I haven't ruffled any feathers in a while, so here goes. This week's First XI promises to take full advantage of the disclaimer that runs at the bottom of all MLSnet.com columns. MLS, to steal one of Rob Stone's catch phrases, "you know I love ya ..." but there are a few things I'd like to change if I was allowed to sit in the big chair for a day.
11. Win bonuses: Get rid of all the individually-oriented bonuses in MLS contracts. No more bonuses for making All-Star teams or winning individual awards. Instead, award all starters $1,000 per win and all guys who come off the bench in a win $500. Look at the MLS standings, there simply aren't enough W's. Win bonuses will not only make players go after victories in a much more desperate way, it will make players compete harder for starting jobs within their own teams. Nothing motivates like cold, hard cash.
10. Cut playoff teams to six: Since we'll never have promotion and relegation in the United States, MLS needs to make its playoffs a more elite party. No better time than 2005, when the league expands to 12 teams to make "top half of the league" mean something. My first recommendation calls for a single table. The teams that finish 1-2 are immediately fast-forwarded into the MLS Cup semifinals, which they will host. After that, we will seed teams 3-6 into a bracket, where 3 will host 6 and 4 will host 5 in play-in games. The 1-2 teams will be selling tickets to the semi while the other playoff teams are battling it out. If MLS feels it needs the East-West thing, just make the winners of the East and the West the semifinal hosts with the second and third-place teams in the play-in games. If you can't finish in the top half of the league, you don't deserve the playoffs.
9. Give the Open Cup final a permanent site: My suggestion remains, as ever, to play the U.S. Open Cup Final in Oneonta, N.Y., as part of the Hall of Fame inductions. Sure, I'm aware the Hartwick's soccer stadium is small, but you need a starting point. Just as Omaha has become the permanent home of the College World Series, let the Hall host the Open Cup final every year, which will in turn bring more attention to the Hall, as more and more MLS players earn their enshrinement. No, this idea will not be a money-maker in the beginning, but there's potential down the road. Plus, it's a feel-good idea, no?
8. Free agency: Throw the MLS veterans a bone. After they've served five years in the league, if they want to play out a contract, they should be able to look for the team and situation that suits them best. Trades in MLS are so hard to make, frankly, I think we need more player movement in the offseason to keep things fresh. I'm not sure how many guys would opt for the free agency route, but it would be nice to see if some players returned to their home towns to play. Every time I've ever written this suggestion, I get flooded with e-mails about how free agency ruined baseball. I disagree.
7. A championship for the reserves: If I read the Washington Post correctly this week, it seems MLS is ready to create reserve teams. Bravo. The only thing I'm going to ask is that our reserve league include a championship and a decent financial incentive to the team that takes home the trophy. The kids need to learn how to fight, as well.
6. Award foreign players who commit to MLS: I know there's nothing MLS can do about the Green Card rule, which makes all GC holders "domestic." But why should domestic status be reserved only for those players who have the best lawyers and connections? My suggestion is that any MLS player who puts in four seasons in the league is no longer considered an International. A guy like Jaime Moreno, who's been committed to the league since the late stages of '96 should not count as an International while a guy like Milton Reyes doesn't. The Green Card rule is unavoidable, but rewarding the International players who've shown their love for MLS makes sense.
5. Give the modular stadium a shot: Remember those great artist renderings the Chicago Fire produced all those years ago, when they were going to erect a temporary stadium in the parking lot at the Arlington Race Course? Well, with the Expos all but certain to be taking over RFK Stadium, what better time than now to build D.C. United a proper home? There's not enough time to build anything brick and mortar in the parking lot at RFK, but four grandstands around a nice field can be done in time for the '05 season. I've seen it done in minor league baseball and, trust me, it works. The last thing we need is to see DCU playing across an infield next season.
4. Expand to Queen:. Get those Aqueduct plans back on the board. Maybe one of the Colombian powerhouses, like America de Cali, would like a stake in a Queens soccer team. With the MetroStars about to become the official team of North Jersey and Manhattan (Harrison is a quick shot on the PATH away from downtown), give Queens and Long Island fans a team to support. Now that SoCal has been granted a great rivalry, I'd love to see a Metro-Queens derby ... and maybe a D.C.-Philly (only if they get a soccer stadium) too. If Philly can't produce another stadium (hey, a city can only add so many new facilities), then check out Raleigh, N.C., where there's already a stadium in place. The East coast is feeling a little left-out these days. At least I am.
3. Do away with the All-Star Game: There, I said it. Don't hate me too much. And don't take it personally. The only good All-Star Game is in baseball. All the others bore me.
2. League wide, include a team jersey with every season ticket sold: It may not sound like much, but it would be a nice perk for a family, to know if they fork out cash for four season tickets, they'll get a little something on top of it. Also, when you go with this strategy, publicize the heck out of it. Fans of other sports will be envious. It will make MLS seem fan friendly beyond all other sports.
1. Make the home team a little more homey: I think it was the USFL that had a little thing called "territorial rights" before its draft. If memory serves me correctly, USFL teams were allowed to nab players from their local colleges before the draft took place. This would be a nice idea for MLS. On draft day, before each round, have territorial picks. Basically, it would go like this. All teams with a first-round pick will be allowed to select a guy from within their "region." If they use that pick, they lose their pick in the round. Who out there wouldn't like to see young players get a chance to play at home? Disclaimer, please ...
Jeff Bradley is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Send your comments and complaints (200 words or less, please) to Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org and he promises to read (but not respond to) all of them. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or its clubs.