Puck’s Sunday Fun-Day: What’s Up with the MLS Playoff Format Edition

Balotelli's tremendous finish spared City a point against Fulham today-- call Puck relieved they salvaged something.

By Puck

Ladies and Gentlemen, we are trying a little something different this week at TYAC. It’s not Friday, but it still is a Happy Hour of shorts. Today is Sunday Funday. I started my Funday off by watching Manchester City take on Clint Dempsey and Fulham at the Eastlands. Professional cry baby Balotelli proved his class with a great strike in the 26th minute. The second half started in true shitty WTF fashion letting Fulham even the score sheet in the first 2 minutes. It is clear that without David Silva on the pitch, City are half the attacking side they usually are. If we plan on winning any hardware this season, he needs to play all 90 in big games.

Before we get into the topic for the week, I wanted to touch on last week’s Champion League matches. Unfortunately I have had a pretty serious foot problem that left me immobile for much of Monday and Tuesday, although this allowed me to be home and watching a few matches in between naps. For the record, Christiano Ronaldo is an excellent player, but every time he gets touched he flops with so much drama that he should be nominated for an Academy Award. I seriously wonder how he acts when out in public. If someone brushes by him in a crowd, does he dive to the ground and grab his ankle while screaming in agony? I certainly hope not, but it may be how he picks up the flavor of the week. The guy is like Baskin Robbins, except with more flavors.

Anyway, during my pain killer induced haze caused by this foot injury (don’t mix pills and beers people, that is a recipe for disaster…ask Heath Ledger) I was contemplating what to focus on during this week’s Happy Hour. Then it occurred to me: the revamped MLS playoff format for the 2011 season was released. Before telling

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you why I think this format is awful, let me bring you up to speed on how it all works.

First, the top three teams in each conference will automatically qualify for the post season. Also, there will be 4 wild card spots allotted to the teams with the next highest point totals regardless of conference affiliation. Conference qualifiers will be seeded 1-6 and Wild Cards form 7-10. Seed 7 will take on seed 10 while seed 8 plays seed 9 in playoff. The winners will be reseeded and “rinse and repeat.” With this system 10 of 18 teams will make the playoffs.

Taking nothing away from the Rapid, who won the title on the pitch, but a 7 seed champion is possible only due to a formatting flaw.

Before moving on, a quick word on the idea of conferences in MLS:

In this bloggers opinion, conferences are complete shit and essentially meaningless. The reasons conferences are used in other large American sports is due to the unbalanced schedule. In MLS, there are 18 teams playing in a double round robin format, where each team plays a home and away pair with every other team in the league. This creates a 34 game regular seasons if you exclude all other competitions. The idea of conferences was to create regional playoffs rivalries. I do not see how this happens just because you are in the same “conference” especially when you play teams out of “conference” the same number of times. Regional rivalries are developed naturally, regardless of the amount of times you play a team. The Manchester Derby is a perfect example. In the US, the Yankees and the Red Sox will always hate each other no matter how many times they play in a year. Also interesting, I think, is how the conferences needed to be realigned because both expansion teams come from the Pacific Northwest. Just in case you were wondering, Houston is now an Eastern Conference team. I have no idea what MLS plans to do next year when Montreal enters the fold adding one extra team to the Eastern Conference. Enough of trying to be like every other American Sport: this is soccer. Can we please make the league one table and move the fuck on?

Now, on to my problems with the playoff format: with so many teams making the playoffs, it completely devalues the regular season. As previously mentioned, this new format will allow 10 of 18 teams into postseason play. As I am currently working on my PhD in Environmental Engineering, I like to think I am pretty good with numbers, and 10/18 is 55% of all teams making post season play. That number is incredibly too high, especially when it comes to soccer. Last year, the Colorado Rapids– a 7th seed–managed to win the MLS cup. I don’t know about you, but that seems to incredibly devalue the regular season. Why play all these games if the higher seeds do not have a clear advantage over the rest of the competition? For quick reference let’s compare the basics of the other major American Sports playoff systems.

NFL 12/32 = 37% The NFL probably has an argument for having the best playoff system. With only a third of the teams making it to the playoffs, you don’t devalue the regular season, while also making it exciting. Furthermore, only two 6 seeds have ever won the Super Bowl.

MLB 8/30 = 26% In some aspects the MLB trumps even the NFL because even less teams make the playoffs after a regular season of 162 games. I also clearly have a bias as a baseball nerd who crushed Neil, “Lighting Cup” and Dan Seco in fantasy baseball. However, the 5 game divisional series really needs to be moved to 7 before they even start to think about adding more playoff teams.

NHL: 16/30 = 53% In the NHL over half the leagues teams still make the playoffs, but seeds play a much greater role. Sure a couple 8th seeds have made the Stanley cup finals, but no team lower than a 4 seed has ever won since the current playoff format was adopted in 1994.

NBA 16/30 = 53% Very similar to the NHL. In this case, only one 5th seed has managed to win the NBA finals, and that was the Houston Rockets way back in 1995. You just can’t stop Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon.

