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Monday Morning Center Back: Just how bad is the Western Conference?

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Good morning everybody. It is Monday morning and time to bring back my weekly series ‘Monday Morning Centerback’, where I will focus on some topic in the soccer world, be it in MLS or abroad.

Today I wanted to discuss Major League Soccer’s Western Conference and just how bad it is. Now I’ve never been much of a proponent of having MLS play a single table, but this year, with each passing week, the ineptitude of the Western Conference sure does make a strong argument for MLS to going to it.

So just how bad is the Western Conference? Consider this past weekend’s schedule, which saw West teams go 0-4-1 against the East and be outscored by a combined total of 11-1.

And no, this wasn’t just the case of one bad week.

The Eastern Conference holds a whopping 35-22-16 edge this season. That’s 13 more wins over the course of the season, nearly two wins and six points more per team. That record isn’t the case of strong teams overloading the record either. No teams in the West hold a winning record vs. the East and no West team has swept the season series against the East this year.

So what happens when one conference holds that much of an edge over another? You end up having one conference where six of seven teams have losing records and where only the Houston Dynamo would reach the playoffs if it were in the Eastern Conference.

Right now Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas would reach the post-season if the season ended today despite the fact that Dallas is tied on points with Toronto FC and Kansas City, who both are currently tied for last in the East.

RSL, losers of two straight, sit comfortably in second place in the West, but if you put its 27 points in the East, Real Salt Lake would be on the outside of the playoffs looking in. Conversely, folks in KC and Toronto could argue that if their teams played in the West, and faced the West’s weaker schedule, their point total would improve by more than the one-point edge RSL current holds over them.

Which leads us back to single table? As I said before, I’m not the biggest fan of the idea, but when the league has such a disparity in conferences, you can’t help but wonder if the league wouldn’t be better off. This is even more true with Seattle FC set to join the league in 2009, giving the West another expansion team.

What do you think MLS should do to combat the disparity in conferences?

Share your thoughts on the disparity in conferences below.

Comments

  1. As long as you have Lily Allen playing for Los Angeles, this this is not very classy. This player always trips over the ball!!!!!!!!!!!

    Not to mention that fatty Pires.

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  2. i dont care if we mirror the euro system, in fact id rather have a slightly different set-up..

    my point is i cant take a team that finished 8th in the regular season as champions of the league just b/c they had a late splurge of success for 4 games…

    ie. If KC happened to win the MLS cup last season, would you truely see them as the champs of the league?? i wouldnt… they barely made the playoffs… my question would be who would you rather have had representing us in intl’ tournys: DC- who managed to be consistant and dominant throughout the season (excluding the post-season) or a possible team that was so inconsistant that they barely made the playoffs??

    what im saying is i see the SS as the true champs of the league and while they may not get the glory of the MLS cup (adapting to the typical american sports league), they are given the same respect by the league by giving them birth to every and all tournys that the MLS cup winner is… the MLS Cup is a potluck, a lottery, for teams that failed consistancy throughout the season…

    im not saying people who think the MLS cup is the league trophy is wrong, i am simply pointing out that not everyone thinks that way… and i understand that is how the league portrays the MLS cup, im just saying that it’s simply done that way to coddle the typical american sports fan… winning the league without a playoff is alien to most…

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  3. BTW, I’m not talking about which is a “better” way of deciding a champion, that’s a different conversation entirely, I’m just saying that the MLS Cup winner is the official champion, full stop.

    I would say that the two different methods determine two different kind of champions. Using a single table determines which team had played the best through out the season, while the play-offs model determines who had developed the best team on the field through the season, or by the end of the season, with advantage given to teams that had played consistently better in the regular season. Although I’d say I’m referring more to the MLB/NBA/NHL model, with a multiple game series each round, rather than single game elimination. In a multiple game series, the better team would win the majority of the games, and removes the possibility of a single game aberration.

    My feeling is – and this is just anecdotal, I haven’t researched it – the North American came into being as a result of the first professional team sport, baseball, having two different, competing leagues. The original league, the National League used the single table model to determine the champion originally, as did the American League when it started, but due to public pressure (and an opportunity for a couple of teams to make more money), they had to determine which champion was better, so the multiple game series was born.

