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MLS rethink?

Eric McErlain dug up this interesting item on American soccer:

Tim Leiweke, president of Anschutz Entertainment Group, told the Los Angeles Times in an interview that change is needed if soccer is to grow in the United States. AEG, owned by Denver billionaire Philip F. Anschutz, has invested more than $400 million over the past decade in soccer.

"I think we kind of lost our way a few years ago, and what we're trying to do now is regain our way,'' he said. "I always thought the mistake we made with MLS was that we tried to emulate the other leagues in this country. This mistake's been made many times with soccer. People have tried to take soccer and conform it to the way we do sports in the United States.

"I keep on trying to say, 'You know, after the hundreds of millions of dollars people have lost, when are we going to wake up and figure out that we need to convert the American way of doing business to the way soccer is organized around the world?'

"We're beginning to acknowledge that we have to become part of the rest of the world scene in soccer, whether it's on the pitch, whether it's from a business standpoint, whether it's from a competitive standpoint.''

Interesting. Does he mean switching to an open system where teams and cities could play their way to the top level - or plunge to the bottom? The dog-eat-dog competition that results would make American soccer far more interesting. The results - promotion to the top or relegation to the minors - would demonstrate the competitive farce that is baseball for clubs that refuse to compete beyond the month of June.

But here's the bottom line: MLS owners are unlikely to give outsiders the chance to boot them out of the league. The one scenario which might generate such a move would be the emergence of a competitive threat from a "rest of the world" system. While this may be the long run path for American soccer, don't expect such a change overnight. It seems more likely that local competition within MLS motivated Leiweke's remarks:

Leiweke also looked ahead to the addition of the Mexican team Club Deportivo Chivas USA to the Los Angeles soccer scene. The expansion squad of the popular Chivas team in Mexico will begin play in April.

The Los Angeles Galaxy's season ended with a Western Conference finals loss to the Kansas City Wizards, and "they can't afford to go through another year next year like they did last year because Chivas won't allow that,'' Leiweke said. "Jorge (Vergara, Chivas USA's owner) wants to put us out of business. He's serious about it too.''

Putting two teams in LA is a step away from the regional monopoly model. Uprooting monopoly will make the league more competitive and more entertaining for fans. Still, taking the gloves off and engaging in a no-holds-barred competition between the clubs would require rule changes within MLS, and would result in increased talent costs. Let's hope Leiweke and his forces can take MLS in this direction. It would certainly make for a more interesting league; of that there is no doubt.

Update: Chivas and the Galaxy could turn LA into a soccer town! No way the NFL stands aside and lets this happen. John Topoleski (in his comment here) may be right - are you ready for the LA Saints?