How stacked can the West get? In three years, MLS’s conferences will be much more uneven

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It’s not a universally held opinion, but I’ve made no secret about my evaluation: There is an unfair imbalance in MLS, one which gives the top Eastern Conference teams an unfair advantage. Over the past few seasons, the West has been a much tougher, much deeper conference. Combined with the unbalanced schedule, that means the Supporters’ Shield and home field advantage are more likely to end up with the East’s leaders, a team likely to have played a weaker schedule.

If that’s the situation now, imagine what happens if Houston moves back to the Western Conference. Or if, in 2017, Sporting Kansas City follows. That’s the future the latest round of expansion offers.

The conferences are currently uneven, with an extra team residing in the 10-club Eastern Conference. When New York City FC joins the league, it’s assumed Houston will move West, but what happens when Atlanta, Miami, and Orlando all come in? At least one other team will have to move West, leaving 12 teams in the East. That team will likely be Kansas City.

If that happens, every team that’s appeared in the last five MLS Cup finals will be in the West, and while you could argue these things run in cycles, the success of Real Salt Lake suggests otherwise. Seattle has never had a bad season. The LA Galaxy has been a rock since Bruce Arena came to town, while Houston and Sporting have been consistently good under their current management teams. Time will catch up to each of those squads, but when you look at the rebuild the Dynamo undertook four years ago and the reshuffle RSL engineered last season, it’s worth wondering whether, at this point in MLS history, good management can transcend traditional sports cycles.

If you were to make a list of the best front offices in Major League Soccer, Real Salt Lake, Sporting, Seattle and LA would probably be near the top, as would Houston’s. Each organization, over a prolonged period of time, has shown the ability to address problems, usually without a debilitating impact on the field. In a few years, all of those groups will be competing against each other in the West, further compounding the league’s imbalance.

source: AP
Under the guidance of general manager/owner Adrian Hanauer (right), Seattle has never failed to make the postseason. (Photo: AP)

Once they’re there, trying to beat each other to playoff spots, the problem will only get worse. Already strong front offices will be forced to find new, more efficient ways to beat heighten competition. The result will be better teams, better organizations, all in one conference.

Unfortunately, there’s no obvious solution. For competition’s sake, MLS needs to stop the unfair practice of giving home field for MLS Cup  to the team with the better regular season record, instead alternating between Eastern and Western Conference venues. But the league can’t forego realignment. If you are going to have conferences (and MLS seems destined to have conferences), you have to break it up by region.

Eastern Conference teams need to improve. Organizations like Toronto and Columbus appear to be going so. With potentially ambitions teams like Atlanta, Miami, New York City, and Orlando joining the fold, maybe new blood will change the culture. Maybe that influx of competition will force teams to step up. Regardless, the imbalance won’t last forever.

In the interim, the West will remain the tougher group, with the competition set to get brutal once Houston and Sporting move over. Maybe that strength will cycle out, or maybe the league’s best planners will end up grouped together, forced to fight through a stacked conference until the league finds its balance.

American teen McKennie gets first Bundesliga start vs. Bayern

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A Tuesday quartet of Bundesliga matches features one of extreme interest to American soccer supporters.

Believe it or not, it has nothing to do with Christian Pulisic, nor Timmy Chandler, Fabian Johnson, and Alfredo Morales.

[ MORE: PST talks with McKennie ]

Nope, that’s because Bayern Munich’s visit to Schalke will stand as the first Bundesliga start for 19-year-old American midfielder Weston McKennie.

The youngster turned 19 a couple weeks behind his buddy Pulisic, and has four senior appearances for Schalke. He will certainly receive a USMNT call-up soon.

A central midfielder, McKennie is paired with prized asset Leon Goretzka. An even match through 20 minutes, Bayern has just got ahead through a Robert Lewandowski penalty kick given through VAR.

LIVE – Premier League big boys enter League Cup

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Buckle up. 11 League Cup games are coming your way on Tuesday.

[ LIVE: Latest League Cup scores ] 

The third round of the League Cup (known as the Carabao Cup for sponsorship purposes) sees the seven Premier League teams in European competitions enter the tournament.

Three all-Premier League ties have been set up with Leicester hosting Liverpool, Crystal Palace clashing with Huddersfield and Bournemouth having another South Coast derby against Brighton just a few days after their first-ever top-flight meeting.

Four Premier League teams face teams from the Championship as West Ham host second-tier strugglers Bolton, Burnley welcome Championship leaders Leeds United, Swansea head to Reading and Stoke City head to second-tier Bristol City in some potential banana skin ties for PL clubs.

