SO.... I was up late last night and couldn't sleep, and in my rambling mind I somehow started thinking about how the league would set up divisional alignments after OCFC and NYCFC are added to the fold next season. Obviously, the easy answer is that you move SKC or Houston over to the Western Conference, but I think I have a better plan...
What I based my brainstorming off of are these ideas (there may be more that I can't quite recall... It was late):
The league seems to like the idea of having 34 games in a season.
Minimizing travel, while still having every team play each other at least once.
Trying to maintain regional rivalries within divisions (although, there is one that ends up getting dismantled)
Therefore, in my mind, there are a couple of resulting ideas that came about (again, there may be others that rattled around in my brain. I don't know. Again, it was late.)
I think 3 divisions are better than 2. You inevitably can't have an even number of games between each team and all of their divisional opponents with 2 uneven divisions. Additionally, I really feel like the league will push to 24 teams sooner rather than later, and I think 3 divisions of 8 works out well too (Although there is a valid option of 2 of 12). Additionally, I think you can improve competitive balance between divisions, and similar to the NFL, force the best teams to play each other. I also, in the near term don't like the idea of having SKC and Houston both being in the Western Conference after Atlanta joins in the near future.
So, this is what I propose: Western, Central, and Eastern Conferences that set up as such...
Western -> Seattle, RSL, Vancouver, LAG, Portland, Chivas, SJ
Central-> Colorado, FCD, SKC, Columbus, Houston, Chicago, OCFC
Eastern->DCU, New England, TFC, RBNY, Philly, Montreal, NYCFC
The schedule would be set up as follows:
You continue the idea of playing each team in your conference 3 times (3 teams at home twice, 3 teams away twice... which would be even within divisions) (18 games)
The reason I ordered them as I have is that those are the current standings, with the expansion teams on the bottom of their conferences. Each team would play their relative equals from the other divisions home and home. What I mean by this is that if this is how the season ended, next season the Timbers would play a home and home with Houston and Philly. The reason I like this idea is that similar to the NFL, the teams that finished the highest the season prior have to play harder schedules. This sets up more opportunities for prime games on TV, and improves competitive balance even more on a season to season basis. (4 games)
All other teams from the other two conferences would be played once. Again, this would be divided evenly and 3 from each conference would be home games, 3 would be away games. (12 games)
The top four teams from each conference would make the playoffs, but only the 1 seeds would be guaranteed a bye, with the 2 seed with the most points also receiving a bye. The bracket would be set us as follows, with 4 play in games of (single game, higher seed hosts):
Worst 4 vs Middle 2
Middle 4 vs Worst 2
Best 4 vs Best 3
Middle 3 vs Worst 3
These would fall into the bracket with one side being:
SS Winner vs Worst Play In Winner and Best #2 vs Best Play In Winner
Other side of the bracket would be:
Middle #1 vs Next Worse Play In Winner and Worst #1 vs Next Best Play In Winner
All would be home and home series until the MLS Cup Championship game. Same as it is now.
Play-in games would be played on Saturday and Sunday, with the home/home series being played on Wed/Sat and Thurs/Sun beginning immediately following the play in games. I feel like this playoff structure puts emphasis on the regular season, and that while so many make it to the playoffs, the conference winners and a wild card #2 are given a strong advantage to progress to the cup final.
The 4 CCL bids would basically stay the same as they are now: USOC winner, MLS Cup Winner, SS winner, and the next best conference winner.
So, what does everyone think???