No Matter What, Playoff Format Still Under Question

No Matter What, Playoff Format Still Under Question

  • Posted by Drew Epperley
  • On October 27, 2011
  • 2011 MLS Cup Playoffs, 2011 MLS Season, Features

New York and LA will have to deal with two cross country trips now. (Getty Images)

After last night’s 2-0 win over FC Dallas, the New York Red Bulls did what some thought would happen – set up a big time, blockbuster clash between them and the Los Angeles Galaxy in the playoffs. For the second time in league history the two big clubs meet when it matters most.

But not everyone will really be liking this.

Yes, that includes Dallas fans and some disgruntled DC, Portland and Chicago folks as well. But the big haters could end up being New York and LA themselves.

Simple reason for this is the playoffs are a tightly scheduled group of games. Wild card round in the midweek, first leg of the semifinal on Saturday, followed by the return leg on next Wednesday. Three games for one club in a span of one week, two game for the other club in a tight window as well.

But the bigger issue really isn’t just the calendar, it is the travel. Both New York and LA will have to do two cross-country trips to play one another in the semifinal round. That’s 6000+ miles in a span of a few days. Crazy.

If anyone is complaining right now it is likely LA, the 2011 Supporters’ Shield winners. Just when you think the league has done it right and has given the Shield winner some breathing room like they should in the playoffs, this happens. LA probably would be complaining about this had Dallas won last night followed by a Columbus win tonight in Colorado. Again, another cross country trip.

The home-and-home series in the wild card continues to turn heads for clubs around MLS. With the Wild Card and Conference Finals both in a one-and-done format, it still makes little sense to most that the semifinal isn’t the same route.

Also consider the Seattle-RSL series for a second as well. That’s the number two and three teams from the overall league table for the year facing off in the semifinal round, for the second year in a row (FC Dallas and RSL in 2010). In what form does it make sense to have two of your top three clubs playing one another so early in the playoffs? The only way it makes sense to have it like that is if there are only four teams getting into the post season.

Seattle had an incredible campaign and in the end they’d be better off playing a Wild Card team like Sporting Kansas City (no knock to them by the way).

When teams earn 60+ points in a season like LA and Seattle did they should get some form of reward in the post season for their work, instead we are still left with the crapshoot that is the MLS Cup Playoffs.

Another funny fact about the format – which was set up to avoid teams from going from one conference bracket to the other – still has the chance of having a Western Conference team (Colorado) in the Eastern Conference bracket. Which means, should NY and Colorado win out and be “conference champions”, they’d still be winning the wrong conference geographically speaking.

How fun is this?

  • LA has nothing to complain about. In theory, they will have 3 home games in a row to win the MLS Cup, including the championship itself.

    Its not that bad a system, its just not simple enough for outsiders to grasp, not that it matters.

    • Very true, but having the top team in the league have to travel further for their first playoff game than anyone else makes little sense. It’s not perfect but they’re getting there.

  • kickit

    I say the playoff system is working so far, The injury to Dax Mccarty  and the red card to  Solli will hurt a NYRB squad that’s not deep. Rodgers may not play either.

  • TheSoccerSage101

    Well the best thing to do would be to have a single table and just have the first 8 teams qualify, with the 1st team playing the 8th seed and 2nd playing the 7th and so forth. With conferences you’ll always have a stronger conference but thats the nature of it. US and Mexico now almost always make it to the world cup, it would be a lot harder if we had to qualify based on world rankings or qualifying against European or South American teams. So RSL playing Seattle is like Germany having to qualify against Czech Republic or France etc in Europe and Sporting playing Philadelphia is like US playing Honduras, just the way it goes. But this format does make it exciting and you should always be rewarded for winning your conference which Sporting KC did thus playing Colorado/Columbus. Would you prefer the single table?

  • QuakesFan

    I agree there should be a single table with the top eight teams. But if we can’t do that they should make it a true conference/division system: 4 divisions, 2 conferences: West (Pacific, Southwest), East (Central, Atlantic). Play more games inside the division than out and send the top two teams from each division into division playoffs, winners go to conference playoffs and then to MLS Cup. East vs West with wildcards ending up in the wrong conferences is just more blending of concepts than is necessary.