Today it was announced that the Houston Dynamo would be moving to the MLS Eastern Conference. This is because two new Western Conference teams are joining — Vancouver Whitecaps and Portland Timbers.
While on its face the change does not seem like a big issue — MLS has a balanced schedule this season — it will have a major effect on who the Dynamo would face should they make the playoffs this year.
The change reduces the possibility of the Dynamo facing Western Conference foes like FC Dallas and LA Galaxy. I will miss FC Dallas in particular, as it is very easy for Houstonians to travel to that city. I’ll miss the prospect of an extra away trip to Frisco. The 2007 home and away series in the playoffs against Dallas was something special. Over 30,000 fans were at the home game against Dallas, and the Dynamo have continued to have great playoff attendance since then. Unless there are significant changes to the playoff format, now the only way the Dynamo can face FC Dallas in the playoffs is though MLS Cup or through cross-conference seeding.
As mentioned earlier, in 2011 there are two new MLS teams in the Western Conference. It takes time to build team chemistry, and it is a strong possibility that Portland and Vancouver will be last in the West. The other Western Conference members will have an easier time making the playoffs.
I also strongly disagree with this portion of the MLS article on the change:
“The move adds some hard-earned MLS hardware to the already proven Eastern Conference, as the two-time MLS Cup winning Dynamo make the change. The Dynamo won back-to-back MLS Cups in 2006 and 2007 and had reached the postseason each of the past four seasons before missing the playoffs in 2010.
With Houston now in the East, the Conference now boasts the winners of three MLS Cups since 2005 (Houston in 2006 and 2007, Columbus in 2008). The Western Conference has won the last two (Colorado and Real Salt Lake).”
The Dynamo won that hardware in the Western Conference. Do not change history MLS and pretend that the East won those MLS Cups in 2006 and 2007 just to make the East look better. In reality, the Eastern Conference has been weak for a long time. Outside the 2008 MLS Cup win by the Columbus Crew (against New York, another East team), a team from the East has not won MLS Cup since 2004. MLS may as well have boasted that the Eastern Conference Championship winner won the last three MLS Cups since Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids played in the Eastern Bracket in 2009 and 2010.
I know that changes had to occur, and MLS had to pick a team to move to the Eastern Conference. Things will be different, though. This is also the first time in memory that any professional Houston sports team has played in an Eastern Conference.