Fixing the Major League Soccer Playoffs
Soccer, MLS

The MLS Playoffs are a joke

11/1/13 in Soccer   |   ZacWassink   |   74 respect

Oct 27, 2013; Harrison, NJ, USA; New York Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke celebrates with the Supporters' Shield after a game against the Chicago Fire at Red Bull Arena. The Red Bulls defeated the Fire 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY SportsI'm the first to admit that I'm often too hard on Major League Soccer. Some things, such as where and when games are featured on national television, are largely out of the hands of the individual clubs. One thing MLS has complete control of is the league's playoff system.


It's a system that's broken. It's one that does the league zero favors. It's one that cheapens the MLS Cup.


You do not have to be a MLS lifer or even a soccer fan to realize that ten out of 19 teams being given postseason berths is a joke. No serious professional sports organization should ever present over half of its teams with an opportunity to win a championship. The point of a regular season, one that included 34 match days over the 2013 MLS regular season, is that it is supposed to weed out the pretenders from the real contenders.


The NASL does it right. That league has one spring champion and one fall champion. Those two sides then meet up in the ridiculously-named Soccer Bowl to determine the best of the best. Neat, tidy, and conclusive.


MLS Cup, on the other hand, is as much a participation trophy as it is an award to the league's supposed best side. The concept is even more absurd when you compare it with other competitions. Had the Premier League utilized a similar playoff system to determine a champion this past spring, three clubs with nearly 30 fewer points than the league's top-four sides would have had a shot at winning it all.


Some MLS apologists will be quick to point out that the US top-flight is much more competitive than is the Premier League. True. If that's your argument with keeping the playoffs as they exist, why not expand the brackets? A 16-team tournament works as well as does one that includes ten, and it makes just about as much sense. The regular season means so little as it stands right now. Drop a few games and hand all of the halfway-decent clubs an opportunity to hoist a trophy.


What aggravates me the most about this is that the fix is so easy. Drop seeds four and five from both conferences, reseed teams based on conference champions and overall records, and give the top-two sides Byes. Then you'd get something like:


Team 3 hosts Team 6, and Team 4 hosts Team 5 on the first weekend, the Wild Card Round, of the playoffs.

Lowest remaining seed hosts Team 1 in midweek affair, and other remaining team hosts Team 2 in midweek game.

Teams 1 and 2 host second leg that following weekend.

Two remaining teams meet in MLS Cup Final on final weekend of the season.


This serves two purposes. It cuts down the amount of playoff teams to a much more respectable (roughly) 33 percent once New York City Football Club enter MLS in 2015, and it gives the teams that won their conferences a real and definite home-field advantage that they will have earned for having successful campaigns.


Make no mistake about two things. MLS has no interest in moving to a single table format that doesn't include a postseason, nor does the league want to decrease the amount of meaningful matches that are played in arenas and are shown on national TV. Thus, we are stuck with the current “orange slices for everybody!” format that rewards mediocrity.


Teams that thrive from the beginning of March through the end of October deserve better.

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11/8/13   |   ML31   |   3675 respect

OK.  I'm not a big fan of large playoff fields.  But to be honest, I can live with the 10 team playoff field for now.  One reason...  There is no relegation in MLS.  The excitement in the EPL stems mainly from relegation.  The bottom feeders.  As you pointed out, the top teams hoard the bulk of the points.  So the only real league wide question comes from "who will be relegated this year?"  The MLS equivilent is "what middle of the pack teams will make the playoffs?"  Further, many teams lose players over the season to international team duties.  Weakening them for games here and there all summer long.  This is a mechinsim to keep teams from being punished for losing players to their national teams.
Next...  The sports culture in the USA seems to be all about playoffs anyway.  Look at the NHL and NBA.  16 of 30 teams get in.  MLB adds teams to theirs all the time (don't get me started on that one...)    Are you trying to say that the NHL and NBA, the top leagues in their sports, are NOT serious professional sports organizations?
I do, however, like your playoff format. Really like the top teams getting byes.  And I think it could still work when the league expands to 24 teams by 2020.  They could have two 12 team tables.  8 playoff teams.  5 plays 8 and 6 plays 7.  This could be a home and home aggragate score thing.
Then lowest advancing seed plays 3 and the highest advancing seed plays 4.  This would be one game knock out.
Then again...  The highest remaining seed plays 2 and the lowest remaining seed plays 1 in the semis.  Again, single game knock out.
Then the final.  Which for now is OK in the home stadium of the highest remaining team.  But in the future I think it would be nice if the game were able to have a neutral site final again.