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MLS Expansion: Atlanta goes to Eastern Conference; Minnesota to West

RBNY will have to worry more about Atlanta than Minnesota in 2017.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

While the 2016 MLS season enters its final stretch, the league is starting to pay attention to next year's competition.

Minnesota United's entry to MLS complements the arrival of Atlanta United, keeping the total number of teams in the league even and allowing for the Eastern and Western Conferences to grow simultaneously. The league has confirmed this approach, announcing Atlanta will drop into the East in 2017, while Minnesota has been added to the West.

That bumps each Conference to 11 teams each. The league hasn't confirmed its 2017 schedule yet, but there is no obvious reason for it to depart from the current 34-game regular season model.

MLS currently has its teams play Conference-rivals home and away, and out-of-Conference opponents just once. With 20 teams in the league, that adds up to 28 games, with an additional six in-Conference teams played a third time. So RBNY has three 2016 league games against NYCFC, D.C. United, Montreal Impact, Philadelphia Union, Toronto and Orlando. It plays twice against New England, Chicago, and Columbus. And all 10 teams in the West just once.

With two additional teams, MLS could keep the same overall structure. The number of three-game opponents would drop to three, to accommodate a minimum of three games against the new arrivals. The overall total of 34 games would be preserved; the minimum of one game per season against every other team in the league would be preserved; and teams would still get a handful of extra games on the schedule against major rivals or marquee opponents.

MLS being MLS, the league may have some other ideas. There is no particular evidence that MLS believes there is any particular need to have all its teams play each other during the season, and it will be come increasingly difficult to facilitate if and when the league continues to expand. But for now, there is no need to deny fans the experience of seeing their team match up against everyone else in MLS at least once. No need does not mean it won't happen, of course.