Orlando City, Chivas USA, and 3 conferences

Photo: Courtesy of Orlando City SC

Congratulations are in order for Orlando City. Welcome to MLS!

So much for that nice, neat, even, 20-team league.

New York City F.C., entering Major League Soccer in 2015, was going to end this ugly, unbalanced East-West conundrum. At the very least, one factor that muddied the playoff waters would be solved.

On Tuesday, MLS announced the awarding of franchise No. 21 to Orlando City S.C. at an event in central Florida. They will also join MLS in 2015. The quotes coming from the event indicate that the league is likely to keep the expansion to two teams in 2015, leaving an odd 21.

While I have been wanting to see MLS go from 20 to 22 to 24 in succession, this makes something rather clear to me – MLS is going three conferences. And if they’re not, maybe they should.

Could it be 3 conferences?

Now, we don’t know that for certain yet. But it’s not a huge stretch to see 21 teams and come to the conclusion that a three-conference league is on the horizon. Simple math begs for that solution, especially when you consider that 24 teams are the goal by 2020, as stated by Commissioner Don Garber.

So let’s get at it already. What might three conferences look like in 2015?

Northeast Conference – DCU, MTL, NE, NYCFC, PHI, NYRB, TOR

Central Conference – CHI, CLB, COL, DAL, HOU, OCSC, SKC

Western Conference – CHV, LA, POR, RSL, SEA, SJ, VAN

This makes the most sense as a conference realignment for MLS with all of the current teams, plus NYCFC and OCSC.


  1. It keeps most cup rivalries intact.
  2. It reunites Dallas and Houston, a Texas Derby that has been a glaring hole.
  3. It’s the best split geographically. If MLS wants 4 matches between each conference rival (2 home, 2 away), the only glaring issue is Orlando City’s lack of proximity to any team.


  1. Two rivalries get nixed – the Rocky Mountain Cup (ouch) and the Trillium Cup (oh well).
  2. Most of the power is located in the East and West, respectively. The flyover Central Conference seems weak comparatively speaking, a group of teams that rely more on development than big name signings.
What if Chivas moved?

We still have the David Beckham arrangement as a potential twist in this caper. Beckham reportedly had a clause in his contract to purchase an expansion franchise for $25 million,which must be exercised by the end of 2013. According to reports about Garber’s remarks yesterday, the expected franchise fee from the Orlando City contingent will be around $70 million. That’s a $45 million discount for Golden Balls.

The league could still announce Miami as another expansion team for 2015, but Garber’s comments yesterday made a third expansion in 2015 seem less likely.

But what if Miami isn’t a new franchise at all? What if MLS instead brokered the sale of Chivas USA to Beckham with a move to South Florida? (Editor’s note: Yes, there have been reports that Beckham’s discount only works for an expansion team, but we know how rules change in MLS. Run with this a bit.) What might that look like?

Eastern Conference – DCU, MIA, NE, NYCFC, OCSC, PHI, NYRB,

Central Conference – CHI, CLB, DAL, HOU, MTL, SKC, TOR

Western Conference – COL, LA, POR, RSL, SEA, SJ, VAN

Now that actually kicks some tail. It nails every real rivalry in MLS, aside from losing the LA Derby (repeating myself, it nails every REAL rivalry). You keep Real Salt Lake and Colorado together. You still have the Trillium Cup, not a big ticket item, but also keep Toronto together with Montreal. You would have the Florida Derby, Texas Derby, New York Derby, I-95 Derby, and last and certainly not least, the Cascadia Cup..

NYCFC & Beckham FC would be great bargaining tools for the league in the next television negotiations. That could presumably raise expansion fees for new franchises.

MLS would be wise to help Beckham buy out Jorge Vergara. If anyone could have the clout to take the laughing stock of MLS and rebrand it towards success, it would be David Beckham.

The main trouble with this assertion would be this report, saying Vergara wanted $200 million for Chivas USA back before the NYCFC expansion announcement. I’m guessing Vergara would take a fraction of that and run, seeing that he paid just $10 million back in 2004.

The league could later expand into the LA market again, if they so choose, possibly for a nice profit over the buyout of Vergara.

The next three teams

This would leave MLS in an excellent position heading towards the end of the decade. Expansion into Atlanta (East), St. Louis, Minnesota, or San Antonio (Central), and Los Angeles, Las Vegas, or Sacramento (West) would align pretty well with this 3 conference makeup.