    Each method has it’s own merits, although I’d say that if you’re going to use playoffs, the number of teams qualifying should be limited. Having half teams make it seems like a bit much.

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  4. Brett, I understand and have no problem with the fact that you yourself might not like the using the North American play-offs model to decide who the league champion in a soccer league is, you’re certainly free to use whatever you like, but the overwhelming majority of the general populace will use the MLS Cup. If a bunch of fans got together saying that they don’t see the Stanley Cup playoffs as deciding who the champion of the NHL is, and instead they think the Presidents’ Trophy is the true champion, it wouldn’t change the reality of which trophy winner is widely held as the league champion. I accept that there are a lot of fans who would prefer to use the SS, but the SS winner is not the “official” league champ. That’s just a fact.

    I also don’t see why people get so bothered by the fact that different countries might decide championships in different ways. Just like pitch is not a “soccer term” (it’s a British term used in all sports played on grass), having a single table is not a requirement of being a soccer league. If European hockey or basketball leagues wanted to decide their league champs by the standings of a single table, even though the sports were invented over here, I’ve got no problem with it. Variety is the spice of life.

    It amuses me how the US is supposed to be the land of the free (and all of our “freedoms”, which I believe is a distinctly American term), yet many American soccer fans go on and on about how we must conform in every way to what soccer leagues in Europe do, and any variation is blasphemous. The rules of the game on the field should be the same, or it wouldn’t be the same game, but using our championship model (and our own sporting terms), doesn’t change the game itself.

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  5. I vote for single table, as once the league gets to 16 teams, it seems like the only option – 16 teams, home and away = 30 games. When the league was smaller, it made sense to have divisions for travel reasons and such, since teams had to play each other more than twice a season. Unless they would move to having teams play out of division teams just once or something, if all teams play each other the same number of times, having divisions would seem completely contrived.

    As for the Supports Shield versus the MLS Cup, don’t confuse a very small, diehard group with the general population. The league says they’re champion is the MLS Cup winner. ESPN, and every other news organization reports the MLS Cup winner as the league champ. Any casual fan will see the league champ as the MLS Cup winner. Just because a group of ardent American soccer fans don’t want to accept the MLS Cup winner as the league champ because that’s not what the leagues in Europe do, doesn’t mean it’s a widely held belief. I think Steve Nicol is somewhat familiar with international soccer leagues, how they work and such, and I don’t recall him ever talking about the SS being the main goal for the team or anything (though I certainly could have missed it).

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  6. in other words, i dont care how the league may portray the cup, it doesnt mean that is the way it is…

    of course DC was upset about an early upset, as would any team… but they won the league by winning the SS thus allowing them to any and all tournys

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  7. silent e- the SS get the same benefits as the MLS champ, except that the seasoned fan actually knows that the SS winner was the best team of that season…

    i am all for the “playoffs” … as i said its a glorified tournament…. the reason the league backs the MLS cup as the “champ” is b/c the average US sports fan has no concept of a league winner that doesnt include a lengthy playoff series… its the same reason we have 2 conferences

    im not the only one who feels this way…

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  8. Once there are 18 teams they should go to single table. From there I would like to see a four team home and away semi final and one game final playoff.

    1v4

    2v3

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  9. Oh, and just because I said MLS doesn’t need to emulate the rest of the world doesn’t mean I want to see a return of the shootout and other monstrosities of the early years 🙂

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  10. Brett,

    I hope you don’t think I’m disparaging you, but what I’m basically trying to say is that you can call the SS important or not or whatever, the fact of the matter is that the league says the MLS cup winner is the league champion and that is that.

    MLS set up the SS because supporters wanted to recognize the season’s most consistent team. That’s great. But to be honest, it’s just not that significant in this league. I don’t live in DC and haven’t witnessed much of their marketing campaign but did the team emphasize to their supporters “hey, we may have crapped out in the playoffs but we did win the prestigious supporter’s shield so come check us out”? I doubt it, but maybe they did. Did DC players feel that it was okay that they didn’t win the Cup because they won the SS and that’s what really matters? I’m pretty confidant they did not. I’d bet they felt extremely disappointed to have not even gotten to the final. Do you think if DC repeated this performance (winning the SS and losing early in the playoffs–and yes I know this is nearly impossible, I’m speaking hypothetically here) for a 3rd year that Soehn would keep his job? I don’t.

