February 23, 2011
By Michael Lewis
MLS playoff expansion doesn't make sense
You would think that after all these years that MLS would finally get it when it comes down to the playoffs.
But instead of trying to improve the system, the powers that be in the league have made it worse.
On Wednesday, MLS announced that it was expanding the playoffs from eight to 10 teams. Adding teams was bad enough and I'll get to that in a while.
The league then unveiled a slightly more complicated playoff format.
The top three teams in each of the two conferences -- that's six overall -- automatically will qualify for the post-season. Then the four teams with the next highest point total will advance, regardless of the conference.
Those four wildcard teams would face off in a single-elimination game against each other. The higher of the four seeds would host (1 v 4 and 2 v 3).
The Supporters Shield winner would take on the lowest remaining seed in the conference semifinals. The other first-round survivor would face the top seed from the opposite conference. This series would be the traditional two-game, aggregate goals series.
Are you still with me?
The winners would play a one-shot deal in the conference final, with the survivors reach MLS Cup.
I don't understand why the playoffs have to jump around from a one-game series, to a two-match series and back to a one-game situation again.
I could live with everything being one game. We have seen how teams play when everything is on the line in a one-shot deal.
The only good thing about the new format is that the top-seeded team will play the lowest seeded team that survives the first round.
I still would like to see the league come up with a formula to give the Supporters Shields champion a first-round bye. But alas, that wasn't possible.
If I had my druthers, I would have left the format alone at eight teams. Eight out of 18 teams qualifying for the post season would have been fine with me. It would have made the playoffs a little more precious and valuable, having less than half the teams playing on, having the best eight teams vying for the championship.
Instead, MLS decided to go the way of NHL and NBA, where more than half the teams reach the playoffs.
Heck, even MLS coaches overwhelmingly supported keeping playoff teams at eight, even if it fewer playoff berths could cost them their jobs in the long run.
For a story I wrote for US Soccer Players Association last November, seven out of 10 MLS coaches felt the league should leave well enough alone.
"Eight is enough in the playoffs," Columbus Crew coach Robert Warzycha said. "There is no question."
Six other coaches - four head coaches and two assistants - agreed. They wanted the number of playoff teams to remain the same, even though the number of teams will increase from 16 to 18 next season, with Portland and Vancouver joining the League.
"It's got to be a challenge," said Colorado Rapids coach Gary Smith, whose team went on to win the MLS Cup last year. "To get there, there is some success and some reward for actually achieving that. I don't think those spaces need to be extended or expanded. We're thoroughly excited to be where we are and believe we are moving forward in gaining one of those post-season berths. So don't give them away."
Unfortunately, MLS is doing just that.
MLS should have left well enough alone.
For the entire US Soccer Players Association story, you can go to http://tinyurl.com/6b9smft.