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.

USSF says nominations submitted for 8 president candidates

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File
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CHICAGO (AP) The U.S. Soccer Federation says it received the required three letters of nomination for eight candidates in its presidential election, one fewer than the total of people who announced their intention to run.

The USSF is conducting background checks on the candidates whose nominations were received by Tuesday night’s deadline. The governing body said the check is to ascertain that a candidate has “no conviction or no contest plea to a felony or crime of moral turpitude” and it will announce the candidate slate after completing the process.

[ MORE: Atlanta acquires Nagbe ]

Sunil Gulati, the USSF president since 2006, decided after the Americans failed to qualify for the World Cup that he will not seek a fourth four-year term.

The nine people who announced they are running include former men’s national team players Paul Caligiuri, Eric Wynalda and Kyle Martino; U.S. women’s goalkeeper Hope Solo; Soccer United Marketing president Kathy Carter; USSF vice president Carlos Cordeiro; Boston lawyer Steve Gans; New York lawyer Michael Winograd; and Paul LaPointe, Northeast Conference manager of the United Premier Soccer League.

The election will be held in February.

Madrid rallies to beat Al Jazira, reach Club World Cup final (video)

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Gareth Bale scored an 81st-minute winner as Real Madrid came from behind to beat Emirates club Al Jazira 2-1 on Wednesday and reach the Club World Cup final.

Madrid will try to win its third world title in four seasons when its faces South American champion Gremio on Saturday.

[ MORE: Premier League Weds. roundup ]

The match had two goals disallowed by video review, one for each team.

Madrid struggled early and allowed the local league winners to open the scoring with a goal by Brazilian forward Romarinho just before halftime.

But Cristiano Ronaldo equalized early in the second half and Bale netted the winner less than a minute after entering the match as a substitute for Karim Benzema.

Paul Clement admits helplessness at facing Man City

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Swansea City manager Paul Clement may have the enduring quote of the season so far when it comes to facing the behemoth that is Manchester City.

[ RECAP – City hammer Swansea ]

The suffering Swans have had their share of poor performances this season — Clement later said January transfer spending “is a must” if the club wants to stay up — but he’s throwing his hands up in the air when it comes to Wednesday’s loss at the Liberty Stadium.

The man sounds exasperated, and sorry for his team. From the BBC:

“At times it was horrible to be on the sideline watching that, seeing my side trying but suffering for long periods. They’re not the games that will decide our season but it was hard to watch at times because they were so dominant. For me, one of the best sides I’ve ever come across. So many good athletes, so many intelligent footballers and it’s really hard to pin them down. We actually had some attempts on their goal so I’m disappointed we didn’t get on the score sheet but they were a far superior side to us. We’ve got to put it aside that game. We’ve got Everton away (next) and we’ve got to try and pick something up there.”

All that’s left is for Clement to pick up a clarinet, awkwardly blow into it, then point at Pep Guardiola and say, “He’s good.”

Free message board points to the first one to name the reference.

Premier League roundup: Reds, Gunners stumble

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The Top Four looks set for tumult on a weekly basis, and this week’s seen clubs move in-and-out at the lash of a whip.

[ MORE: Atlanta acquires Nagbe ]

Tottenham’s back in. Leicester City would like to come closer.

Burnley’s out. Liverpool and Arsenal, too.

First place might be out of the question, with unbeatable looking Man City 11 points clear of the pack. But nearly everything else is in play.

Manchester United 1-0 Bournemouth — RECAP

United didn’t have it’s A-game, but that was okay thanks to fine defensive play from star backstop David De Gea and some gutsy tackles from Phil Jones. The goal came when Juan Mata‘s cross was nodded home by Romelu Lukaku in the 25th minute, and United rode that marker for all it was worth to stay three points ahead of third place Chelsea.

Swansea City 0-4 Manchester City — RECAP

How good is Man City? Pep Guardiola‘s bunch have now won a Premier League record 15-straight in a single season, and have scored 52 goals while conceding just 11. Markers 49-52 came from David Silva (two), Kevin De Bruyne, and Sergio Aguero. Tottenham is next.

Liverpool 0-0 West Bromwich Albion — RECAP

A ball bounded off Ahmed Hegazi’s body, and off Dominic Solanke‘s body and forearm to give Liverpool its presumed breakthrough, but the call was intentional handball. The Reds had myriad chances to score before that, but instead hand a point to the visiting Baggies.

Newcastle United 0-1 Everton — RECAP

Mikel Merino and Matt Ritchie both hit goal posts as Sam Allardyce‘s Everton rode its luck and a Karl Darlow spillage to a 1-0 win. Wayne Rooney poked home the rebound, and the Toffees’ relegation worries are officially a thing of the past. Newcastle? Not so much, but money’s a-coming to Rafa Benitez at St. James’ Park.

West Ham United 0-0 Arsenal — RECAP

The chances were there for dominant Arsenal, but the winning goal did not materialize at the London Stadium. Marko Arnautovic did everything but score when West Ham did manage the ball, and Javier Hernandez rattled the cage late, but David Moyes men had to settle for a well-earned point.

Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 Brighton and Hove Albion — RECAP

Spurs are back in the Top Four thanks to a long Serge Aurier cross that fooled Mat Ryan and a Heung-Min Son deflection of a Christian Eriksen offering. Brighton’s just three points away from the drop zone with the loss.

Southampton 1-4 Leicester City — RECAP

Claude Puel‘s Foxes are flying, scoring goals for fun and encroaching on the Top Four after a horrible start to the Premier League season. Shinji Okazaki bagged his first Premier League brace, while Andy King and Riyad Mahrez also scored for Leicester, who is within five points of fourth and next faces Crystal Palace. Southampton’s goal came from Maya Yoshida.

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Manchester City 17 16 1 0 52 11 41 7-1-0 9-0-0 49
 Manchester United 17 12 2 3 37 11 26 8-0-1 4-2-2 38
 Chelsea 17 11 2 4 31 14 17 5-1-2 6-1-2 35
 Tottenham Hotspur 17 9 4 4 30 14 16 5-3-1 4-1-3 31
 Liverpool 17 8 7 2 34 20 14 4-5-0 4-2-2 31
 Burnley 17 9 4 4 16 12 4 5-2-2 4-2-2 31
 Arsenal 17 9 3 5 30 20 10 7-0-1 2-3-4 30
 Leicester City 17 7 5 5 27 23 4 4-1-3 3-4-2 26
 Watford 17 6 4 7 26 29 -3 2-3-3 4-1-4 22
 Everton 17 6 4 7 21 29 -8 5-0-3 1-4-4 22
 Southampton 17 4 6 7 17 23 -6 3-3-4 1-3-3 18
 Huddersfield Town 17 5 3 9 12 29 -17 4-2-3 1-1-6 18
 Brighton & Hove Albion 17 4 5 8 14 23 -9 2-4-2 2-1-6 17
 Bournemouth 17 4 4 9 15 20 -5 2-2-4 2-2-5 16
 Stoke City 17 4 4 9 19 36 -17 3-2-3 1-2-6 16
 Newcastle United 17 4 3 10 16 26 -10 3-1-5 1-2-5 15
 West Bromwich Albion 17 2 8 7 12 22 -10 1-5-2 1-3-5 14

 Crystal Palace 17 3 5 9 12 28 -16 3-3-3 0-2-6 14
 West Ham United 17 3 5 9 14 32 -18 3-2-3 0-3-6 14
 Swansea City 17 3 3 11 9 22 -13 2-1-6 1-2-5 12