The Esoteric Da Vinci Code of MLS PlayoffsFiguring out MLS playoff teams should not require the use of a decoder ring
by Chris Enger | Wednesday, September 05, 2012
Are you ready for some playoffs!?
With the early morning chill coming back into the air after a football filled weekend, it is time to start thinking about the Major League Soccer playoffs.
With only 7 games left… wait… with only 5 matches lef…t…. Hmmm. What I meant to say is with only 9 matches…? What the hell?
Thank you MLS for your amazing planning and unbalanced schedule. One would think that planning a full season with 19 teams each playing 34 matches would be difficult to do without causing much grief to those who follow the sport but this cluster of a schedule has even passionate fans grabbing calculators to see where their team is positioned on the table (if you can call it that anymore).
This late into the season it would be appropriate to have each team in a position to be able to compare where they all stand in relation to each other, but league leaders San Jose have played 27 matches while Chivas USA has only played 25 and Montreal is at 29.
Can you imagine how confused new fans to the league would be if Chivas and Montreal were closer to the league leaders than they are? Right now Chivas sits 9 points out of a playoff spot with 28 points (Vancouver has 37). To the new fan, that would appear to be too large of a deficit to overcome this late in the season.
The magic is in the details.
Chivas still has 3 games in hand on Vancouver and if they win those 3 matches, that puts them in a tie for the last playoff spot in the West. Dallas who currently sits just outside the playoffs with 33 points has played 1 more match than Vancouver so they are actually looking at a larger deficit than Chivas if that makes any sense.
“Games in hand” make sense to me, but I’m an almost 10 year fan of the league. Try explaining this beast of a system to those now just following the league. For some reason the discrepancy in matches played has felt worse this year than in years past.
Let’s continue with Chivas and their quest for the last playoff spot: say they tie Vancouver at the end of the season, what happens? Thank heavens no one at MLS HQ thought about that scenario during the off-season and waited until the All-Star Game to announce the tiebreakers.
Read that again: MLS HQ sent a fax to each team with a list of tiebreakers to determine a playoff spot for 2012. Not 2013, not for future determination or an ownership vote, but to be implemented after every team already played more than half their matches and solidified decisions that could have been changed had coaches known the tiebreakers at the start of the season.
The revamped tiebreakers now reward more goal scoring than the old typical tiebreakers of goal differential and defense. So of course after half the season has been played and coaches have made decisions based on defense and goal differential, it would be a perfect time to drop the new tiebreakers on coaches.
These tardy changes from MLS HQ have even caused confusion among MLS front offices.
All of these modifications to the league were brought about to reduce the schedule by 2 matches. I would rather watch MLS players play 8 more matches than have to go through the type of amateurish hijinks associated with the decisions made this season.
I understand the concept of “games in hand” to the schedule; I understand that sometimes matches are moved to accommodate teams, fixtures and weather. There shouldn’t be a six match difference however.
Simplify & Avoid Chaos
Going forward, MLS schedulers need to set a cutoff date so that by the end of July teams shouldn’t play one more/less fixture than other teams on the table. Doing so would eliminate the confusion to both veteran and new fans alike.
Second, MLS should never, ever, release rules/tiebreakers that affect teams in the year games are being played. Rule changes must be negotiated before the season starts and should not be altered unless agreed to by the owners of each team in an unanimous decision.
In a league where playoff formats and rules are changed yearly (which is the exception in all major sporting leagues in the United States), it is time for MLS to put on the “big boy pants” and start acting like a more mature league as it approaches its 20th birthday. Anything less or more amateur moves like this mid-season will be looked at as a failure to launch, by all.