MLS playoffs: Left brain and right brain battle


Did you see last night’s games? That was AWESOME! Joe Willis coming on and saving a PK in D.C. United’s win, Rafa Marquez melting down, and then that Mario Martinez goal for Seattle? Are you KIDDING me?!

Are you kidding ME? This is making a total mockery of the regular season, just like the MLS playoffs always do. Fifth-seeded Houston just needs to get past D.C. United to reach MLS Cup. The Galaxy went sleep-walking through the regular season again, and now they just need to get past Seattle. What a joke!

Hold on, Buzz Killington. Everyone knows the rules before the season starts. If Houston and L.A. manage to turn it on late in the year when it matters, can we blame them?

So what’s the point of the regular season? Home-field advantage in the second leg? Terrific. All four home teams lost. Bet you feel great for those home fans, Mr. Emotional.

I forget — are you the logical half or the sarcastic one? Look, tell the Chicago Fire the regular season didn’t matter. It’s a league of parity, and then the big games at the end matter.

It’s still not fair.

Sorry, but ultimately, it’s a game. Postponing a game AFTER everyone made the trip from D.C.? Maybe THAT’S unfair. All sports have upsets in the big moments. But all the world’s most important soccer championships are decided by playoffs.

Wrong! The Premier League, La Liga …

The Champions League, the World Cup. You can’t complain about San Jose exiting early unless you’re also willing to gripe about the Netherlands knocking out Brazil in 2010. 

But the World Cup doesn’t have other options. You can’t take all the world’s international soccer teams and have them play in a 200-team league unless you suddenly invent Star Trek-style transporter technology.

That’d be cool!

Let’s focus here. MLS could play a standard balanced schedule in the time it takes to do the regular season and the playoffs. And they could take the Open Cup more seriously.

That’s fine for England. That’s how things evolved. Here, everything builds toward the playoffs, and those games become appointment viewing. With 19 teams in the league now, no one has time to browse all the highlights, much less watch all the games. 

No one else cares. You’re the geek who used to vote in the Player of the Week balloting, so you figured you at least had to check out every highlight.

Whatever. But these games get everyone talking. We got texts last night from a youth soccer parent asking why Bill Hamid was sent off and why Kenny Cooper had to retake the kick. How often does that happen during the regular season?

You’re saying that’s a good thing?

Yeah! It’s contagious excitement! You’re not going to get that for a thrilling seventh-place battle between the Sounders and the Galaxy.

OK, fine. It’s exciting. But I’ll have trouble calling this year’s Cup winners “champions.”

Hey, the Supporters’ Shield is good, too. And I’ll grant you that the playoffs would be fairer if they’d adopt that Page system we’ve been pushing all these years.

You know that’s never going to happen. And what’s to stop another team like Colorado from snoozing its way to another title?

You can snooze through a regular season, too. You take the good with the bad in this sport.

Fine. I’ll just become a track and field fan.

Oh, you mean the sport where it all comes down to what you do at the Olympics? Quick, name the Diamond League winner in the men’s 200.

Um … Usain Bolt?

Wrong! Nickel Ashmeade.



Sounds like waste material at a quarry.

So you feel any better?

Feel? I THINK, pal. And I think this could still be fairer.

OK, fine. Can we at least agree that Marquez getting sent off last night was good for everyone involved?


Published by

Beau Dure

The guy who wrote a bunch of soccer books and now runs a Gen X-themed podcast while substitute teaching and continuing to write freelance stuff.

4 thoughts on “MLS playoffs: Left brain and right brain battle”

  1. A good piece. Playoffs in general (not just soccer) require fans to adopt a different perspective when it comes to crowning champions. While the “European” system of balanced schedules and champions being crowned based on regular season standings may be the purest (and fairest) way to do it, there are numerous logistical issues that make that method unsuitable for American sports leagues: geography, scheduling, size of leagues, cultural biases (like our desire for “events” like the Super Bowl, March Madness, etc).

    What fans have to realize is that American sports leagues – and the playoff system – aren’t designed to crown the “best” team, they are designed to weed out the minnows and allow the big boys and girls to battle it out head to head at the end of the season when every game carries big stakes (rather than on the basis of who posted the biggest win over West Brom six months ago – the team with a B lineup because they’re coming off of a mid-week Champions League match or the team that is just getting six or seven starters back from international duty). Playoffs haven’t hurt the growth of the World Cup, UEFA Champions League or Europa League, the Copa Libertadores, etc.

  2. Yes, you absolutely can have a 200 team league decide a championship without a playoff. You can do it the way the English Football League has done for over a century. . . promotion and relegation. The real reason they don’t do it this way has nothing to do with logistics and everything to do with entertainment value.

  3. OK, Sgc, so are you ready to do the scheduling for a 16- or 18-team home-and-away World Cup top division? And to convince the big clubs that they need to give their players to their national teams that often?

    Greg raises a good point I once heard from Ivan Gazidis — should you judge top teams by how well they play against each other or how completely they obliterate the bottom teams? I have a lot of respect for the English league system, but when it comes down to two title contenders playing two mid-table teams on the last day of the season, it’s not perfect.

    1. It’s not a real change from the current schedule:

      Currently, the US played 6 games in the first round of qualifiers, 10 games for the second round, they need to clear the schedule for 7 World Cup matches, and probably about a score of friendly dates.

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