The countdown to MLR season 6 is now less than a month. The hype for season 7 has already begun.
Reports of a Miami based expansion side continue to trickle out. Following the recent contraction of Austin and LA and the subsequent addition of Chicago, adding one side for 2024 would return to league to 13 teams.
That should be avoided if at all possible.
The 13-side format is clunky at best. The obvious issue is uneven conference sizes. However, any odd number of teams would prompt the same challenge. The biggest issue is trying to schedule with a prime number of teams. The mathematics of creating fixtures is significantly harder with 13 teams than it would be with 15, for example.
Consider the fixture issue in 2022. Since the West held 7 sides and the East held 6, someone had to be off every single week. The bigger issue is with the home-and-away format among conference opponents. To give every Western side that opportunity, only four games remained for each Western team to cross the Mississippi (or welcome a rival across the river). It created openings on the schedule for Eastern teams that could only be filled with more conference match ups. New England v. New York is great once in a regular season. Its pretty good twice. The third time robs the fixture of its luster
The ideal solution is much easier said than done: don’t add a thirteenth side until a fourteenth side is ready as well. A 14 side competition creates more balance throughout. Have teams play 10 total conference games: each would face three conference rivals home-and-away and the other three conference rivals once. It would guarantee the opportunity for every team to see every other team each year.
That’s the crux of the issue. As the league grows into a national league (compared to its history of having teams largely concentrated in the northeast and further west) the opportunity to have teams facing more unique rivals grows as well. Compare MLR’s schedule to the NFL where teams face the three divisional rivals twice a year and have unique opponents for the other eleven games. There’s more opportunities to see sides face different styles of play.
80 minutes is a great amount of regular season time to watch one team break down another. 160 minutes can lead to rivalries. 240 minutes takes away any specialty.