By J Hutcherson - WASHINGTON, DC (Dec 28, 2011) US Soccer Players -- After a year where Major League Soccer added two more teams, lost several high profile players through retirement and other opportunities, and got a marquee winner in an MLS Cup final, here are a few things I would like to see from the League in 2012. Unlike my Holiday Wishes For MLS, these are items that would require action the League can take now. Resolutions, if you will. No pressure, just some concepts that might have more long-term value than the onward and upward approach we've seen from the League in the expansion era. Let's start with that….
MLS Puts Off Expansion
Instead of hearing how many people are more than willing to part with an expansion fee for an MLS club, it would be nice to think that the League is taking the long view, considering options, and potentially making the 20th MLS club the final MLS club. That would go a long way in skirting the comparisons to the old North American Soccer League in the late 1970's. There are enough problem clubs in Major League Soccer where relocation shouldn't be completely off the table. 19 clubs is already more than the FIFA recommendation, and it's doubtful that number got doubled because MLS is the topflight in two countries.
The New York Market Is Clearly Defined
Even as the old Metrostars promoted themselves as NY/NJ, MLS has historically held out the idea of a true New York club. AEG once reportedly held an option on the New York market, and that had nothing to do with the team playing in North Jersey. Yet MLS allowed the Red Bulls to call themselves New York and market the club as the Tri-State's pro soccer club. The message in that wider market has been mixed to say the least. The Red Bulls have a soccer stadium that's easily accessible from the PATH train system that has several stations in Manhattan. It's as much of an option as the Meadowlands, where New York's National Football League teams play. That's part of the problem. New York's NFL teams don't even normally use New York hotels. They're North Jersey in everything but name, and that was obviously the idea when the MetroStars setup shop at the Meadowlands in 1996. Now, we have rumors of a soccer stadium in Queens, on Randall's Island, and potentially other locations that aren't Harrison, New Jersey. That's fine, but you get the feeling that MLS is thinking the Brooklyn Nets rather than the New York Islanders. Meanwhile, the attempt to build a marquee club in North Jersey is undermined by the New York ideal.
Struggling Clubs Aren't Just Identified, But Helped
The worst thing that happened for clubs in trouble was the revival of soccer in Kansas City. The once upon a time Wizards got new ownership, a temporary move, a rebranding, and now a nice new stadium. They've revitalized from a club that would announce 4,000 in attendance to one where the only real problem is working out how to keep their new field in better shape. Things changed there, and it didn't take the League and the other clubs stepping in. That's a problem for other clubs in trouble because MLS can simply point to Sporting in response to issues in other markets. And there are notable issues in several markets, including some playing in soccer-specific stadiums. Left on their own, it would seem to be a reasonable assumption that at least one of them won't be able to correct their course. That becomes a situation where we're talking about how much time before the obvious move happens.
Resetting DC's Clock
United gets its own section because we're talking about a marquee club allowed to flounder in pursuit of a stadium solution. Their record hasn't helped, and forces are aligning to make that rumored move somewhere out of the District more likelier as time passes. MLS has already had to correct the mistake of allowing a multiple-time champion to pack up and move. A scenario where United can't make DC work turning into the DC region becoming the next expansion target would be absurd any way you look at it. Instead, it's time for MLS to stop simply commenting on a situation and use the full weight of their organization to figure out reasonable alternatives. That could mean the near suburbs rather than inside the District line, but it almost has to mean keeping DC in the immediate area. Anything else is not just a club failure, it's a League failure. When all involved see it that way, there's a much better chance something gets done.
No More Rebrandings
With all due respect to the job Sporting has done, MLS needs to call time on the rebranding option. That includes official color schemes. It's one thing to change up the shirts, get creative with the designs, and come up with something that the fans look at more than twice before deciding they'd rather not be seen in that shirt at the mall. It's another to have the basics of what makes up your club subject to change. When a European club switches its branding, there's almost always a tabloid story where a fan wonders what to do with their tattoo of the old crest. That's a fair point, and one all involved in MLS should remember. The fans make these identities their own, even when they're poorly thought out or executed. Have some respect for the fan base and realize you're not minor league baseball teams. No need for flying mammals or appeals to local kitsch. It's the same with deciding what the fans really want is a homage to a traditional club name from another part of the world. Lock the clubs into what they already have and see what they can do with it when the total makeover has been taken off the table.
Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves. Please, tell me all about it.
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