Yesterday, Major League Soccer announced the Sacramento Republic will join the league in 2022 as its 29th franchise. With this latest round of expansion stopping (for now) at 30 teams, there’s one more spot out there for cities who have been positioning themselves to join the top division of soccer in the United States. However, with that rapid expansion has come struggles on how to manage the schedule and allowing each team to play the rest of the league at least once in a season.
From 2000-2001, the league experimented with a 3-conference alignment (East, West, Central), expecting expansion to necessitate its use. After just two seasons, the Central Conference was eliminated, and MLS returned to just having the Eastern and Western conferences. However, now that the league is approaching 30 teams, could that be a renewed option?
With three conferences, teams could see themselves move to a 38-match schedule where they play each team in their conference twice and each team in the other two divisions once. While it would increase the number of games in the schedule by 4, creating the downside of more midweek matches, it could accentuate local and regional rivalries in some cases. There will be some that get separated, but the alignment could shape up like this if the 30th team is one out west:
Eastern: Inter Miami, Orlando City, Atlanta United, Nashville SC, D.C. United, Philadelphia Union, New York Red Bulls, New York City FC, New England Revolution, Montreal Impact
Central: Columbus Crew SC, FC Cincinnati, Toronto FC, Chicago Fire, St. Louis, Minnesota United, FC Dallas, Austin FC, Houston Dynamo, Sporting Kansas City
Western: Los Angeles Football Club, LA Galaxy, San Jose Earthquakes, Sacramento Republic, Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders, Vancouver Whitecaps, Real Salt Lake, Colorado Rapids, TBD
Of course, any alignment would depend on which city is awarded the 30th spot, and with cities like Charlotte, Las Vegas, San Diego, Raleigh, Phoenix, and even long shots Indianapolis and Detroit still making their case, it remains to be seen which way the league goes.
So, the question this week is: should MLS return to 3 conferences? Of course, hit the comments and state your case and include the city you think becomes #30 to arrive at your preferred format.