Of course, MLS could just as easily keep Chivas USA in Los Angeles with a rebrand, expand to Miami and two other markets, it would look pretty similar.

The future is quite exhilarating for the league and its fans. The possibilities are more than numerous, but Don Garber has some major decisions to make in the next month and a half to steer this league into smoother, and potentially more profitable, waters.


  1. How owuld playoffs work in a three conference alignment?
    The schedule would work out nicely, though. Play the other six teams in your conference 4 times, for 24 games. Then play all the other teams once each, for 14 more games and a total of 38.
    If you extend that to a 24 team league, you could play the other 7 teams in your conference 3 times each, for 21 matches. Then still play the rest of the league once each for 16 more games, for a total of 37 matches a season.

    • 38 games won’t work in a 21 team league (at least not intelligently). You either need at least one team off every weekend or someone has to play a bunch of games in a short timeframe where their opponents are getting a lot more rest.

      Don Garber is an incompetent moron for keeping the league at an odd number of teams.

      • There isn’t any number of games that work in a 21-team league where there isn’t somebody off on a bye week / game.

    • Actually the playoffs with a three conference league would work better than the current setup and also more importance to winning the Supporter’s Shield and preforming during the regular season.

      This is how I see it working. First of all, the MLS would award the Conference Championships based on the regular season, rather than the playoffs as if is done today. Then reduce the number of teams making the playoffs from 10 to 7 clubs. This in itself would give more important to the season.

      The teams would then be ranked 1 thru 7, with the Supporter Shield winner ranked #1, The Conference Champion with next best record being #2 and the Final Conference Champion being ranked #3. Next the remaining playoff teams would be ranked #4 thru #7.

      One playoff bracket would made up of the Supporter’s Shield winners and Teams #6 and #7. The other bracket would contain the two other conference champions; in addition to teams #4 and #5.

      Teams #6 and #7 would play a one game in-play game with the winner facing the Supporter’s Shield Winner in the next round in a two game aggregate.

      Team #5 would the Conference Champion with the better record and Team #4 would play the other Conference Champion. These series would be two game aggregate, the winner of these series facing off in the next round being a two game aggregate.

      Thus the winners from each bracket playing a one game MLS Cup Championship.

  2. Funny, I was thinking about a 3-conference realignment just this morning on my way into work. For the most part, mine mirrors your initial proposal, except TOR and OCSC would be swapped:
    The only rivalry that gets truly lost is Colorado/Real Salt Lake, but it could be temporary until the additional 3 teams come into existence.
    We are lead to believe that Miami will be #22. Grant Wahl, on the latest Pitch Pass podcast, said that according to an MLS exec that Atlanta is farther along than Miami is. So put Atlanta in at either #22 or #23. That would leave a team in San Antonio, St. Louis, Minneapolis, etc as the 24th club, any of which could easily slot into the Central Conf.
    Additional minor juggling of teams could still provide a 3-conference alignment of 8 teams each in a 30-game schedule:

  3. I still see the league going with two 12-team conferences as the best long-term plan for a 24-team league. Works perfectly for a 34-game season. (2 games against 11 conference foes, 1 game against 12 from other conference.)
    I don’t think the league will drop to 30 games, which is what works most out evenly for a three-conference, 24 team league. (2 games against 7 conference foes = 14 games. 1 game against non-conference = 16 more games.) They can’t afford to lose the game day revenue, and right now you have some big names in American soccer (Klinsmann, Bruce Arena) saying the MLS season is too short, not too long.
    You could go 3 games against conference foes instead to make a 37-game schedule. But really, I don’t think fans want to see the same team 3 times (with some exceptions). This year, the Union got 3 games with Toronto and just 1 with LA, for example. Eh. That gets old, particularly when the most dynamic clubs are not in your conference.

