There has still not been a formal announcement, but there's been so much chatter that it's widely accepted that Chivas USA won't take the field in 2015. With New York City FC and Orlando City SC already scheduled to rejoin the league, that will leave 20 teams, which is a nice, round figure that puts MLS in line with some of the most popular leagues in the world.
Of course, there's a twist. There's always a twist. While there are an even number of teams, as currently aligned it would leave 12 teams in the Eastern Conference and only eight in the West. Clearly some realignment will have to happen.
The most logical -- and likely -- scenario is to move two teams from the East to the West. There are three potential candidates, of which the Houston Dynamo are virtually a lock. The other two are Sporting Kansas City and the Chicago Fire. The smart money is on Sporting KC to make the move, not just because they are geographically closer to the West, but they've also been in the Western Conference before.
But beyond the actual realignment, there's also the more complicated matter of the schedule, namely how to make a 34-game schedule make sense with 20 teams.
The Goat Parade
One solution that has been put forward is to ditch the 34-game schedule and reduce it to 32, while also splitting the conferences into two divisions apiece.
With Chivas USA gone, MLS can make a feasible 4 division, 32 game regular season: pic.twitter.com/45rQ9bl0sW— Mike McGrew (@CincySporting) October 8, 2014
Pros: There's a certain beauty in the symmetry of this schedule. Each team would play their division opponents three times (12 games), their conference opponents twice (10 games) and the other conference once (10 games). It would also have the benefit of freeing up a couple weeks during the summer, which could potentially be used to accommodate more international breaks.
Cons: Teams have already started selling 2015 season-ticket packages on the basis of a 34-game schedule. Sure, they could add a couple friendlies or start including U.S. Open Cup games. But that's not going to please anyone. Regular-season games are also more lucrative in terms of ticket sales and TV viewership. The league would basically be giving money away.
Likelihood: Not very. Even if this allowed MLS to expand the playoffs to 12 teams, there still wouldn't be enough revenue to justify losing 20 home games.
Almost every league in the world plays a balanced schedule that features every team playing one another twice. Why not in MLS?
Pros: Balance is nice. It might not be a literal single-table because we all know the playoffs aren't going anywhere, but it would lend an added level of legitimacy to the Supporters' Shield.
Cons: Travel would be brutal. Teams on the West Coast, especially, might end up logging as much as 44,000 miles in travel distance just for league games. It would also force the schedule to expand from 34 to 38 games and even though many season-ticket packages are sold with a 19-game plan in mind, finding the room on the schedule for four extra games would be near impossible. With MLS effectively committed to at least two more rounds of expansion, it's also not a remotely permanent solution.
Likelihood: Not going to happen. The ship has sailed on this one.
Sometimes the simplest solution is the most obvious one and keeping the basic structure seems like the easy fix here. Basically teams would play six of their conference opponents three times (18 games) and the remaining three twice (six games). The final 10 games would be played against the other conference. It's a modified version of the schedule Eastern Conference teams play already.
Pros: Limiting travel has long been a goal of MLS and this clearly accomplishes it. Teams wouldn't have to make anymore than five coast-to-coast trips and sometimes even fewer. It would also be reasonably easy to adjust this for the inevitable expansion to 22 teams in 2017. The final positive is that MLS could still "rig" the schedule so that rivals continue to meet more times than they face other opponents.
Cons: If you hate the current schedule, this is going to make your head explode. Regional rivalries like the Cascadia Cup will remain as unbalanced as ever with no solution in sight.
Likelihood: Pretty high. Unpopular as it may prove to be among the most passionate fans, this seems like the most likely solution.