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These are busy days for Major League Soccer. On Thursday, league officials in New York held meetings with four groups bidding to own the next expansion team.
And the league’s Conference Championships get underway this weekend. In the East it’s the New York Red Bulls against the New England Revolution. In the West, the Seattle Sounders face the Los Angeles Galaxy. To break down the latest MLS news, Bill Littlefield spoke with Don Ruiz, who covers the Seattle Sounders for the News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash.
BL: Each conference championship is a two-game series in which total goals is the key. Let’s start in the west. Seattle has built the greatest fan base in the league. Attendance there has been sensational. But the fans can't kick the ball into the goal. What sort of shape are the Sounders in for Game 1 against the Galaxy?
DR: The Sounders are in good shape. They are very healthy. The only question mark is a huge one — that's Osvoldo Alonso, perhaps the best defensive midfielder in Major League Soccer, picked up a little bit of a thigh, upper-hamstring kind of something — Sigi Schmid's never very specific on injuries. And then of course with the two-week break for international play, they have DeAndre Yedlin back with them. So the Sounders, Sigi should be able to field either his first-choice eleven, or certainly his first-choice ten out of eleven.
[sidebar title="A 'White Elephant?'" width="630" align="right"] In Brazil, a stadium constructed for the 2014 World Cup faces an uncertain future. [/sidebar]
BL: Don, MLS walks a line between U.S. and European sensibilities. For example, the Premiership in England does not have playoffs, but MLS does. Those playoffs began back on Oct. 29. They won’t end until December, in part to allow MLS players to fulfill commitments to their national teams. Has MLS got the balance right yet?
DR: I think if a lot of soccer fans maybe were appointed king of Major League Soccer they might do it differently. As a practical matter, MLS is going to have to kind of go against the world. And I think they are also going to go with playoffs forever. The Sounders of course have spent a great deal of the past couple weeks saying that they believe that while MLS Cup is the more prestigious trophy in MLS, that the Supporters' Shield is the more meaningful. And therefore they're kind of taking their victory lap as having had the best season in MLS. Separate trophies allowing the fans to kind of wave them any way they like is probably as good as it's going to get.
BL: Let’s turn to expansion. MLS wants to add a team by the year 2020. Four ownership groups are in the running. One from Las Vegas, one from Sacramento, and two from Minneapolis. The league will discuss the proposals again on Dec. 6. Do you have an educated guess regarding which city will win out?
[sidebar title="New Team In LA" width="630" align="right"] Chivas USA is no more. In its place is the new Los Angeles Football Club. [/sidebar]
DR: I am going to say Minneapolis. I believe Sacramento has done about all that a city can do to make itself almost irresistible. But, the one thing that they cannot do is take their city and shift it into the central time zone, and I believe that they want to get another team in the mid-west.
BL: All right, time for the last question. And of course, that's prediction time. We're down to the Galaxy and the Sounders in the west, and the Red Bulls and the Revolution in the east. Who wins it all this year?
DR: Oh, man. I think I'm going to say the Sounders finally break through. It is almost Pavlovian to see the Galaxy on the other side of the pitch and think, "OK, well it ends here." But I think this is going to be one of those rare seasons, in fact unprecedented season, of the triple. I think it'll be the Sounders adding an MLS Cup to go with their Supporters' Shield and their U.S. Open Cup.
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This segment aired on November 22, 2014.
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