The MLS playoffs started this weekend. You may not have noticed because the World Series has also started, as well as the NFL and college football, and even the NHL and NBA which are now in full swing. The league has never really been able to thread this needle, and to be honest, it’s a pain to do.
You may also not have known that the first round of this year’s MLS playoffs is a best-of-3 format. And you may be wondering, “Does any other league in the world use a best-of-3 format in soccer?” And the answer would be a resounding no, because it’s stupid and stupid and a traveshamock.
The league chose to do this, or more to the point, was instructed by Apple to do so in order to provide more playoff inventory, which Apple clearly thought would sell more subscriptions in the fall. Because Apple thinks this is what football fans respond to, and because they can keep their subscription numbers secret, we’ll never know if they were right (they’re not). They also expanded the field to 18 teams, meaning 62 percent of the league can call themselves a playoff team.
Here’s the kind of hour-long, sit-at-the-buffet tableau that was offered in the postseason, when a league supposedly wants to showcase its best product. Sporting Kansas City, who didn’t win any of their first ten games (although, to be fair, they won Game 1 of their playoff series with St. Louis last night). FC Dallas, which won four of the last seventeen games. The Red Bulls, which won one of the first eleven games. Nashville, which plays two games between mid-June and October. They also scored 39 goals in 34 games. Catch the fever.
But that is not unique. The MLS isn’t the only league allowing playoff junkets to complete the field. Although none of the five matches played have done this to date, in this best-of-3 format any match tied after 90 minutes will be punished on penalties. This leaves open the possibility that the play-off results will be based on two or even three penalties. Imagine if NHL playoff games were decided by shootouts and what that would look like.
Football matches obviously can’t go on forever, but when the MLS used to use this three-game format, it was whoever scored five points first. So two draws and a win would get you through. Only if each team won a match and then drew the other, a third game would go to extra time or penalties if necessary. At least the two teams actually played the game to decide who would win in the playoffs.
The coup de stupid is that after this round, every round thereafter goes back to single-elimination games. So the league tries to sit in two seats at once, with some of their playoffs weighted to try to favor higher-seeded teams, while making later rounds as random as possible. It wants the regular season to matter somewhat, but it also wants a certain amount of chaos.
What it is, of course, is a naked attempt to simply have more playoff games for Apple, even though you’d be hard-pressed to find a fan who likes this in any way. And it happens when literally every other major sport is happening.
The MLS won’t be able to solve that problem until they adopt the European calendar with a touch of South American or Mexican ‘apertura en clausura’, culminating in spring instead of autumn. Which it has not shown any willingness to do, as it also tries to straddle two chairs in which it claims to be hunting for viewers, and wants to appeal to both old football fans and North American fans who only know a play-off system. Again, this may not be a needle that can thread, but that doesn’t stop them from trying.
Oh, and the second round of the play-offs doesn’t start until after the next international break, meaning the start of the first round to the start of the second round will literally take a month. This is how you build momentum, boy!
The MLS could simply adopt a sort of split-league format that some others use, where the top six from each conference are separated and from there play each other once, and just call it “playoffs.” At least it would make sense. But that’s not really something the league has ever been confused with.
The difference between the NBA and the NHL in two tweets
No wonder why the NBA is becoming more and more popular:
And why the NHL probably never will:
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