By Staci Wolfson
With the seventh season of the Major Indoor Soccer League completed, this summer will be a busy one for league executives.
The always-evolving league will take the offseason to review several aspects of its structure and scheduling. Last season, the MISL worked to support three expansion teams and also faced criticism regarding its postseason format.
The New Jersey Ironmen, Orlando Sharks and Monterrey La Raza joined the league for the first time. New Jersey and Monterrey both made the postseason before the Baltimore Blast eliminated them on their way to their fourth championship in six seasons.
The Baltimore Blast and their winning ways have been one of the fluctuating Major Indoor Soccer League's only constants.
“It’s startling,” said MISL commissioner Steve Ryan of the success of the new teams. "It’s a tribute to the parity that we have. The players are coming in from all around the world. We have 23 nations represented among the players. … It’s gratifying; it also upgrades the level of play and allows expansion teams to be extremely competitive.”
While no formal announcements have been made regarding the additions of more teams, the league has looked into expanding into other parts of the country.
Ryan said a city in the Midwest may be added for the 2009-2010 season, and the league may have to do so to replace the California Cougars, a team added in the 2005-06 season which has yet to advance to the playoffs. While California has not officially announced it will leave the league, the organization has struggled with tough road schedules and poor attendance.
In constant flux, the MISL has had member organizations in Cleveland, Dallas, Harrisburg, Kansas City, St. Louis and San Diego. These teams are now defunct or inactive, and Milwaukee and Baltimore boast the longest-running operations.
“These are two great franchise cities,” Ryan said. “We really have a very deep fan base in both of them, and they’re very competitive during the regular season. They’ve built a rivalry between these two, which is excellent for our game. When you look at those two cities and you see the fan support they have, the sponsorship support, it encourages us to look to the future of this league.”
In addition to working on the growth of the league, MISL executives will assess the success of this year’s postseason format.
Six teams in the nine-team league earned playoff berths, and the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds were determined by two-game series that would have been decided by a "golden goal" sudden-death overtime format in case of a series split. After winning Game 1 of the semifinals and losing Game 2, 21-2, to Detroit, Monterrey advanced to the championship contest by winning the golden goal.
“My personal opinion is we need to change it,” said Blast general manager Kevin Healey. “We probably should do something that is certainly not the golden goal. If you’re going to do it, either go one game or three games. Either go one game and the higher seed gets it, and that’s what you worked for all year, or go three games, but to get rid of the golden goal is the way to go.”
The championship, however, was decided with just one game. The location of the matchup was decided prior to the postseason, and Milwaukee hosted the Baltimore-Monterrey game despite being ousted by the Blast in the semifinals the week before the final.
“If it’s a championship game, everybody would like to play at home,” said Blast captain P.J. Wakefield. “You play at home all year, you try to get the most wins as you can there, and a lot of teams are very successful at home. On the road in this league it’s very hard to get wins, and you take two teams to a neutral site, and anything can happen in this league. A bad bounce here or a bad bounce there, you can lose a game.”
While fans in Monterrey and Baltimore could only watch the championship game on television, Ryan said the decision to hold the championship game in Milwaukee was made so one date could be marketed all season to fans and to Fox Soccer Channel.
Due to technical difficulties, much of the first half was not broadcast.
“The counter-argument to this is that teams want to play in front of their hometown fans, and I understand that,” Ryan said. “I think we decided two years ago to pursue this, and it’s time to step back and evaluate it.”
Issue 3.19: May 8, 2008