Wednesday, October 03, 2007

MLS Playoff Race: Pointless Drama

It's been said a million times, but I feel obligated to say it once more. How can MLS, a 13 team league, allow 8 teams to qualify for the playoffs? That's over half the league, which means that we're virtually guaranteed to have at least one team with a losing record making it. It makes it hard to me to take the league seriously when they allow that type of thing to go on.

Making the playoffs should be an accomplishment. The more teams in the playoffs, the less important the regular season becomes. There is no sense in making it harder to miss the playoffs than to make them. Currently MLS is playing 195 games to eliminate 5 teams. Then, you're basically starting from scratch with 8 teams and 11 games to determine a champion, and what you did in the last 6 months is no longer important. There are only 2 games where home field advantage comes into play.

The point of the playoffs and the season in general is to determine the best team. Obviously, if you have playoffs then the best team isn't always going to win. However, you should have a decent record at the very least. No team with a losing record should ever make the playoffs. If you have a losing record, then you're below average, and below average teams don't belong in the playoffs. And they certainly don't deserve to win a championship.

That's why I really don't care about the fight between Chicago, Columbus, Los Angeles, and Colorado for the last playoff spot. None of those teams deserves to a chance to win the title in the first place. It would be an embarrassment if they did.

Even if these undeserving teams don't win the title, they still affect the other teams. The past 3 champions have been the worst 3 in the league's history, on a PPG basis (counting shootouts as draws). Those 3 are just barely above average, a combined 4 games over .500. That's not exactly championship material. All of them benefited from having 8 teams in the playoffs, either by making it as one of the last two teams (LA 2005) or playing one of those teams who had knocked off a stronger team (DC vs NE 2004, HOU vs COL 2006).

I feel that the ultimate goal for MLS should be to have a single table and no playoffs. Not out of tradition, it's just simply the fairest way to determine a worthy champion. Every game becomes more meaningful that way. Unfortunately without promotion and relegation, you lose a lot of drama in the bottom half of the table. However, reducing the number of playoff teams would achieve the same thing, just on a smaller scale. It would make every regular season game more intense and meaningful by creating more competition, thus resulting in a better product. In this excellent Bigsoccer post from 2004, Northside Rovers explains it very well.

Once again, the current playoff format of 8 teams rewards mediocrity. Every year, we're guaranteed to have a below average team in the playoffs! The 8th seed out of 13 (or 14) is always by definition a below average team. MLS rewards that, and that's insane. MLS should at the very least reduce the number of playoff teams by 2, for a total of 6. That's a step that needs to be taken immediately. It's a good start.

Comments on "MLS Playoff Race: Pointless Drama"


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (7:45 PM, October 03, 2007) : 

beat a dead horse much?


Blogger scaryice said ... (8:09 PM, October 03, 2007) : 

This issue is far from resolved, and the discussion is just beginning.


Anonymous Talion said ... (8:28 PM, October 03, 2007) : 

But come on, you know the league doesn't put 8 in the playoffs because they think it is the best for competitive balance. It's a business decision, made for business reasons.

I'm just grateful they haven't expanded the playoffs as they've expanded the league.


Blogger Zathras said ... (3:04 PM, October 04, 2007) : 

Leaving more teams out of the playoff race also removes a lot of tension and drama as you go later into the season. How much earlier would half a dozen teams have nothing to play for if they had no chance to make the playoffs in August?


Blogger The Manly Ferry said ... (3:01 PM, October 05, 2007) : 

I posted a little something on this, so I thought I'd put it out there...or rather out here. While I agree with scaryice on knocking down the number of teams that get in, I point out a silver lining twist for the 2007 season.

But, to respond to an argument I'm seeing in the comments above, I would maintain that you'll get more meaningful, and therefore better-played and fought, games with fewer teams going into the playoffs. No team is going to stop fighting before they're mathematically eliminated and few players can afford to phone it in after then either; there's next year to play for.

Anyway, them's my thoughts.


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