When Will The True Eastern Conference Catch Up?

We’re nearly through MLS Cup Week (though it’s two weeks really, something that seems overkill after banging out two-pers for the early rounds). It’s a deja vu kind of MLS Cup: the same combatants as 2011. Los Angeles and Houston, and the same venue, the Home Depot Center. It’s a dream matchup for Major League Soccer, replete with the usual big names in a stadium built for this kind of pageantry.

Brad Davis, From The Dynamo Photostream

While Houston has proven worthy of their place in the Final, let’s take a moment to remember the way it was in 2010. Before the addition of Pacific Northwest foes Portland and Vancouver, the Houston Dynamo was a Western Conference team. Remember when we were talking about an Eastern Conference far behind the West? Nothing has changed. There has not been a pre-2010 Eastern Conference team in the MLS Cup Finals since 2008, when Columbus defeated New York.

One could point out that Houston has not been spectacular in the regular season, but as we all know, MLS doesn’t really care too much about the regular season when it comes to championship credibility. The real importance is placed on a two week tournament that discards an entire season of consistency for one poor match (just ask San Jose). And in that tournament, Houston has been as proficient as any other MLS team, and they were built to run the gauntlet – in the Western Conference.

Houston made sense as the team to move East when MLS brought forth two highly supported Cascadian D2 teams. At 18 teams, there needed to be some balance. Thus the Dynamo changed Conferences, and it has set up a situation where the newcomers have outclassed their new competition. Two seasons, two MLS Cups. The chances of the Dynamo making a Final would be much slimmer if they remained in the Western Conference, that’s certain.

Why must Houston remain in the East? Does it really matter which Conference has 10 teams? I’d like to see Major League Soccer push Houston back to the Western Conference for 2013. Houston and F.C. Dallas are geographic rivals, and with the unbalanced schedule, you’d end up with 5 Texas Derbies every two years (not counting playoffs). It’s also very likely the 20th team will be an East Coast team, facilitating Houston’s return to the West. Just do it now. Make the West 10 teams, and the East 9 teams.

I know that the counterargument is that the East should learn to overcome the Dynamo. If they can’t beat Houston (a relatively mundane team who will probably get smoked by LA on Saturday), what’s to say that D.C. United (or Kansas City? or New York?) wouldn’t get trounced in an MLS Cup Final?

Regardless of whether Houston were to stay in the East or move, there is still a dichotomy in the League. It’s pretty clear that the Western Conference is still miles ahead. The biggest problem in the East seems to be that no teams are all-around solid. Sporting KC lacks scoring punch. Chicago scored goals down the stretch, but their defense and goalkeeping made some major blunders. D.C. United had a chance of being elite if they hadn’t experienced a slew of injuries. And while the Red Bulls have the cash and clout to succeed against their Western counterparts, they are very flighty – solid one week, mental the next.

What the Eastern Conference contenders need is to find the ways to become the complete package: attack, defense, and most of all, the intangible of winning the big game. The only team that seems to have that immeasurable quality right now is Houston. And unless their counterparts discover it themselves, it might take a Dynamo return to the West to see a traditional Eastern team in the MLS Cup Final.

7 thoughts on “When Will The True Eastern Conference Catch Up?”

  1. Wow. You are aware of the, shall we say, temporary nature of conference alignment (among other rules in MLS)? WTF is a “true” East? Someone must not have watched much soccer, because teams like SKC beat the hell of the every West team they played (except Portland). I realize this post is more a left-handed ode to Houston, but, uh, hardly anyone thinks the West is dominating the East anymore.

  2. I never understood why Houston was put in the West- especailly as this unpaired it from Dallas. But DJ, I think the other point is that the west has more stong clubs (I won’t use the word franchise) than the east for the forseable future, so the west is a harder path to the play-offs.

    As I have said before, I wish they would do one bracket with all 8 or 10 teams in it- that would solve this problem. And I don’t think a final with two west coast teams garners any less attention, in fact it might get more because the atmosphere would be better. Some of the most memorable World Series in baseball are between local teams. I think it is a mistake that hockey and basketball make that the MLS should avoid.

  3. Hmm. I think the East had more points per team than the West no ? Dont have time to calculate now.

    Add scoring to the Sporks and you have the best team in MLS. Many of the young guys might be what they need and already on the roster.

  4. It’s not West vs East it’s simpler than that it’s LA- they can sign much deeper talent- any other team starting multiple Premier League players? Red Bulls are suppossed to be to eastern version but they were horribly coached thank God and we were spared- I hope MSL doesn’t mirror Europe in that 1 way- where leagues become 2-3 at the top and everyone else

    and of course the playoff system is ludicrous and proves nothing-(LA built for that kind of tournament) The champions of MSL 2012 is San Jose- the 4/5 championship does not reveal the best team over a season

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