I missed this when it happened, but, luckily, Dan was there for me.
“I’d scrap the playoffs and gladly take what projects out* to be tied for fourth place in the overall standings with Chicago,” Sacha Kljestan didn’t say.
There’s this notion, perpetuated by people who have an insane love for how things are done in countries they’ve never visited, that if you scrap MLS’ conference-based setup and the playoffs, that everything will be just hunky-dory. Every game will matter, the intensity will be ratcheted up tenfold, and interest will skyrocket.
Except that based on the latest standings, as we chat today, Tuesday, September 21, more than a month before the end of the season, three MLS teams would have been eliminated from contention for the title, with another two justthisclose to being toe-tagged.
Realistically (if not mathematically), nearly half the teams in the league are just prolonging the inevitable, even at this date. This is what you want? Just so you can have a domestic league that looks like a European league?
“Oh, the players will play so much harder,” you say. Really? You have a league that’s about 60% American. You think they can play much harder? That’s all American players can do – play hard. And since they’re all underpaid (according to people who don’t understand supply and demand), what, exactly, are they loafing around for now. Most players are probably playing as hard as they can#.
In most European leagues, even if you can’t win the title, you can play for a guaranteed spot (or the right to play off for a spot) in the UEFA Champions League or the Europa League. Those are lucrative tournaments that can make a huge difference in a club’s profit margin.
The CONCACAF Champions League (for which four US teams qualify – the MLS Cup winner, MLS Supporters Shield winner, MLS Cup runners-up and US Open Cup champions) is not a particularly lucrative tournament. It’s an afterthought. It’s a fixture congestion-er. Mathematically, all but one MLS team (New York) could still be in the running to finish in the top four in a no-playoffs, top-four-qualify-for-the-CCL scenario.
But is that the kind of race that will keep your interest? Whether or not your team will finish top four so you can play Joe Public next August? And if you somehow manage to win that tournament, you might get to play Al-Ahly in Abu Dhabi in December 2011 – two years from now?
Having a bunch of your teams basically eliminated from anything meaningful with weeks left in the season only provides yet another reason to ignore MLS at this time of year (oh, look, a new stadium in Dallas!).
But, hey, it works great in Europe!
*Based on current points-per-game. Very rough estimate, probably mathematically impossible for everybody’s projected points to turn out that way.
#Does not apply to David Beckham.