    • I disagreed with you on the chances of a 3 Conference MLS. I think we will know which they are headed when we hear the year that Miami joins the league. If Miami joins in 2015 they will stay with a 2 Conference alignment. However if Miami enters in 2016, I am certain they are headed to a 3 Conference alignment. The reason being is not because of the odd number of teams but, the goal of the league to reduce costs and built regional rivals. In addition to more importance to prestige to Supporter Cup rivalries. (IE: Cascadia Cup, Rocky Mountain Cup and the Trillium Cup)

      As to the schedule, their was serious discussion at the owners meetings this past season in reducing to 28 or 30 games. With the reason being to better schedule International competition, CCL games and US Open Cup matches. In addition clubs would make greater revenues going from a 34 games to 30 MLS matches. Then instead add International Friendlies during the weekday. Let’s face it MLS matches make their money on weekends.

      Therefore a 30 game schedule would work best in a 3 Conference league alignment. 21 team schedule means, playing each club within conference twice (14 games); one team in the other 2 conferences twice (4 games) and the remaining 12 clubs in the other conferences once (12 games) for a total of 30 matches. Then you can reduce the numbers of played against the other conferences and play more within the conference as more clubs are added, while maintaining a 30 game schedule.

      • Fair points! I still don’t think they’ll cut games or agree that they should, but you lay out the case well.

  4. I would prefer moving Chivas, but I would move OCSC & Miami to the Central for Toronto and Montreal. I think the central division needs Becks and Miami to stay relevant nationally. And if one of the points of divisions is to reduce travel, MON-TOR would make more sense in the East.

  5. I wouldn’t be too surprised at this point if the league just disbands Chivas to get back to 20 teams. Then expand to 4 new cities.

  6. John O'Donnell says:

    Sorry I just can’t see any of this. I think if Miami is to be successful, I’m guessing that the games against New York with high profile Dp’s in the game is what the league envisions. Two conferences for me and don’t change the playoffs as now they become even harder to make. The other thing is if you move Chivas you need two more cities with SSS and a person with a billion dollars to start a team, not easy as it sounds. Right now you have a lot of nice cities but no new owners stepping up. It be far cheaper to get someone to buy Chivas (MAGIC Johnson) and get a stadium (USC) to make the team more relevant in Los Angeles with a rebranding, than to start a team from scratch in…………

  7. One SoB's Opinion says:

    1) Miami will happen. Becks is up against a wall to get it done. MLS wouldn’t expand with only one-team in the South-East.

    2) 21 teams is UGLY….Miami will make 22, and two conferences of 11 teams. Home and Away in conference (20 games) + home or away from opposite conference (11 games) = 31 game season, compared to 34 games this season.

    3) MLS secretly (or maybe no so secretly) wants two teams in LA. They won’t move the goats to Miami.

    4) St. Louis and Atlanta will eventually be teams 23 & 24.

    • You’d probably need to play one team in the other conference twice to bring it up to 32 games. I don’t think half of the owners in the league would be satisfied getting one fewer home game than the other half.

  8. As fantastic as that conference alignment is, I don’t see the Chivas to Beckham deal possibly happening. I also don’t see Miami in general being ready for 2015. So 21 it is for at least a year.

    Everybody needs to stop thinking St. Louis could be #24. There’s no ownership group stepping up, St. Louis is not in any discussion outside of “it would be a great market”. Unless the league buys the Chivas franchise slot and gives it to the Hunts or someone to open up there, it’s not going to be in the running anytime soon. I’d sooner see the league bargaining with Vergara to rebrand and move Chivas to San Diego.
    San Antonio is the most ready to fit as #24, pending a bit more ownership cash. Minneapolis is about the same as Atlanta (solid NASL fanbase, NFL owner) without as imminent a stadium. Detroit has 2 outta 3 (wealthy owner and ready fanbase, no stadium). Sacramento and Indianapolis are just outside discussion.

  9. Earl, under your ‘What if Chivas moved?’ conferences, you list Colorado in both Central and Western. Just an FYI you should remove them from Central when you get a chance. I did a quadruple take trying to figure out why Central had 8 teams in it

  10. Please just keep Major League Soccer divided into Two Conferences, East and West get each conference up to 12 Teams.
    The team in each Conference with best overall regular season earns a Supporters Shield and the Title of Conference Champion.
    The Conference Champions play a Home and Away series using goal aggregate to determine winner of the MLS Cup and League Champion.

    • They would want more playoff rounds than this. Playoffs make money for teams – not just in MLS, but all American leagues.

  11. I don’t see how you can say that the proposed Central Conference would be the weaker one. SKC and Houston have competed in the Eastern Conference championship for the past 3 years.

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