At this point some of you out there may be asking yourself, “What the hell is this guy thinking? He is bitching about too many teams making the playoffs, but the NHL and NBA have about the same percentage.” Excellent point and I am glad you brought it up. Those inherent problems are fixed due to the fact that each playoff round is a seven game series. Over the course of a seven game series, the vast majority of the time, the better team is going to win. On the other hand, the universally used two legged playoff system in soccer creates the ability for a great deal more upsets when compared to the other sports. For example, if an 8th seed manages to be awarded a tough penalty in the first leg, they can play 11 men behind the ball for the entirety of the next game. With a couple lucky bounces they have just knocked off the overall number one seed. This scenario is so much harder in the sports that play a best of seven series. If my beloved Sabres manage to sneak their way into the playoffs and take on co-writer Raf Crowley’s Flyers, they will have a much harder time moving on. If the Sabres miraculously win the first two games as the 8th seed this season, they can’t just sit back and play D in the next couple games and move on– they still have to try and win. Basically seeds matter because teams have to play a 7 game series not 2 legs.

My general point and premise is that MLS needs to stop trying to be like every other American sport when it comes to the playoffs. In my humble opinion, we don’t need them at all. If the rest of the world has managed without playoffs in soccer for what seems like forever, why does the MLS feel the need to consistently reinvent the wheel? If the commissioner really feels the need to have a playoff system, why not just move to one table and take the top 6 teams, where the one and two seeds get a bye. That would only allow a third of the league’s teams in the playoffs without devaluing the regular season.

What the MLS really needs to do is adopt the current system of promotion and relegation found everywhere else in the world. You can’t tell me that Jon Lighting Cup Levy won’t have a playoff intense atmosphere in his living room during the last two weeks of the campaign to see if his beloved West Ham can stay up. Beating Liverpool this morning certainly helped, but a dogfight to the end is certain. I know this idea is years off because of the huge drop in the level of play when you compare the MLS to the A-League. With continued development, this could certainly work, and hopefully MLS will strive for this system in the future.

Chicks Dig Scars.

Agree, disagree, think I am handsome…let me know by leaving a comment below. It’s not Friday, but I can’t let you get away without

PUCKS FREE ADVICE:

This advice comes from another TYAC writer and friend Dry Boyer. Dru has been aware of my recent foot problems and offered me this advice, which I agree rings true.

“Puck – just amputate that shit and avoid the hassle. Peg legs = instant respect. Bottom line, you’d have to be crazy to fuck with someone that has a peg leg.”

Bravo Dru, Bravo.

Time to head to campus and watch some Gator Baseball and get my heckle on.

Its Sunday, and I am still sorry for partying…

Puck is the pop culture guy for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at puck@yanksarecoming.com and you can follow his ranting about Blankcheckster City, baseball, PBR’s and busty women on Twitter at @PuckLovesPBR.

Filed Under: FeaturedFebruary 2011

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  • http://www.yanksarecoming.com/ The Yanks Are Coming

    Forgive us for the “Rapid” typo on the Rapids MLS Champs photo. Our bad.

  • Rooney Fan

    If you get a peg leg, you would have to switch from PBR to Captain Morgan.
    I see a sponsorship.

  • Chazcar2

    I have thought about the MLS team number, schedule and playoffs for a while.

    This is what I propose: 28 teams, in 4 divisions of 7 teams. 28 teams gives you an nice coverage in a country as big this (especially counting Canadian teams). No promotion/relegation. MLS will not be as big of a money maker as the EPL/Bundesliga. So I think a promotion/relegation will cause a lot of teams to go bankrupt and not be able to build competetively. Maybe in 20-30 years, but not anytime soon.

    Expansion Teams: Montreal, Raleigh, St louis, Cosmos, San Antonio, New Orleans, Tampa, Phoenix, Atlanta, Pittsburg(or Cleveland/Detroit)

    Schedule: You play a home and home with every team in your division and 1 other division (this other division rotates every year).

    Postseason: Top two teams from each division make the post season, For 8/28= 29%. Division winners play the runners up in the other division that they played that season (IE if West played East in the regular season, West #1 plays East #2 in post season). Then the winners play in a semi final, then a final.

    • PUCK

      I kind of like the idea, but it requires that we need a lot more teams. Its not that there is not enough talent our there to add teams, we need to find cities that will support teams, especially in the south.

      The first time around southern teams in the MLS did not do so well, like the Tampa Bay Mutiny and the Miami Fusion. If you can’t get people to go watch a team in the World Series (Tampa Bay) you are going to have trouble getting them to a regular season MLS game.

      But again, I don’t see why we need conferences and divisions for the sake of being similar to other American Sports.

      • Chazcar2

        I think that conferences and playoffs are need if you expand to more than 20 teams. There would just be too many games otherwise. I think you need more than 20 teams because of the size and population of the US. This schedule works out to 26 regular season games. Then I think the first round could be a best of three (higher seed gets the home field advantage), the second round a home and home, and the final neutral site.

        I would also add a june break in the schedule. Every year take a break for the national team contests. The Euro, World Cup and CONCACAF events are usually june/july time frame. I would break so that you always had the openning for the group stages of those events. Gives a bit better alignment with the international schedule, but still keeps the MLS playable in the northern states.

  • http://twitter.com/KBagin Kyle B.

    If I kicked this much ass, my foot would be messed up too. Keep up the good work.

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