The concept of postseason playoffs in sports is as American as apple pie…perhaps more so since apple pie is kind of out. Baseball, football, basketball and hockey all enjoy a playoff system that may not be totally fair to all the teams all the time, but it’s hard to argue that the teams that make it to the championship don’t deserve to be there.
For America’s fastest growing sport however, the playoffs have people feeling as if they’ve just paid to watch a full-scale circus show and are getting the bearded lady sitting on a stool instead.
Indeed, the MLS playoffs have been a complete sham to the fans. The MLS is still happy as they still have marketable players and large television markets in the fold, but it begs to be answered just what the regular season was for when the teams who earned top seeds were simply dusted aside.
Let me just address the issues I already know will come about by making these accusations. I’ve heard, “Well other sports have wildcard teams win. The St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series a year ago and everyone was happy, and they didn’t deserve to be there.”
This is a good comparison, as MLB is structured similar to the MLS. The regular season begins about the same time, in late March or early April, and runs to October. Although the MLS obviously doesn’t play as many games, they play several, enough to where the regular season takes a grueling toll on the players and brings out their chemistry and determination to overcome bad games and streaks to really find out who the best teams are.
But then the playoffs start, and that’s where the similarities end.
Baseball added a new “play-in” wildcard game, meaning technically 10 teams overall get in. This is the same amount of teams that made the 2012 MLS playoffs, but the difference is that MLB has 30 teams…MLS has 19.
That’s 33.3% of the teams in MLB having the chance to win the World Series. Over 50% of MLS teams had a chance to raise the cup.
Watering down the accomplishments of teams who have played seven months of soccer isn’t fair on the surface, but this is just the beginning. To make things worse, following the MLS wildcard series that has the 4th and 5th place teams play an elimination game, the winner of that then gets to host the best team in the division in a two game aggregate-goal series. The idea is that the higher seed will return to their home stadium with a good idea of what they will have to do to win the series.
But this is not at all what happens. Taking the best team in a particular division and putting them on the road right off the bat has proven to be a terrible concept. The lower rated team gets to deliver the first blow, and in the case of the 2012 playoffs, have effectively ended the series on momentum in the first game, without the top seed getting any kind of advantage. Often times the lower seeded team is coming in with a ton of momentum, needing to get hot at the end of the regular season to even make the playoffs. Then they get to host the best team in the division.
Indeed, both top seeds in the Eastern and Western divisions, Sporting Kansas City and the San Jose Earthquakes, were knocked out in the first series. Kansas City was thrown in Houston to the bottom seed Houston Dynamo, who won the first leg 2-0 and essentially got to sit back and play defense to totally invalidate Kansas City’s regular season.
Although San Jose was able to win 1-0 at the Home Depot Center against the Los Angeles Galaxy, they lost their first of five games against them to get knocked out themselves.
And then just last night, that same Galaxy team who won the wildcard game, got to use their home game and the momentum that comes with it to dash the hopes of the Seattle Sounders 3-0. Seattle technically has homefield advantage in the series, but is almost certainly eliminated before even getting their home game.
Even former MLS great Taylor Twellman weighed in on his Twitter account on Sunday night following the Seattle loss:
“Interesting anti climatic leg 1 that was. Sorry to harp on @mls playoff schedule but its plain as day something needs to change.
#LAvSEA” – @TaylorTwellman
The bottom line is this; to me, San Jose are the MLS champions. Period. They earned their championship with a hard fought regular season, and deserve the credit. The idea that Houston can end up being called the MLS champion is absurd and I feel that most fans (outside of Houston of course) feel the same.
Until some way to actually pair the best teams in soccer for a championship occurs, the MLS playoffs are a complete joke and have no bearing on who the champion is in my book, regardless of what’s “official.”