With the Don's latest state of the league comments about the importance of the Concacaf Champions League (CCL) and the extra load that it puts on teams that do well in the MLS standings, I've been thinking about what the league could do. Let's start out with the commissioner's problem description:
We need to prove that we can be among the best teams in the region, and that means beating Mexico. It certainly means beating teams from smaller countries that don't have our resources. What we've got to look at, clearly it is almost a disincentive for clubs when they finish in the top four [in MLS] and they play right now in so many different tournaments and competitions. We are trying to mix that up between Champions League, SuperLiga and the U.S. Open Cup.
I've seen a lot of comments on blogs that suggest rewarding the teams that get into the CCL or Superliga either monetarily or with some kind of roster exemptions. I think that's a bad model to follow, because it increases the disparity between the haves and the have-nots in the league.
A better model would be to find a way to get every team extra playing opportunities and increase all of the teams roster sizes and salary caps. In fact, we might already have all the pieces in place (or at least in recent memory). What about something like this (for US teams only ... the Canadians have their own system in place):
CCL is handled per the current system; MLS Cup Winner, Supports Shield Winner, US Open Cup Winner, and the next highest finisher in the MLS Championship playoffs get to go. The first two get right into the main tourney, while the last two go into the play-in round.
The next four finishers in the MLS playoffs go to the Superliga. This tournament should be expanded to include other Concacaf teams that don't qualify for the CCL. It would become sort of an analog to the Euoropa League.
Bring back the Reserve League, sort of, for the rest of the teams. What about a third tier tournament that takes in all of the MLS teams (including the Canadian ones) not involved in the CCL or Superliga. Mix in some invited USL (and whatever the new breakaway 2nd division league becomes) and maybe a couple of non-US/Canadian teams.
With a three-tiered system like this, all of the teams would play the extra games needed to level the playing field. It would provide an opportunity for every team to get the extra player development that non-league games provide. Every team would have similar loads in terms of games/playing time throughout the year. Best of all, there are more opportunities for us fans to catch a game.