The Full 90

The MLS playoffs are only slightly ridiculous

The season is over, finally. Now it’s onto the playoffs.

Or, if you’ve been following the league for the last few years: The time of year where the regular season is rendered almost completely and totally meaningless.*

*In 2005, the Los Angeles Galaxy -- who would’ve been the 8th seed in the playoffs -- lost in the MLS Cup finals. In 2007, neither of the two best teams on the year, D.C. United and Chivas USA, survived the first round. In 2008, New York Red Bullls -- who would’ve been the 8th-seeded team in the playoffs -- made the MLS Cup finals. In 2009, Real Salt Lake -- again, the 8th-seeded team in the playoffs -- made the MLS Cup finals... and won!

I have a two-step dream for Major League Soccer for the playoffs: A) That San Jose and Colorado face-off for the

Eastern

Conference championship and B) San Jose goes on to beat Los Angeles for the MLS Cup.

I would love to see this happen not only because I think San Jose would be an awesome MLS champion (it's hard to not root for Chris Wondolowski et al), but because it exposes the the biggest flaw I can see in the MLS playoff format:

The league diminishes the importance of the regular season by

not

re-seeding the teams for the playoffs.*

*They also, wrongly, insist on a home-and-home two-leg matchup in the first round but a one-off winner-take-all game in the Conference Finals. This makes it easier for a lower-seeded team to make a run. If they escape the first round then anything is a possibility. These are only faults, I should mention. I very much like ending the season with playoffs. I like the Euro-leagues, but I love playoffs. Love playoffs.

Here are the current playoff matchups (with points for the season in parenthesis).

Eastern Conference

E1) New York Red Bulls (51) vs. W6) San Jose Earthquakes (46)



E2) Columbus Crew (50) vs. W5) Colorado Rapids (46)

Western Conference

W1) Los Angeles Galaxy (59) vs. W4) Seattle Sounders (48)



W2) Real Salt Lake (56) vs. W5) FC Dallas (50)

Here’s the good idea MLS had: Only the top two teams in each division automatically qualify for the playoffs, the four other spots are determined by regular season performance.

Here’s the unintended consequence of this “good” idea: The two lowest-seeded teams (San Jose, Colorado) in the playoffs have been moved to the bracket with the two-lowest seeded top seeds (New York, Columbus).

In other words, the league failed Payoff-Format 101: The two best teams in the regular season (LA, RSL) can't possibly play for the league championship.

Basically, the league is punishing its best teams for being in the best conference.

I’m not calling for some sort of B

C

S-style championship game or anything. Far from it. I love the playoffs. I just wish the playoffs had a better structure. A structure that didn’t attempt to

assure

there would be a Cinderella, but one that

encouraged

a Cinderella to emerge organically.

Of course, if MLS moves to the single-table format (which it really should’ve done five years ago -- any league with a balanced schedule should), none of this matters and the playoff-structure works.

Let’s pretend there actually was a single table this year and you stripped away geographic distinctions. These are the matchups you’d have:

1) Los Angeles Galaxy vs. 8) San Jose Earthquakes



4) Columbus Crew vs. 5) FC Dallas



3) New York Red Bulls vs. 6) Seattle Sounders



2) Real Salt Lake vs. 7) Colorado Rapids

In this format, the 1-8 winner plays the 4-5 winner; the 2-7 winner plays the 3-6 winner.

This would at least assure the possibility of the two best teams playing in the absolute biggest game of the year. Granted, this probably won’t happen. But this sort of change (as well as eliminating the two-leg first round game) would make the MLS regular season actually mean something.


First-round playoff schedule

EASTERN CONFERENCE

New York Red Bulls vs. San Jose Earthquakes



• Sat., Oct. 30: New York @ San Jose, 9 p.m., Telefutura



• Thurs., Nov. 4: San Jose @ New York, 7 p.m., ESPN2

Columbus Crew vs. Colorado Rapids



• Thurs., Oct. 28: Columbus @ Colorado, 8 p.m., ESPN2



• Sat., Nov. 6: Colorado @ Columbus, 3 p.m., Telefutura

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Real Salt Lake vs. FC Dallas



• Sat., Oct. 30: Salt Lake @ Dallas, 4 p.m., Fox Soccer Channel



• Sat., Nov. 6: Dallas @ Salt Lake, 9 p.m., FSC

Los Angeles Galaxy vs. Seattle Sounders FC



• Sun., Oct. 31: Los Angeles @ Seattle, 7 p.m., ESPN2



• Sun., Nov. 7: Seattle @ Los Angeles, 8 p.m., ESPN

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