MLS: 24 Teams Is A Perfect Fit
On Tuesday, Major League Soccer will announce that the city of Orlando and Orlando City SC owner Phil Rawlins have been granted the league’s 21st franchise. Earlier this year, MLS granted an expansion franchise to New York City, aptly named New York City FC. Both of these clubs are anticipated to start play in the 2015 season.
Commissioner Don Garber stated at the 2013 MLS All-Star Game that “the league had planned to reach a total of 24 teams by the year 2020.” 24 is the perfect number for this league, and it is bound to be a success just by looking at the markets that are being considered.
When David Beckham signed his massive contract to come and play in MLS, one of the stipulations was that after he retired, he would have the option of purchasing an MLS franchise. Now that Beckham has retired, he is currently looking at potential sites to host his expansion franchise and it seems like he is zeroing in on Miami. If he chooses Miami, there are already a few potential venues that could house an MLS franchise.
Sun Life Stadium is the home to the NFL‘s Miami Dolphins and has a capacity for soccer set at 74,918. The two biggest issues with using this stadium would be that it is already 26-years-old, which would be ancient in MLS terms, and also the scheduling issues that will arise once the NFL and college football Seasons start as SunLife Stadium not only hosts the Dolphins, but also the Miami Hurricanes of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Another option in the Miami area is FIU Stadium on the campus of Florida International University. The stadium has a capacity of 20,000, is a more intimate venue and scheduling would not be as difficult, having to only share the stadium with one other team.
Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank has expressed his desire to bring an MLS franchise to Atlanta, and now could be the perfect time. The city of Atlanta approved the bonds to purchase land for a new football stadium for the Falcons and with that new stadium could come an MLS club. With Orlando and potentially Miami joining the league, this franchise would already have regional rivals.
The new stadium is expected to break ground in mid-2014 and be completed sometime in 2017. If Blank is awarded the franchise, he could try to have the team ready to compete in MLS by 2016 and have the club spend one season with the Falcons in the Georgia Dome. Atlanta is currently the largest market without an MLS franchise.
With the MLS spending so much time in the Eastern portion of the United States, they will need to consider geographical balance when awarding the 24th franchise, and San Antonio would fit that bill perfectly. They already have an stadium built in Toyota Field with a capacity of 8,296, which is expandable to 18,000, and their current club has a very good following for being a second-division club.
The San Antonio Scorpions supporters group the Crocketeers has over 1,000 members already, and the club averages around 6,500 spectators per match. Placing the franchise in San Antonio would be great geographically because they would instantly have a regional rivalry with Houston Dynamo and FC Dallas.
How would the league look alignment wise with the 24 teams? The League should continue with the two conferences and to balance them out, they would need to move Houston Dynamo and Sporting Kansas City to the Western Conference:
Western Conference: Chivas USA, Colorado Rapids, FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, Los Angeles Galaxy, Portland Timbers, Real Salt Lake, San Antonio Scorpions, San Jose Earthquakes, Seattle Sounders FC, Sporting Kansas City and Vancouver Whitecaps.
Eastern Conference: Atlanta, Chicago Fire, Columbus Crew, DC United, Miami, Montreal Impact, New England Revolution, New York City FC, New York Red Bulls, Orlando City SC, Philadelphia Union and Toronto FC.
The league schedule could remain at 34 games and be balanced with two games each versus the teams in your conference (22) and one game each versus the teams from the other conference (12). I would add one more team in each conference to the playoffs making it six who qualify. It would be modeled after the NFL playoffs with the top two teams getting a knockout round bye while the other four participate.
The future looks very bright for MLS and as a fan, I am very excited to see where the coming years take the league.