At this point, about all that's known about the 2007 MLS season is that it will consist of 13 teams.
After that, who knows? Some decisions may be announced next week, when the league's Board of Governors meets at MLS Cup, but several thorny issues need to be finalized.
A single-table, ballyhooed by strident cyber-experts regardless of its impracticability and irrelevance in a league lacking promotion and relegation, has been discussed and all but discarded. The most likely makeup of teams next season is two divisions, although a three-division setup has also been evaluated, but this would eliminate the intra-conference playoffs leading up to MLS Cup that some operator-investors prefer.
During a conference call with the national media earlier this week, Commissioner Don Garber killed speculation MLS would split its season into two separate halves, with the "champions" of both halves -- based on standings, there wouldn't be playoffs -- advancing to the MLS Cup playoffs along with a number of other teams.
There had been some support for this proposal, which would reward teams that played well in the first half of the season and increase the intensity and importance of those games. The "champions" would receive byes into the MLS Cup playoffs, with other slots to be filled by the second-half "champions" as well as teams with the best overall records.
Several coaches have also lobbied for the league to take a break, given the volume of non-league matches scheduled for next year.
There are three potential points in the season for a break: Gold Cup (June 6-24), Copa America (June 26-July 15), and a proposed MLS-Mexican League tournament, set for sometime in August and/or September. But could MLS withstand a firestorm of criticism for not taking a break in 2006 for the World Cup yet doing so in 2007?
A proposal has been distributed for a 30-game schedule. Each team would play its 12 league opponents twice, with six additional games added against its closest, or most traditional, rivals. An alternative was to play a balanced schedule of 24 games (home and away with each opponent). U.S. Open Cup matches, international friendlies and the MLS-Mexican League competition would fill out the schedule. This proposal has faltered in light of rumors that perhaps only four MLS teams will play in the U.S.-Mexico club competition next season against four teams from Mexico.
Those four MLS teams would be D.C. United, Los Angeles, Dallas and Chicago, with the format still undecided.
Mexican clubs are committed to play next year in the Interliga, Copa Libertadores, and CONCACAF Champions Cup, not to mention the Copa Sudamericana, so the calendar will be crowded. And, with exceptions in a few MLS cities, by far the biggest draws in the United States are Club America and Guadalajara. They drew more than 40,000 fans Tuesday for a friendly in Glendale, Ariz., on Tuesday in the new stadium built for the Arizona Cardinals NFL team.
A meaningful competition between MLS and Mexican teams makes sense for competitive, marketing and broadcast purposes. But without those two teams to draw good crowds and generate real buzz, what's the point?
Click here for Ridge Mahoney's previews of this weekend's MLS conference championship clashes.