The Major League Soccer Playoffs And The Football PuristsMarch 1, 2011 at 6:00 am | Posted in General Football, Major League Soccer, Vancouver Whitecaps In MLS | 2 Comments
Recently Major League Soccer and its brain trust decided to add a few more teams to the playoffs with a total of 10 teams out of 18 to participate. The top three teams in each conference will get a bye as four “wild card” teams with the next best records battle it out in two single match deciders which will determine who gets to the Quarter finals. MLS has struggled over the years to get its playoff structure right.
Football purists seem to want the team with the most points at the end of the season to be celebrated as Champions as is the case in Europe. Rather than having parallel and unrelated competitions running at the same time culminating with different champions, the North American sporting tradition values the monolithic winner-takes-all championship which must be earned regardless of regular season form. The regular season is just about making the playoffs and positioning yourself for the playoffs.
While finishing the season with the best record is a badge of pride, winning the playoffs is what North American sports is all about. In some sports, like Hockey, winning the trophy for the best regular season record is seen as a bit of a curse.
The football purists will not be able to convince the North American sports fan that valuing the best overall record over everything else is right just because that is done in Europe and elsewhere. Frankly, the nature of football in Europe is such that, in most leagues, before a ball is kicked, the team that will finish with the most points can quite easily be predicted. This is because European football makes no effort at bringing parity to their leagues.
The playoff format gives the underdog a chance, and North American sports fans love an underdog.
Parity and the inability to predict a winner is what keeps fans of specific teams interested in the North American sports market. If it could be predicted that the NY Red Bulls would win from day one, why would fans even show up to watch their teams?
Frankly, I would love to see the Vancouver Whitecaps finish the season with the most points and would celebrate that, especially since they have not done so since their predecessors, the Vancouver 86ers, did so long ago. There is nothing, however, like the wild ride of going all the way and winning a championship final as the Whitecaps did in 1979, 2006 and 2008. These championships created memories that will last a lifetime.
This is a battle the football purists are going to lose. The playoffs are what North American sports fans value most. More teams involved in the playoffs means more fans are engaged with their teams for a longer period of time.
Another good move by MLS in my view, and another reason why MLS should resist the pull of football conservatism from Europe.