It might be a little late to be issuing Christmas wish lists, but we here at SB Nation are a multi-cultural lot and celebrate all sorts of winter holidays. Heck, Kwanzaa doesn't even start until Monday. So you'll forgive issuing a somewhat belated Holiday Wish List for Major League Soccer.
With the Montreal Impact being set to become the league's 19th team, two more new soccer-specific stadiums opening and NBC broadcasting professional soccer for the first time in their history, this is shaping up to be another positive year for MLS.
Still, the league is young and can hardly afford a setback. Here are the Top 10 things on MLS's holiday wish list:
A schedule by mid-January
For whatever reason, MLS has been largely incapable of holding itself to a strict schedule when it comes to, well, scheduling. Every year, it seems, the schedule comes out a different time. There are surely reasons for this, but the league can go a long way to convincing would-be fans that they are to be taken seriously by releasing their schedule around the same time training camps open on Jan. 15 .
At least one new big-name DP
David Beckham is all but gone, and while the league has clearly moved beyond needing him in order to be relevant, it sure wouldn't hurt if he was replaced by another big-name player. Ronaldinho, whose name has surfaced in connection to the LA Galaxy recently, would certainly fit the bill. Even if it's not him, specifically, someone who fits a similar mold would be nice. In other words, if it was a player closer to 30 than 40 years old and still playing at a reasonably high level.
Another deep venture into the CONCACAF Champions League
Improving on Real Salt Lake's loss in the CCL finals would definitely be nice. In order to even equal it, though, the Seattle Sounders, LA Galaxy or Toronto FC are going to have beat Santos Laguna. The Sounders will have the first, and maybe best, shot at doing that as they will face Los Guerreros in the quarters. The first game will be played in front of what should be a huge crowd, even by Mexican Primera standards, at CenturyLink Field on March 7
More teams taking U.S. Open Cup seriously
The oldest continuously running national championship in the United States still gets short shrift from too many teams. But this year, all 16 U.S.-based MLS teams will be participating, along with all six eligible NASL teams and the 10 eligible USL-Pro teams. That will give the tournament 32 full professional sides for the first time in its history. Hopefully, that's enough reason for more MLS teams to take the tournament seriously and not treating it as a glorified reserve league game. MLS Commissioner Don Garber often talks about creating special moments. This should be among them.
Increased ratings on NBC Sports
Perhaps the biggest change from last year to this from a off-field perspective will be having games on NBC. Most of those will be the newly renamed cable channel NBC Sports, but even that should be a huge upgrade over Fox Soccer Channel, if for no other reason than it will be available to more people. Hiring Arlo White to be the play-by-play voice was a nice first step. They've also promised pre- and post-game shows, and there are even hopes their could be a midweek program. With all that energy being put into the broadcasts, it will be imperative that NBC sees an early return on their significant investment.
Settling the stadium situations
Most MLS observers agree that three teams need to improve their stadium situations: the San Jose Earthquakes, D.C. United and the New England Revolution. Worries over those situations would be greatly diminished if the Earthquakes can actually break ground on their planned stadium and if the District of Columbia would commit to helping United find a permanent home. It would be great if the Revolution could make some headway on getting their own stadium in Boston proper, but that's probably shooting a little beyond this year's range.
A truly masterful performance
Dwayne De Rosario probably had the best season last year. Brek Shea or Mauro Rosales could reasonably be called breakout stars. But when was the last time a player stood out as clearly the best offensive player in the league? It would be even better if it was a youngster who stood out. Possible candidates include Shea, Fredy Montero, Teal Bunbury, CJ Sapong and Omar Cummings.
No bad playoff teams
Despite expanding to 10 teams last year, there were no downright embarrassments in the playoffs. Sure, the Columbus Crew had a negative goal-difference, but they were close enough to keep it respectable. Next year, though, five teams from each conference will be guaranteed to make the playoffs which increases the chance that a relatively bad team will make it over a considerably better one. As long as no team makes it with fewer than 45 points or a negative goal-difference, there really shouldn't be much room for complaints.
Two compelling teams in the MLS Cup final
Home-field advantage will count all the way into the MLS Cup final this year and it would sure be nice if it was played at the home of a team that really cares. There's few things that would be worse than the MLS Cup final being played somewhere in front of a sparse crowd. That doesn't mean the Sounders or Galaxy have to be involved, but it will probably require two interesting teams being involved. Hopefully, that will also translate to increased TV viewership.
A decision on a 20th team
MLS claims that once it gets to 20 teams it's going to take a step back and let things settle in. It would be good if we got to that settling sooner than later. The constantly changing playoff and scheduling format does the league no favors and building some tradition in those areas would be very good. Whether team No. 20 is in New York or somewhere else, making a decision by the end of the season should be a priority.