Five more League Cup games take place on Wednesday with Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Everton all hosting lower-league opponents.

Below is the full schedule for Tuesday’s League Cup games with all games kicking off at 2:45 p.m. ET unless otherwise stated.


Tuesday’s League Cup schedule

Bournemouth vs. Brighton & Hove Albion
Aston Villa vs. Middlesbrough
Brentford vs. Norwich City
Bristol City vs. Stoke City
Burnley vs. Leeds United
Crystal Palace vs. Huddersfield Town
Leicester City vs. Liverpool
West Ham United vs. Bolton Wanderers
Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Bristol Rovers

Reading vs. Swansea City – 3 p.m. ET
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Barnsley – 3 p.m. ET

Ramos extends US deal as youth director, U20 coach

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Tab Ramos is one of the most influential people for U.S. Soccer.

It will stay that way for the foreseeable future.

[ MORE: Pulisic the Golden Boy? ]

Ramos, 50, has been in charge of the U.S. U-20 national team since Oct. 2011 and has held his role as the youth technical director since Nov. 2013.

In that time the U.S. has seen plenty of promising youngsters (Christian Pulisic, DeAndre Yedlin, Kellyn Acosta and Jordan Morris to name a few) graduate to the USMNT and Ramos’ leadership has been integral to that pathway.

Speaking to U.S. Soccer about his decision to sign a new deal as both the youth technical director and the U-20 coach, Ramos believes he can now help to accelerate the development of youth players.

“I am very excited to continue my work at U.S. Soccer as Youth Technical Director and U-20 Men’s National Team head coach,” Ramos said. “I am pleased with the historic results we have achieved on the field over the last few years as we continue pushing to set higher standards. We have provided great experiences to players who are now beginning to make room for themselves on the Senior National Team. My Youth Technical Director role gives me the opportunity to continue the integration of all our Youth National Teams as well as helping with the implementation of our Player Development Initiatives nationwide which will help our youth players develop at a much faster rate for years to come.”

With the likes of Cameron Carter-Vickers, Erik Palmer-Brown, Brooks Lennon, Tyler Adams and Josh Sargent all impressing for the U-20 side in both the CONCACAF Championship (which the U.S. won) and the U-20 World Cup (the U.S. reached the quarters) earlier this summer, it seems like Ramos is ready to push on the next crop of youngsters who can push for spot in Bruce Arena’s full national team.

Ramos’ resume as a player and coach is not only impressive but garners respect from every single person connected with U.S. Soccer. He played at three World Cups in a 13-year stint for the USMNT and was part of the coaching staff at the 2014 World Cup as well as leading numerous youth teams to their respective World Cups.

Very smart move from Sunil Gulati and Co.

Ander Herrera piles the pressure on Manchester City

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Ah, just five games into the Premier League season and the mind games have already started.

[ MORE: Pulisic the Golden Boy? ]

Manchester United’s midfield terrier Ander Herrera has been speaking about the pressure facing crosstown rivals Manchester City who are the Premier League favorites.

Herrera, United’s Player of the Season in 2016-17 as they won the Community Shield, League Cup and Europa League, believes that spending over $240 million means Pep Guardiola‘s side are “obligated” to deliver trophies this season.

“Man City have spent the biggest amount in the Premier League so they are the principle contenders for the title,” Herrera said. “We will try to be there as well, we have quality as well, and we will fight for every title. But I think because of the money they have spent they are the favorites. We will try to be there but they have spent the biggest money in the league.

“There is always pressure when you spend a lot but there is also pressure on us because we are the biggest club in England. We won three titles last season and City didn’t win anything. They are under pressure. They are obligated to win titles. We won three last season so they have more obligation than us. But you know when you play for Man United wining is an expectation and an obligation but I like that obligation to be honest.”

Does he have a point?

Last season City’s failure to win a trophy was put down to the “process” under Pep as they lost in the FA Cup semifinals, were knocked out of the Champions League in the Round of 16 and finished a distant third in the Premier League.

This season no silverware and a finish below second place in the table would constitute a massive disappointment for Guardiola’s side and pressure would perhaps start to build on the Spanish coach.

With City and United the only two teams in the Premier League who remain unbeaten (they have identical records with points, goals scored, goals against and points) the growing notion that the PL trophy will be in Manchester next May seems spot on.

Between now and then every single way United or City can gain an advantage over their rivals, that will take it.

Herrera has started the mind games ridiculously early and perhaps that shows just how scared United are of City as Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva rip teams apart and the deadly strike-partnership of Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus deliver the goals.

Mark this date in your calendar: Manchester United vs. Manchester City on Dec. 9.