Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Move Back West Appears to be in Sporting's Future

It looks as if Sporting KC will be moving West next year. A few weeks ago the rumor broke that Chivas USA could go on "hiatus" after this season. Yesterday, Jeff Carlisle with ESPN FC reported that this rumor was true and that the club will take at least a 2 year break while their new owner works on getting a new stadium built for the team. The hiatus was apparently a condition of the sale of the team.

Chivas USA is having a horrible year, currently sitting at the bottom of the Western Conference with 24 points from 30 games. They also have the worst goal difference in the league, at -33. Not only that, but Chivas is on pace to set the league record for lowest average attendance. The prior record was 7,460 by the 2000 Miami Fusion (who folded 1 season later). Through 14 home games this year for Chivas, they are averaging 6,942 per game. They also set the lowest single game attendance this year, drawing an announced 3,702 for a game against the Portland Timbers. Later on in the season, they drew just 231 more when Sporting KC came to visit on a Friday. This is not a new thing for Chivas either, they have been the league's low attendance mark average wise for the two seasons before this one as well.

What this means for Sporting though is with New York City FC and Orlando City coming into the league next year and Chivas going away, that leaves MLS with 20 teams. With NYCFC and OCSC both on the East Coast it is easy to guess that those two will end up in the Eastern Conference. That would put the Eastern Conference at 12 teams and the West with just 8. To balance out the schedule, expect two Eastern Conference teams to move West. Houston was expected to move West no matter what to help balance the league when it was expected there would be 21 teams. Now with just 20, expect two to move. Sporting KC is the next furthest West team in the Eastern Conference, so for the second time in their history a conference switch for KC seems likely.

KC last moved conferences ahead of the 2005 season, moving East as MLS added teams in Salt Lake and Los Angeles (Chivas). Now it appears that KC will again get to switch. The move though was expected to come eventually for Kansas City. With team "22" being announced as Atlanta for 2017, if Sporting hadn't moved now (even if Chivas didn't go on hiatus) they'd be going to the West in 2017 to make the conferences 11 a piece.

With this switch the West becomes even stronger, losing their weakest team while gaining the Eastern Conference's MLS Cup representative the last three years. Since the 2011 season, only Houston and Sporting have represented the East at MLS Cup. In that same time, the Dynamo and Sporting have been five of the six Eastern Conference finalists, the one exception being DC United in 2012. Now Houston and KC will likely need to step their game up to compete in a Western Conference with the likes of LA, Seattle, Dallas, and Salt Lake.

It is a bit disappointing in the fact that this moving of conferences doesn't allow Kansas City to really generate much in the way of rivalries. They'll at least still have Houston to face, but the Dynamo will get back their primary rival, Dallas. Colorado has Salt Lake, LA will have San Jose, and the Cascadia teams will all have themselves. While I'm sure there will be some rivalry with Houston, Salt Lake, and Seattle, Kansas City will likely be the "secondary" rival for those teams. A similar thing was still happening in the East nine years after that move. KC's front office had tried to develop one with Chicago, but the Chicago fans more or less laughed at it. Houston become one because of the playoff battles, the hope would be that a move would allow that rivalry to continue to grow at least on the field.

For Chivas USA's remaining fans, I feel for them. The situation they are now facing is a step further than the KC Wizards ever got, but they were certainly close. For years after Lamar Hunt put the team up for sale there was a worry that "this season" would be the last season. Now Chivas' remaining fans are staring "this season" straight in the face it seems. I feel bad for the ones I met and had beers with at the 2011 season opener, they are good people that wanted a team to support.

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