table work under such a circumstance?

At least the possibility of it is acknowledged on MLSnet:

"With Philadelphia entering the frame in 2010, it's expected that a complete, home and away format will be used. Given such a setup, a push for a single table might once again gather steam, but Garber indicated that conferences -- and playoffs -- will remain a part of the league's future, with the postseason format remaining the same as in 2008."

3) I can't help but notice the comments by Garber over the past few days about the playoffs:

11/21 - "We believe in the playoffs."
From the State of the League address yesterday.

11/18 - "But I want to come back to the playoffs because I continue to scratch my head because of all the questions. I believe that our playoffs were very exciting and are important for the players, league and fans. While the system isn’t perfect and will continue to have to evolve, I don’t believe the league would be better without playoffs. It’s inconceivable to me to end the season without having a competition that will create these kinds of memorable moments that we’ve had this season."

From the NY Times blog interview with Jack Bell.

I have a few points to make. First of all, despite the comments, I'm encouraged by the fact that this is now an issue. I've never seen Garber talk about it so much before. That in itself is progress. It reminds me of the battle to "ban the shootout," when fans were subjected to many articles featuring quotes from Doug Logan saying that the shootout was popular, it's not going to be changed, and so on.

Now, I think at the very least in the short term the league should go to 7 playoff teams and give a bye to the top team. That's the format the USL First Division uses. People are talking about the validity of the playoffs this year because of the fact that for the very first time, a team with a losing record could become the league champion.

I want to repost what I said on Bigsoccer:
Don, you know why the playoff games are the most memorable? Because they're the only ones that matter.

The fact is, a team with a losing record that finished in the bottom half of the league can never be a deserving champion. New York winning would be an embarrassment to the league.

The reason people make such a big deal about this in soccer as opposed to other American sports is because soccer has a tradition of rewarding the best team. And soccer traditions are more important than American sports traditions. If you didn't believe that, then why make every other move in that direction?
I'm pretty sure that NY would go down as the worst champion in the history of the USA's top 5 sports. Haven't checked it out, and hopefully after tomorrow's game I won't feel the need to.

I could easily write 10 pages on this issue, as it really gets me going. I will just say once again, that I feel that eliminating the playoffs should be a long term goal for MLS. And comments like the ones made in the final paragraph here by Garber only make me more steadfast.

4) The playoff format was slightly tweaked again, as next year due to the uneven conferences once again only the top two in each conference will qualify (like in 2007). Good move, as the switch this year threatened to allow a team in the top 8 to miss out.

5) The schedule will be extended by a week and some measures will be taken to help with FIFA date conflicts. Good first move for now. The interesting thing here is that Garber states that the results of an analysis show that honoring all FIFA dates would result in a loss of $3-5 million. It's true that the attendances don't suffer much if at all, but the fan bases are becoming more sophisticated. Eventually the league will be avoiding every international window when there are enough hardcore fans to attend weekday games.

Of course, it also ties into the playoff debate. If you're going to have playoffs, it isn't a huge deal to have a few games affected since the position a team finishes in doesn't matter much.

But what really makes me wonder is the analysis they mentioned with the estimated losses. I'd love to see the results of a similar study in regards to eliminating the playoffs. No games would be lost, since the season could just be extended. Hmm...

6) All teams will participate in the 2009 US Open Cup. This is an ambiguous statement, which I can only hope means that all 14 American MLS teams will enter in the same round. That was the case in 2000 and 2001, which led to some of the biggest shocks in the tournament's recent history as all MLS teams entered in the round of 32. With the reserve league gone, I don't see why they couldn't do that once again. It's only one more game than this year, and MLS reserves always play in the tournament's early rounds anyway.

It would be great to have MLS teams playing USL-2 and amateur teams right away. Besides, all teams should get to officially enter the cup, sparing us from a convoluted and unfair qualifying format like we saw this season.

Comments on "2009 MLS Changes"


Blogger albionroad said ... (11:24 AM, November 22, 2008) : 

Just want to say I really enjoyed this article and I'm on the same page with virtually everything you've written. Keep up the good work.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (9:00 PM, November 23, 2008) : 

Soccer has a tradition of awarding the best team? You mean European soccer has a tradition of awarding the best team . . . because that thing they call the Luiguilla in Mexico sure isn't the regular season.


Blogger ERic said ... (1:08 PM, November 24, 2008) : 

It would be great if all MLS teams enter the Open Cup rather than a playoff. But I'm not holding my breath. Though the stupid system they had this year could potentially have ended up giving one team three extra games (if I remember right). Which sure doesn't seem like an improvement over them all entering at the same time.

We probably won't know the answer until February. Or March.


Anonymous MooseMcDowell said ... (1:54 PM, November 24, 2008) : 

First off, very nice article.

"...And soccer traditions are more important than American sports traditions. If you didn't believe that, then why make every other move in that direction?"

I think your argument is flawed, mainly because it appears to me that you neglect the main responsibility of Garber, who is running a growing business that must attract fans unfamiliar to the sport. If MLS has to do anything, they must put the butts of American fans into seats of stadiums in America. I don't believe the way to get this done is to stray from the familiar in the way you describe. Second, Americans love parity in competition. I contend that,had the Red Bulls pulled the upset, soccer would have been endeared even more to the American public than a Crew victory. My mother always said to "be the best" you must "beat the best". If New York would have won, wouldn't they have beaten the best team? While my mother's logic may also be flawed (and thus, my own), being "the best" is relative to time. If Americans decide they want a playoff format, then the best team will be decided then.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (10:50 AM, December 29, 2008) : 

mls should have a single table format crowing a champion but should also have a mls league cup format "playoffs"...


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