    I know that those who feel that MLS needs to emulate the rest of the world in the way they run their leagues will run around forever saying that they playoffs suck, the MLS Cup doesn’t matter and the SS is significant but if you ask the majority of fans, the players, the coaches, the owners and the league officials they will tell you: the SS is just a pat on the back for a job well done; it’s all about the Cup.

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  11. silent e- again im not discrediting the MLS Cup, i (like quite a few mls’ers) simply stated the winners of the league are the winners of the SS…

    this is not like the NBA, MLB, or NFL… a league that has 1 champion and 1 hardware… the MLS has a league hardware and its not the MLS cup…

    the SS is more impressive to win, as its harder… it requires you to be the best the entire regular season…where as the MLS you only have to be better then the opposition for 4 games….

    i understand what you are saying…. obviously a large number of people think that winning the MLS Cup means you are league winners… if that were the case, the SS would not be required…

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  12. I’m OK with the conference setup, but first round of the playoffs should be an east vs. west format. So, E1 would play W4, etc. That would truly show which conference is the best, as well as, hopefully, get the TRUE top two teams in the cup final.

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  13. We need to emulate the rest of the world where every game counts. Little mistakes in week 4 can mean you lose 2 points which could cost you the trophy. Please do not allow 2005 to happen again. We had the league’s worse team (LA Galaxy), the hemisphere’s worse coach (Stupid Steve Sampson) win MLS Cup with MLS’ worse player ever (Pando) winning MLS Cup MVP. Not again! Please.

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  14. I vote single table but not for a “solution” to the issue you raised – though I know that’s how the poll was setup. sorry. anyway i vote single table to make more games relevant. the only consistent argument against it has been all the traveling involved which makes no sense to me because they all play each other home and away (and double-up on conf games for some reason until more expansion teams come in) – so what gives? the league needs better overall scheduling as it is, so fix that problem and a single table shouldn’t make a difference on traveling, unless I’m missing something then please enlighten me…

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  15. I really don’t see why people are putting so much into travel when this season teams are only playing 2 more intraconference games than non-conference, and this will obviously decrease to even in 2010 if they remain on par. Therefore only playoffs would really change, and everyone in here seems tho think that playoffs should be pretty much single table anyway. You guys are an interesting lot.

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  16. Ives,

    Just for the record, the Western Conference has won every MLS Cup since 199, excpet for 1. So, I agree they have been better during the regular season, but I hardly call that post-season record dominant.

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  17. Brett,

    Again I say that you are living in a fantasy world. You state that “the SS is clearly the league trophy”! Clearly, indeed! So clear, in fact, that the league championship is defined by the league as going to the winner of the MLS Cup. Hmmm. And the Supporter’s Shield was not even created until the 3rd season of the league’s existence. More hmmm. I think that an unbiased look at the facts would indicate that the MLS Cup is “clearly the league trophy.”

    As for the Fire saying their priority was to win the SS, I think you may have misinterpreted their statement. I believe that you interpret their ranking of SS first and MLS second as a list of priorities in terms of which they would rather win. I suspect that in fact their desire of SS first then MLS Cup was more ordinal (ie before you get to the postseason there is a SS winner and Chicago would like to earn that prize before then going on to win the Cup). I will admit, however, to not having read the Fire’s preseason statements; I could be misinterpreting them myself.

    You may not like that the MLS Championship is decided by a tournament (playoff), but that is the way it currently is and, I suspect, will stay for quite some time. Personally I feel that each system has its pros and cons, and I’m not particularly moved by one in favor of another.

    For those who claim, however, that the MLS Cup playoff system somehow makes the championship false or not real soccer, I point out that Mexico has a playoff system very similar to MLS’s, and I don’t hear complaints from MFL fans that their champions do not deserve the title.

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  18. For a number of seasons, I thought the Western Conference was lacking. You would see two teams that would be blowing away the Conference or even the league on points, and the next teams would be many, many points behind. However, the East has always been more competitive with only a few points differences betweens the teams.

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  19. “The obvious solution is to get these weirdos who think the MLS Cup is the most important a bit of cultural reeducation.”

    You must be speaking of MLS then. 🙂

    Reply

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