Writer, Kyle Soto (@KDSJ_99) recently wrote about a few things MLS can do better, and now he is back with part two: a more in-depth look at what changes the league could implement.
I recently compiled a small list of small things Major League Soccer can do better. The items on the list are more or less small things that can be easy change that won’t impact the league on a grand scale. However, after seeing various responses on Twitter to what other MLS fans would change in the league, I’ve decided to delve deeper into ideas and changes that would impact the league on a larger scale.
This may be the easiest problem to fix, which is why it’s one of the most frustrating taking points on this list.
“The Professional Referee Organization (PRO) is the organization responsible for managing the referee and assistant referee program in professional soccer leagues in the United States and Canada, working alongside the U.S. Soccer Federation, Major League Soccer, Canadian Soccer Association, the North American Soccer League, the United Soccer League, the National Women’s Soccer League and the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup,”(Proreferees.com).
I have my own experience as a referee as I refereed for six years and I know how difficult it can be. Obviously, I never refereed at a high level like MLS, but it’s the same principles. Fans (in my case angry parents that more than likely knew close to nothing about soccer) will find any reason to show their uncalled for frustrations at you. Referees don’t get enough credit for the calls they do get right. However, MLS referees are notorious for the calls they miss, make, and situations that just don’t make sense.
Now, with Video Assistant Referee in the mix, things have become more confusing. VAR is a tool that, in theory, should make officiating easier. However, MLS referees have mucked it up and have caused the fans who were in favour of VAR to reconsider their stance on the matter.
This is more of a change that I would like to see on a personal level. The competition layout in MLS differs very much from most leagues around the world. I’ll use the English Premier League as an example because I am most familiar with that league. Each team plays each other twice, once at home and once away. At the end of the season, the team who has accumulated the most points lifts the Premier League Trophy. In MLS the team with the most amount of points at the end of the season wins the Supporters’ Shield, which generally isn’t recognised as the most desirable piece of silverware in MLS. Playoffs are a key component in American sports, and MLS is no exception.
There are two conferences, East and West. The Western Conference has 12 teams and the Eastern Conference has 11. Teams in the same conference play each other three times and play teams from the opposite conference once. The top six teams from each conference make the playoffs and the last team standing is crowned the winner of the MLS Cup. Some argue that the playoffs and the seemingly more important MLS Cup reduce the importance of regular season play. I believe transitioning to the format used by the EPL would be a good idea so there’s no question as to whether regular season play is important or not.
Most league play in Europe starts in August, with each team playing every other team, once at home and once away. From my perspective, schedule congestion mostly occurs in the top European leagues due to the number of competitions a team can play in. For example, a top four side in the Premier League plays in the league, the FA Cup, the Carabao Cup, and UEFA the Champions League. However, due to the sheer depth and quality European sides have within their squads, they deal with it well for the most part. In MLS play, it’s a different story.
MLS league play begins near the beginning of March and, for some teams, can last until December. This unconventional schedule often conflicts with FIFA’s schedule, most notably transfer windows and international breaks/tournaments. If the league is going to create and host top tier players and soccer, then it’s important that players who come to the league know that their club play won’t interfere with their international careers. That being said, there are various clubs that would have to deal with extremely cold weather conditions if the league moved to the FIFA based schedule. MLS would also have to compete with the NFL (American Football) and NBA (Basketball) for viewers.
This one wouldn’t be such a big deal if the league didn’t run through the summer. For anyone unfamiliar with the event, the MLS All-Stars game is a celebration of the league where a big name foreign team visits the States to play the best of MLS. This year it was Juventus and given their status on the global soccer spectrum, there was a lot of hype around the game despite it being a friendly. After playing for a whole season in both the league and most of their players going to the World Cup, their big name players were not at the All-Stars game.
The timing of the All-Stars game really only benefits one party involved and in this case, it was Juventus. The game provides exposure to fans who may have just started watching soccer and an opportunity for players to gain fitness before entering the new season. Youth players from the opposing side are also generally involved and are given a chance to impress their manager and to play in front of an enormous crowd. However, many of the MLS players played the weekend before the match and after the match. Zlatan Ibrahimovic decided to not feature in the game due to fear of fatigue as he would have had to play a total of four games in just nine days, most of which he would have played 90 minutes. As a result, MLS released a statement that Ibrahimovic would miss the LA Galaxy’s next match against the Colorado Rapids on August 4th because he withdrew from the match. The All-Stars game is becoming more of a hassle than it helps the league.
Promotion and Relegation
This isn’t only an MLS issue as it impacts the sport at all levels. In English soccer, there is a pyramid of leagues which are connected through the concept of promotion and relegation, an unfamiliar concept in American sports. The three teams who find themselves at the bottom of the Premier League table at the end of each season are relegated to the second division, the Championship. Inversely, the two top teams in the Championship are automatically promoted to the Premier League with the next four teams competing in a playoff format for the final promotion spot. Each league generally has different rules for promotion and relegation, but the concept is the same.
However, implementing this concept in the United States will be the most difficult test for soccer in our country. While soccer is and has been growing exponentially over the last few years, I have concerns about how teams in lower divisions would be able to compete against in the upper tiers. I’d also be interested to see what happens to a popular MLS team when it’s relegated. There are a lot of questions that need to be addressed before United States soccer moves into that phase.
Pay to Play
This is another core issue in American soccer and not so much with MLS. For years, soccer has been an elitist sport within the States due to how costly it is to play at a high level. I played club soccer for a few years before graduating high school and every season, my family had to shell out more than $1,000 each season. Luckily I was able to play at that level, but I know for a fact there are kids who have never been able to play at a high level due to finances, which is a shame. Talent is always falling through the cracks, and pay to play is the main issue. However, just like promotion and relegation, this is an issue that won’t be going away any time soon.
What big picture ideas would you change about MLS? Feel free to have your say on Twitter.
Written by Kyle Soto – (@KDSJ_99)