East meets West, West meets East, East meets East and West meets West. Understand?
The ludicrously complicated Major League Soccer playoffs start this Wednesday with the newly-introduced Wildcard round. A staple of Major League Baseball and the National Football League, the Wildcard round isn’t really as exciting as it sounds, but it is at least simple. I think. As for the rest of the post-season festivities, they fall in line with the rest of the league’s policies regarding complexity.
After a brief pause for research (which included grabbing a piece of cake), it appears the Wildcard round isn’t so simple. The bottom four teams to qualify for the playoffs, disregarding the conference they reside in, play a one game, win and you’re through scenario. Dallas (West) versus New York (East), Colorado (West) against Columbus (East).
Scanning forward to this weekend and things become baffling. Due to the nature of the Wildcard seedings, FC Dallas are no longer a Western Conference team and New York are no longer an Eastern Conference side. If Dallas (Wildcard 1st seed) beat New York in the Wildcard, they go on to play Sporting Kansas City (East 1st seed) in the Eastern Conference quarter-finals. If New York (Wildcard 4th seed) win, they play LA (West 1st seed) in the Western Conference quarter-finals. This affects who the winner of the other Wildcard tie plays, with Colorado (Wildcard 2nd seed) and Columbus (Wildcard 3rd seed) also bracing themselves for a change of conference. The final outcome could see a Western Conference champion from the East playing an Eastern Conference champion from the West in the MLS Cup Final next month. Almost all of me hopes this happens, as it might force the league to change.
Another change needed is to the game schedule, which currently includes having a two-legged semi-final (in reality it’s a quarter-final), when the other three rounds are one-game deciders. Have one format, don’t swap between different ones.
For a league that is apparently no longer trying to pander to the mainstream US sports zombies (the ones who can’t function in an America without animal names for teams and numerous conferences and divisions split down stretched geographical lines) MLS continually flatters to deceive. East and West conferences still linger like a bad smell. Despite being less than 200 miles apart, Dallas and Houston play in different conferences. Next year the league’s fixture schedule will be crooked due to a 19th team (Montreal Impact) entering the fray. But that’s best left until next year. The playoffs are here and now.
The solution to this utterly stupid playoff format is simple. Go the whole hog MLS, get rid of the pointless conferences. Have one table, with the top eight (or if we really, really, really have to, top 12) qualifying for the playoffs. Seed the playoff draw, and away you go. Easy. Fair. Non-US sports zombie friendly. If you want the league to be taken really seriously, do the right thing. Not just for me and my overworked brain, but for clubs, players, media, fans and yourselves. We all deserve a competition that isn’t skewed due to half measures that scream ‘we really want to be viewed as a regular football competition, but we’re nervous about admitting it.’