Dear MLS: Quantity does not Mean Quality
Excitement and speculation comes back to soccer fans in America as another season of the Major League Soccer kicked off last weekend. This time, the hope and popularity of the league increases considering that two new teams were added to the tournament, Atlanta United and Minnesota United.
Both new organizations were introduced as part of the MLS expansion project they aim to become one of the elite soccer leagues in the continent. The goal of the organization is to expand the number of teams from 20 to 24 by 2020. In addition, the league commissioner Don Garber mentioned that the board is evaluating methods on how to grow the league to 28 sides. However, the tournament association should be concerned of this initiative as fans begin to question if the league quality would decrease by adding more teams.
The experiment of having an Americanized league of 24 to 28 teams would not be ideal, schedules would be too hectic, the league quality would not improve, and the competition system is not going to work
Right now, the MLS has the worst set schedule within all the leagues around the globe.
For instance, by the time the MLS started this season (March 3rd), other campaigns around the world like the English Premier League or the German Bundesliga, are at least playing match 24. Moreover, the conflict of the calendar worsens when national teams start calling up their players on duty from their clubs, something better known as FIFA windows.
The FIFA dates are arranged specifically so regional tournaments would not be heavily affected by interrupting the game rhythm squads have by that point. Nevertheless, the American soccer teams have always suffered from these periods because the league is obligated to meet the spring-fall schedule designated for not overlapping the NFL calendar.
Adding more teams to the cup would only add to this problem since the total games played in a season would increase, demanding squads to play even more games in an already packed agenda, putting at risk the health of the players.
As a result of a hectic calendar, the standard of the games would decrease tremendously because of the high demand players are going to be exposed to. If the MLS wants to make their league more popular, they should display better soccer; if they want to show good soccer, they will need fresh legs. This is not the NBA nor the NHL, where teams can play up two to three times a week and player stamina is easy handled by the infinite amount of substitutions. Soccer restricted amount of changes makes energetic legs very valuable.
Indeed, more squads could mean more winners, but it also means more sedentary teams. Many soccer fans hate those mid-table seasons where nothing exciting happens. Definitely, this is one of the issues that Americanized competition systems have.
For instance, teams that struggle throughout the campaign are neither being punished nor encouraged for having bad runs. If the MLS wants to add more teams, they need to start a promotion/relegation system.
A tournament with two divisions, one made up of the best teams, and the other made up of the rest of the teams. This method would require bad teams to improve if they want to stay within the 1st division. Also, having this second division would inspire smaller teams to push forward and reach the top-flight category. This would help young players get accustom to what is like to play in a professional environment, since many youngsters struggle when they finally reach the pro-leagues
The MLS has an incredible potential to become one of the best leagues in the continent. They have the money, the infrastructure, and the player material to succeed. However, their ambition to Americanize the tournament wouldn’t be promising if they don’t fix their calendar issues and implement a promotion/relegation system. So, please MLS, don’t ruin what you already done.