It has been no secret that the Western Conference has held much of the power within MLS for a number of years, but has the balance of power swung back to the East?
This is a subject that I find endlessly fascinating. Why does it seem as if the most productive clubs seem to rest in the Western Conference? In terms of recent success, apparent investment, fan bases and many other factors the West is best in MLS. With the recent expansion and subsequent reshuffling combined with a good deal of growth from those in the East, have the tables finally been turned?
If you compared the two conferences in 2016 and matched up the 1st against 1st and 2nd against 2nd and continued that down the line, the difference in points was over two on average. With only two exceptions the Western Conference club picked up more points, meaning they dominated the out of conference games.
While that is worrying for the East, I believe that this season that number will even out more toward 0 than to 2.
First and foremost, the two clubs both conferences are adding differ on paper a great deal. Atlanta United came out guns blazing and have added expensive quality up and down their roster. With a massive home following already, Atlanta United should be expecting big things this season. Minnesota United, on the other hand, has taken a more measured approach to their team building.
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The second reason that the East will catch up is that the bottom clubs have gotten significantly better. Chicago and Columbus have both added key players in places of weakness and should see double-digit point improvement. Chicago added former LA Galaxy man Juninho and traded for Dax McCarty to form an impressive midfield duo. Columbus reformed their back four and should improve on the second worst goal conceded record in MLS.
Finally, there are Western teams that have major question marks. Can Colorado repeat their improbable 2016 winning form? Can LA cope without Bruce Arena? And did Houston or San Jose actually add anything of substance?
Don’t get me wrong, the West is still awesome. They have the reigning MLS champion (Seattle), reigning MLS Supports Shield (Dallas), US Open Cup champion (Dallas again) and the always stable Real Salt Lake and Sporting KC.
The conference gulf in talent is narrowing along with infrastructure and fan support. The West still might be ahead in 2017, but with Atlanta paving the way along with both New York clubs, Toronto and Orlando the East is rising again. Oh and DC United finally seems to be getting a new stadium so that might help.