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A Modest Proposal - Shoehorning Simulated Pro/Rel and a Winter Schedule in MLS

You want a winter schedule? In this weather? Sure, let's see what we can do. Pro/rel? Can we simulate it so we don't run franchises into the ground? Like The Matrix? Let's find out.


As the Midwest, South East, North East, and, well, most of the country really digs out of the most recent snowstorm, let's turn our attention towards the cliché of running a winter schedule. To get it out of the way, yes, I think it's a bad idea, yes, I don't like the idea of a break in schedule, no, I don't think its feasible to play matches in ultra cold weather, and yes, I think scheduling and travel logistics really argue against it. But what if we could take a long enough break to avoid those issues? And what if that break gave us a window to do some team juggling in the form of promotion and relegation? Well, not true pro/rel, so you purists can turn right around and walk out that door (but please don't). We're going to do a kind of simulated pro/rel, that still incentivizes a top finish and punishes a bottom table finish, but doesn't result in Oklahoma FC taking the league by storm while Chivas USA has to schedule their next loss to Cal FC.

Hear me out.

We're going to start with pro/rel first, actually, since it makes the scheduling part make more sense. What we're going to do is split the league in half. Hopefully we land on an even number of teams...

Anyway, we're going to take the 2013 final table and establish MLS 1 and MLS 2.

Here's how this would look based on last season single table results. Sure, complain the West was better than the East so these positions are skewed. Don't care. In fact, my system is going to do away with the whole silly conference model anyway, so again, bear with me. I'm going to add Orlando City so we have an even number and I'm not ready to acknowledge that NYCFC exists.

Here's the "upper" division, MLS 1

1. New York Red Bulls
2. Sporting Kansas City
3. Portland Timbers
4. Real Salt Lake
5. Los Angeles Galaxy
6. Seattle Sounders FC
7. New England Revolution
8. Colorado Rapids
9. Houston Dynamo
10. San Jose Earthquakes

Everyone else goes into the "lower" division, MLS 2.

11. Montreal Impact
12. Chicago Fire
13. Vancouver Whitecaps FC
14. Philadelphia Union
15. FC Dallas
16. Columbus Crew
17. Toronto FC
18. Chivas USA
19. D.C. United
20. Orlando City FC

Still with me? So hey, we seem to have sorted our teams into 10 team conferences. Neat! Now, here's the clever bit. See how everyone had a seed assigned? We're going to assume that MLS 2 is the weaker division. So, each team is going to play each team in their division once. That amounts to a total of 9 games for each team. 9 games isn't enough for a season. So what now? Well, we're going to fill out the games based on upper and lower division seeding. So Seeds 1 - 5 play Seeds 16 - 20. Seeds 6 - 10 play Seeds 11 - 15.

With that, we've hit 14 games. About half a season. Huh. Well, you know what that means. Time for a winter break? NOPE! PLAYOFFS! WITH A TWIST!

So the big advantage in my system is not that Seeds 1 - 5 get to play Seeds 16 - 20. It's that when assigning playoff spots, we're going to give more to MLS 1 than MLS 2. That's right. We're going to say that there are 8 playoff spots, and we're giving 5 to MLS 1 teams and 3 to MLS 2. We're going to be cruel about it, too.

At the end of the 14 game "season", we total up all the points. The top 5 teams from MLS 1 and the top 3 teams from MLS 2 advance. MLS 1 Team #1 plays MLS 2 Team #3, MLS 1 Team #2 plays MLS 2 Team #2, MLS 1 Team #3 plays MLS 2 Team #1, and MLS 1 teams 4 and 5 square off. Home and away series. Two games. Winner goes on. Down to 4 teams, with 16 games total played.

Next round is then reseeded, with MLS 1 status giving you a higher seed (i.e. MLS 1 #3 > MLS 2 #2). Home and away. 18 games have been played. Four teams become 2, and we're already at the final.

Final is a knockout round hosted at the higher seeds venue. Boom. Champion. And now we've played 19 matches. Time for a break. A... WINTER BERAK.

This is boring. What do we do during a break? Well, for one, transfers. For two, heal up guys, you've earned a break. For 3, we PROMOTE AND RELEGATE TEAMS TO AND FROM MLS 1 AND MLS 2!

For you see, this short season allows us to reset our conferences based on results. We're going to send the bottom 3 teams from MLS 1 down and the top 3 teams from MLS 2 that made the postseason up. That way, when the Spring season starts, it's essentially an entire new season, with entirely new divisions and a clean slate. And with two 20 game seasons, we end up on 38 games, almost exactly the number that a team could play in the current MLS format. And hopefully this aligns better with things like the CCL, FIFA schedules, etc.

There's also all sorts of other nifty stuff you could do here. A final at the end of the Spring season between the two champions to determine an "official" champion being the first thing that jumps to mind.

I'm not sure this completely solves the logistics of playing in horrific weather, actually. Arguably, not having geographic conferences could make it worse. But a long enough break (six weeks?) and some clever schedule may be enough to pull it off.

So what do you think? Genius? Madness? Both? Neither? Let me know.

And for the record, I'm not saying this is a good idea, or that MLS should do it. But if you asked me how to do pro/rel AND a winter schedule, this is how I'd set it up. For reezy.