I've read basically all of Jimmy Conrad's ESPN/CNNSI articles over the years and have thoroughly enjoyed the humor that Conrad has brought. It's one of the things that's made him a favorite not just among Wizards fans, but fans around the league, they see him as a potential play-by-play guy after his playing career is over. But his latest entry is a little different as it doesn't appear to have the usual humor that Conrad brings, unless it is very subtle. Conrad comes up with 3 ideas for changing MLS so that the "teenage league" can break away from it's "American sports brethren".
His first point reads like it could be from any one of the numerous new posters on Bigsoccer who post these types of ideas daily it seems. He speaks of breaking away and telling our "parents that we hate them and 'what do they know about anything,'" yet his first point is to go ahead and move in with our "best friend's parents" because they have the "cool entertainment center" known as promotion and relegation. Conrad comes up with the idea of splitting a 20 team MLS into two 10 team leagues with no inter mixing games between those two teams (except for the Open Cup). Basically the same set up as our "soccer brethren" around the world. Remember as a kid how you always wanted to live at your best friend's house cause you thought it was cooler there? This is the same premise basically, dump your American sports style parents for your European sports parents. So instead of running with our own identity as Conrad said, we'd just be conforming our identity to that of our "best friend's parents".
While his point on MLS 2 create a bitter feeling is correct, he glosses over the bigger point of owners investing in an American franchise system suddenly not having the ability to market their team as "major league". He down plays the issue of the lower league and getting "engaged owners". While having engaged owners is nice, you bring yourself to the problem of those "engaged owners" over spending their ability to get the glory of winning the league, and maybe it happens, but then the owners will depend on that happening yearly to offset the losses they take. See Leeds' failing to get into the Champion's League being the start of their downfall, or teams like Liverpool, Arsenal, etc relying on making the Champion's League group stage and those money makers to help them break even.
His possible positive side affect is also off. He talks about it making the US Open Cup into a hotter ticket and hotly contested. I fail to see how making an MLS 2 would make the Open Cup more hotly contested, it'd be a similar situation as we currently have with USL-1. Those match ups between MLS and USL-1 aren't exactly hot tickets, especially in MLS markets.
And while promotion relegation adds drama at both ends of the table, that's not any different than how MLS was this year, where 14 of the 15 teams in the league were still fighting for a playoff spot with 2-3 weeks left in the season, I mean the MLS Cup champion Real Salt Lake got into the playoffs thanks to other results going their way after they started the day outside the playoff picture.
His second idea is to make MLS a monopoly by buying up the USL and the MISL and use them both as places for players who don't get minutes for the first team to get some competitive games. Let's ignore the obvious anti-trust issues that could occur if MLS were to do this and focus on the rest. While I am a big proponent of the reserve league and really want it to return, I'm not sure I'm a big fan of having a minor league like baseball. Unlike baseball, many rookies that come to MLS out of college are ready to contribute right away (he discusses the draft in his third point, but we'll focus on a world where the draft still exists here). Guys like Michael Harrington, Jonathan Leathers, and Matt Besler or just some of the Wizards players over the last 3 years who have contributed in their first season. I've always considered MLS more like football or basketball where players contribute right away.
If this was even a half way potential idea, it would have to be a situation similar to the loan system in the rest of the world, which many MLS teams already utilize with the way the USL already is. This also brings in potential problem with his first point on the Open Cup, as making the system like minor league baseball would hurt the idea of the Open Cup with teams having most of their minor league team being made up of players from the parent club.
Overall I don't find much fault with this idea other than the aformentioned anti-trust issue, but other uses of the minor league and indoor system would not be a bad idea at all. More use of loans and use of an indoor league in the winter could certainly help younger players like a Matt Marquess, a Boris Pardo, or a Rauwshan McKenzie get more playing time. In fact plenty of USL-1 and lower players have pulled double duty playing indoor in the winter as well (although that's more of a job/money issue).
His third point is to do away with the MLS college draft, which I know plenty of soccer purists in this country would love. I do like his idea for players that go to college for less than 4 years, giving the team that brought them up having first right of refusal for the player. It allows teams to keep the players they helped to develop. Although MLS already this type of deal in place in some form. For instance, Matt Kassel at the University of Maryland came through New York's youth system, should he decide to turn pro, New York has first right to him before he goes into the draft. It's the same for any player in any teams current system.
As for the 4 year graduates, that can go either way, I think the draft is a "fair" way to divide up the talent that has come through college to avoid the "fly over country" getting the lesser talents after the more glamorous teams have made their selections. I do understand letting the players choose where they end up going as well.
The one point that Conrad does not touch on really are those players that weren't part of a teams' youth academy before they went off to college, do they follow the same path as 4 year graduates, are they able to choose where they go? If not, how to do they get onto a team when they decide to leave? That'd be point in Conrad's idea that needs to be addressed.
In the end Conrad, in places, brings up some interesting points that could be good jumping off points for discussion, but some seem very out there in their ideas and extremely unlikely to happen. Still, it looks like he's accomplished his Linux idea if I'm spending time adding to/changing his ideas