Real Stroke of Genius
When Major League Soccer changed its playoff structure, from one utterly incomprehensible cluster to another incomprehensible cluster, several people who followed the league gathered around their computers and let out a collective
“what the…” I was amongst those people; however, I now look back and realize that the move just might have been ingenious.
Firstly most football purists scoffed at the idea that 10 teams, which breaks down to approximately 56% of the league, would make the playoffs. Yet look at other professional sports in America. The NBA has 53% of the teams in the playoffs, same for the NHL, the NFL’s number is 37%, while Major League Baseball lets in only a paltry 27% of their teams.
As a former New Englander, who used to watch the futility of the Red Sox and Patriots before their recent run of success, it could be painful watching the last few weeks of their respective regular season. By the time the Patriots would get to week 8, I would know they had no shot of making the playoffs. There were times in the 80s when the Red Sox season would be hopelessly lost after just 50 games.
In Major League Soccer’s current set up, with less than 10 games remaining for all teams, every single team still technically could qualify for the playoffs. Would New England or Vancouver have to go on somewhat of a ridiculously magical run to get in? Absolutely, but magic is part of sports.
So while supporters of a Supporters Shield winner will complain every time a Colorado or Real Salt Lake wins MLS Cup, they end up focusing more on the former form of a team as opposed to their team’s own marquee players choking in the spotlight.
A championship by a lower ranked team may seem unfair to other teams, but no more than VCU and Butler making the NCAA Final Four. The fact that everyone could make the playoffs shouldn’t take away from a team like Toronto, who has only recently started to play good football, sneaking into the big dance. It should also not take away from the nerves in Dallas, where they were playing the best for most of the season, but have recently hit a skid, could still fall out of the playoff picture.
Are there still problems with the playoffs? There certainly are. MLS Cup Final having nearly no chance of being some combination of Los Angeles, Real Salt Lake, Dallas, and Seattle, the reality that the Supporters Shield doesn’t really mean a whole lot, and the sometimes one-legged, sometimes two-legged, nature of it, are all just some of the problems facing MLS’s playoff structure.
However the fact that a majority of the teams make the playoffs is not a exactly a world ending, soul crushing dilemma. In fact it is something that will make the last few weeks of the season worth watching by everyone, as opposed to just a prolonged march down the green mile for most.