A-League expansion should follow in MLS footsteps

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A-League expansion still firmly remains the biggest moot point in domestic football and Major League Soccer offers some inspiration as how best to accommodate the potential doubling in size of the A-League as it stands today.

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The MLS is unique in that it is one of the only leagues in the world to have separate geographical conferences, Eastern and Western, due mainly to its vast geographical size and population.

23 teams split to make up the two conferences and during a regular season each team will play 23 games against those in the same conference and 11 matches against those from the other side of the country. The 12 highest placed teams at the end of the season enter a finals series for the championship.

The FFA has plans to add two teams to the A-League in 2018-19, but with over a dozen bids from various clubs around the country the potential for an even larger league is certainly not off the table.

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If the A-League was to expand to an 18 or even 20-team competition, then the FFA could take a few notes from their American counterparts when it comes to formatting the competition in a way that generates the biggest support and levels out the playing field for travelling clubs and the well-being of their players.

A majority of the clubs lining up to enter the A-League are based closer to the south east coast, such as Wollongong, Canberra and Hobart. Tweaking the MLS system can incorporate these newcomers with existing clubs and combine them into a conference, while Western and Central clubs based in Perth, Adelaide and Darwin could form another.

The shift could also spark the emergence of regional teams, an often overlooked footballing growth area that still makes up the fourth largest TV market in the country.

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Teams from opposing sides of the country would still face each other during the regular season, just far less frequently to ensure that teams based in Perth would not be slapped with round trips to Sydney and Brisbane just a week apart.

Earlier this season Perth Glory chief executive Peter Filopoulos linked the club’s travel burden to the hamstring tear suffered by striker Adam Taggart. The club hit the road for six of their first nine games of the year.

“We can’t start off with only three home games in the first nine. The travel kills us,” Filopoulos told PerthNow.

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Football West have expressed interest in forming another club in Western Australia, most likely Fremantle, and the bid for another team in West Adelaide means that not only will West coasters have a couple of derbies to keep themselves occupied with but the fatigue brought from constant economy class flights will be cut down drastically.

The East-West split will also do wonders for attendance. The only games that generate chemistry are when two clubs have genuine animosity toward one another, and a split would ensure that fans are treated to an unbroken streak of games close to home. Sydney verse Melbourne sells, Brisbane verse Adelaide not so much.

A-League expansion to this scale remains a pipe dream for the time being, but with a country so large subdividing the league could be a point to consider when domestic football eventually reaches the dizzying heights well all so badly want it to.

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Rowan McClatchey
Rowan McClatchey
Bachelor of Journalism student from the University of Wollongong, covering Western Sydney Wanderers for the 2017/18 season.

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