MLS, Chivas USA and Expansion Are Redefining the West

I apologize Raving Readers for not posting the last couple of days. I am a teacher and fall quarter is starting to really rev up. Thanks for staying tuned

Chivas USA is dead, dead as a doornail. Allegedly the club will shutter operations for at least two years while the new owners clean house and rebrand. If I were a Chivas fan, I’d be seriously bummed. The old “let’s just take a break” too often ends in a breakup. How do SoCal MLS fans know a team will be resurrected from the hot garbage that was CD Chivas USA? Because the league says so? Because the new ownership group says so? Us folks up here in Seattle know better than to take professional sports leagues and owners at their word. MLS certainly hasn’t established a stellar ethos when it comes to transparency and honesty.

If Chivas USA is ceasing to be Chivas USA, then it is merely an expansion team. If it is a clean slate expansion, what’s to stop MLS from putting it in Sacramento or Minnesota or any of the other much talked about potential expansion sites? Business is fluid and a lot could change in two years. Say, the proposed stadium sites in Inglewood and downtown L.A. fall apart, say Minnesota throws a butt-ton of money at a soccer-specific stadium, or Sacramento’s attendance just keeps rising… If I were a Chivas fan, I’d be very afraid of having a team to support.

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With Chivas, at least temporarily, disbanding and Orlando FC and NYFC entering the league, the conference alignment will need to change. Currently the Western Conference has 9 teams and the East 10. This makes for a horribly unbalanced schedule (three games against conference opponents with unbalanced home-and-home fixtures, one game each against the other conference’s teams) that really dilutes the glory of the Supporters’ Shield. It also limits the chance a Western Conference club, the hotbed of MLS’s power teams, has of earning the Shield (except for this year, oddly). With the new teams in and Chivas out, we’re looking at 8 in the West and 12 in the East. The league will probably slide SKC and Houston to the West (which doesn’t exactly help the competitive balance between East and West) to create a balanced 10 and 10. But these conferences will be far from even.

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The new conference alignment shows a clear East Coast Bias. The disparity between the geographic area of the Western Conference to the Eastern Conference is huge. Unfortunately this will always be a fact in American sports leagues, as the western part of the country doesn’t have the population centers to support teams to an owner’s preference for profits (though I’d love a world where Sacramento and Boise are regularly enfranchised over Orlando or Charlotte. I knew the markets just aren’t as big but, hey, I am a West Coast chauvinist). The only cities that cause the eastern teams to really travel are Houston and Kansas City. All the other eastern cities are nestled in a cozy corner of the country, the western outpost being Chicago, the southern D.C. Cutting the two southwest sojourns to KC and Houston greatly contracts the East’s geographic base, making travel so much easier. Less travel means less fatigue, which means less wear and tear, which means better results. Sure the East is adding one distant outpost, Orlando, but it won’t be that bad. While keeping intact the current southern boundary of the conference (Orlando is just a bit more south than Houston), Orlando is at least in the Eastern Time Zone. Excepting Chicago, the Eastern Conference will truly be the Eastern Conference.

The Western Conference should be rebranded the “Everywhere Else” Conference. Our conference is already well spread out. Seattle travels nearly 1000 miles to its third closest rival (San Jose). We have the Pacific, Mountain and Central time zones represented in our conference, but only Dallas was the real travel outlier. Getting to Frisco, TX was the only long slog to an in-conference opponent, but now we’re adding two more such cities. Kansas City and Houston adds a lot more southeasterly travel to the Western teams’ itineraries. We’ll have to wait and see the unintended consequences of this realignment. .

  • Friar Tuck

    Good article, a topic that’s definitely gonna heat up with the expansion in the coming years. You should have a “possible expansion map” tab like the “plus/minus” tab to give a visual idea of all the geography possibilities when thinking about the expansion teams.

    Atlanta is pretty much the only sure next expansion team, and they join Orlando as another southern-easter-time-zone team backing up your point above. Golden Balls’ Miami franchise is supposedely in line to also be in that vein but I’m starting to have my doubts if that’s gonna work. They have no stadium plan in sight, and the interest of the Miami sports fans is sort of like a fart in a whirlwind.

    Then in the “everywhere else” conference, you have Sacramento, Minnesota, and San Antonio all making very legitimate noise as contenders. Like Orlando and the Cascadia teams before them (and unlike NYCFC) all of those teams are making their cases through solid fan support and facilities for an existing lower league team. As a relative professional soccer layman, that to me is the blueprint to a successful expansion team. Las Vegas is supposed to also be on the table, but that seems like a longshot because that would need an air conditioned indoor facility to play soccer in the summer in the Desert, which would need to be built.

    Then let’s say that the League stays true and resurrects the second LA franchise (if I was a betting man, I’d say they become one of the three teams above, but let’s just say it happens otherwise) Now you’re at 14 teams in the EWE conference and 11 in the East, and the East will have to start assimilating back in a larger geographical footprint. That will be cool. And imagine if shit rolls even further like you hoped and Boise/Vegas/Pheonix gets a franchise that some eastern city wasn’t able to support. San Antonio could become the only Texas team in the Western conference!
    All just speculation, but exciting times ahead for MLS. Hopefully the league manages it well.

    • Tuck,

      That’s a helluva comment. My reply was getting so longwinded, I decided to make
      it a separate post. Thanks for the inspiration.

      take the consideration of having an “expansion” tab (seeing as how I bailed on
      the plus/minus experiment). Besides I like messing around with MacPaint.

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