With MLS expansion done for now, where the league priorities should land


Now that Manchester City, the Yankees and Major League Soccer have cooked up a mighty tasty expansion stew – let’s call this recipe “Ol’ No. 20” – the league can pivot its improvement efforts. But where to?

We’ll leave further expansion off the table for now, since MLS seems inclined to aim efforts elsewhere.

We have five suggestions for the “elsewhere.” It no particular order (because in many ways they are all tied together), this is where MLS priorities should be:

Stability for Chivas USA: And by “stability,” we mean getting that lost puppy dog of an organization in line, whether that’s in Southern California or elsewhere, and regardless of ownership.

The choices over Chivas USA are complicated by financial considerations, mostly about where the money will go in a sale versus where it would go if the club were to shut down, with an expansion team soon sprouting elsewhere.

Either way, Chivas USA is clearly a drain on league resources and energy. And not to put too fine a point on it, but games inside a nearly empty Home Depot Center are a recurring black eye.

The stadium situation in D.C.: We’ve plowed this ground so much before that there’s very little fertile soil remaining. Seriously, what else is there to say here?

We’ll sum up: United has spent all 18 seasons at RFK Stadium (pictured), a facility well past its time in both the physical structure and ability to provide proper revenue streams. The team loses oodles of money playing there. When was it that Garber first called this situation “untenable?” Two years ago? More?

It’s so tough to keep up on this one; it’s been atop the “to-do” list for so long.

Stadium situation in New England:  This one is quite different, because the MLS bummer near Boston is really about image rather than financial considerations. The Revolution is owned by the Kraft Family, which also owns the NFL’s Patriots, and because the teams share a facility the league is not dropping money into the Back Bay the way it is in D.C.

Still, status quo doesn’t do anything for anybody. The facility is ill fitting and it will never help the league move forward.

Getting the Krafts to spend money on a new facility won’t be easy – but it needs to happen sooner or later. And the sooner the better, obviously.

Maximizing the coming TV contracts: Remember, the deals with ESPN, NBC and Univision all expire at the conclusion of the 2014 season. That “deadline” was a big driver behind getting No. 20 passing and trapping by the 2015 season, the first season  to be covered under the new contracts.

So, whatever armament and ammo the league possesses needs to be strategically directed. More stars? Enhanced and integrated sponsorships? Optimum media awareness in local markets? Enhanced fan engagement in local markets? Strategic digital growth? Asset bundling along with other TV rights?

Adding more Designated Players: This isn’t about increasing the number of big stars and bright talent permitted by league laws, but rather about getting more teams further invested in the DP sweepstakes. As Garber told ESPN FC recently: “The clubs are realizing that a DP doesn’t have to be of the ilk of David Beckham, Thierry Henry and Robbie Keane. There are players that are really accomplished that perhaps can make an impact on and off the field at lower salaries, but still be an investment outside the salary budget.”

The better players don’t just sell tickets; they enhance the collective quality, and that’s always a good thing.

MLS Snapshot: Orlando City SC 2-1 Montreal Impact

Cyle Larin, Orlando City SC

The game in 100 words (or less): For weeks, it was a widely held belief that the Montreal Impact would snatch up the sixth and final playoff place in the Eastern Conference with little or no resistance from their opposition. As they went six games unbeaten (four wins), all looked to be setting up perfect for the club that fired Frank Klopas midseason, but there was another team in the race for sixth that kept winning themselves: Orlando City SC. On Saturday night, Montreal and Orlando City faced off at the Citrus, with the expansion Lions claiming their fourth-straight victory with a 2-1 triumph. Montreal now holds a one-point lead on Orlando in the race for sixth, and have two games in hand, but it’s no longer a foregone conclusion L’Impact will qualify for the playoffs no resistance whatsoever.

[ MORE: | Week 30 TOTW | POTW ]

Three moments that mattered

33′ — Bush’s mistake gifts Larin the opening goal — Larin did what your taught to do as a striker — “put it on frame, test the goalkeeper” — but in no universe does a shot so feeble have any business finding the back of the net. Evan Bush has been great this year. Hopefully (for Montreal’s sake), this howler doesn’t turn into the yips with the playoffs looming.

43′ — Hall’s “mistake” gifts Oduro an equalizer — Dominic Oduro equalized in the 43rd minute, when he took the ball out of the hands of Tally Hall and smashed it into the back of the net, but the goal should have been disallowed due to Hall having full control of the ball.

80′ — Hines hits the winner for Orlando — Seb Hines put the ball back into the mixer and just so happened to find the back of the net in the 80th minute. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

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Man of the match: Seb Hines

Goalscorers: Larin (33′), Oduro (43′), Hines (80′)

MLS Snapshot: NY Red Bulls 2-1 Columbus Crew SC

Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York Red Bulls
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The game in 100 words (or less): Two weeks in a row Columbus Crew SC have had a chance to go top of the Eastern Conference with a victory, and two weeks in a row Crew SC have failed to take a single point from massively important fixtures. Their latest defeat, a 2-1 humbling at the hands of the East-leading New York Red Bulls, started so well for Gregg Berhalter’s side, but was undone by a pair of costly, comedic defensive errors that allowed Lloyd Sam and Bradley Wright-Phillips (15th of the season) to erase an early deficit (Justin Meram) and win all three points. The result not only keeps the Red Bulls top of the East, but gives them a three- and four-point cushion with three and two games in hand on their nearest competitors., D.C. United and New England Revoltion respectively. For Crew SC, they’re four points back of the Red Bulls in fourth place, one point ahead of fifth-place Toronto FC, who have a game in hand.

[ MORE: | Week 30 TOTW | POTW ]

Three moments that mattered

9′ — Meram pokes it past Robles for an early lead — Meram “earned” his goal all the way back in midfield, when the Iraqi international’s mazy run took a routine turnover inside Crew SC’s defensive half and turned it into a dangerous counter-attacking opportunity. Harrison Afful overlapped and provided the cross for Meram to send home.

12′ — Sam capitalizes on multiple mistakes to equalize — Crew SC pass the ball out of the back. They don’t boot it forward to clear. It’s just what they do. Sometimes, that’ll bite you. When your goalkeeper and right back both have blunders clearing the ball 10 seconds apart, you probably deserve to concede an ugly, scrappy goal.

21′ — Wright-Phillips capitalizes on more defensive gaffes — See the above description for Red Bulls goal no. 1.

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Man of the match: Damien Perrinelle

Goalscorers: Meram (9′), Sam (12′), Wright-Phillips (21′)