The Excitement Of The Final Weekend

Matt Besler, goalscorer for Sporting KC

So has everyone caught their breath?

Well, if you were a fan of four Eastern Conference teams, this evening was a pins-and-needles expedition.

With as much criticism as has been leveled towards a playoff system where 10 out of 18 teams qualify, the way Major League Soccer organized the playoff structure has created some grand drama in the final weeks. One team in particular, the Philadelphia Union, could have finished 1st if Sporting KC had lost in a large way to DC United. They also could have finished in the 3rd Wild Card spot, forcing a midweek trip to Colorado, had the worst-case scenario unfolded.

In the end, it was somewhere in the middle for most of the teams involved. Here’s how it shakes out:

– Sporting Kansas City finishes with the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

– Philadelphia can finish no worse than the #3 seed, ensuring a midweek bye.

– Columbus will finish either #3, or will take #4 in the East and end up travelling west for a Wild Card match after Colorado took 3 points from the Whitecaps.

So, what’s left to decide? Houston can leapfrog both Philadelphia and Columbus with a Sunday victory over the LA Galaxy. That would send Columbus into the Wild Card round, and would give the Dynamo the #2 seed. A draw or loss for Houston would mean the Union cements into the #2 seed, and would begin their first playoff journey on the road at Crew Stadium. Houston would then do the travelling to either Commerce City, Colorado or Frisco, Texas, depending on their result.

It’s not over yet, and while the top teams in LA, Seattle, Salt Lake, and Dallas have played largely anti-climatic matches to end the season, the drama that has evolved in the East has been similar in flavor to a relegation scrap. In the Chicago-Columbus match, which Chicago won 3-2, you got a sense of the desperation which encompassed the Crew’s play. Chicago jumped out to a two goal lead, and Columbus clawed back to level midway through the 2nd half. But as soon as the Crew had hope, the Fire dashed those ideas after Columbus over-committed forward. Diego Chaves’ game winner eased a lot of tension in the Delaware Valley. The Union benefited most from an inspired effort from Frank Klopas’ bunch; perhaps the legend of one Peter Nowak inspired the Fire to help one of their alumni.

Of course, before that, Union fans were watching intently as DC United took their game to Sporting Kansas City. DC were all over SKC throughout the first half, but squandered some excellent opportunities. Sporting took advantage of a mistake by United, and Matt Besler put the finishing touches on a remarkable season for upstart Kansas City. The team that started the season on a long road trip climbed the table as they settled into Livestrong Sporting Park, and now they sit atop the Eastern Conference awaiting the better of the two teams to emerge from the Wild Card Round.

The other game of note was Colorado, overcoming an early 1-0 deficit to drop Vancouver 2-1. They will be the #2 Wild Card, right behind F.C. Dallas.

The Playoffs will start on Wednesday (and perhaps Thursday), with an early taste of desperation with two one-and-done matches.

14 thoughts on “The Excitement Of The Final Weekend”

  1. The play-off system is too confusing, the average person looks at
    the standings in the paper or on Yahoo sports and it tells him
    nothing. If we have to have conferences, can we at least just have
    one bracket? Having said that, the best chance for Rapids is if the
    Red Bulls win their wild card round so the Rapids can crossover to
    the east. It is not right that Seattle and LA must meet in the

    1. I agree with both of these comments. The inherent problem with a playoff system occurs when the power base in a league is localized in one conference. The NFL has gone through periods where one conference would be more successful than the other in the Super Bowl. The profuse popularity of the NFL (coupled with shrewd marketing surrounding the commercials and halftime entertainment) allows them to get away with a snoozer. The difference of late for the NFL has been parity, which has tended to weaken the best teams through a salary cap.

      This “power base localization” would be more likely the smaller your league. People decry the single table, but I think there’s a way to have the single table and have a playoff system.

        1. 8 Teams, seeded #1 through #8, two legged all the way through the
          final with the higher team getting the second leg at home. No away
          goals rule. Play it over three weeks. Two-legged matches satisfy
          soccer diehards but they’re also easy for the average American
          sportsfan to understand. You do it two-legged all the way through,
          you replace the games lost in the transition from a 10-team to an
          8-team playoff. Play the US Open Cup Final the week after the MLS
          Final (I’d remove cup from the name altogether) at a neutral venue
          and let that be the big fun time celebration and sponsor-fest that
          the league tries to turn the MLS Cup into. Simple, purer, and
          better for soccer fans and average joe sports fans alike. It’s not
          hard. They do it that way in Mexico and it works pretty well. If
          you are going to have a single table, conferences aren’t really
          necessary to build region rivalries. Those rivalries are going to
          build themselves in the regular season home-and-away matches AND
          those riva

          1. Great post. I like the away goal rule so the away team, if ahead on
            aggregate, doesn’t park the bus. I would settle for the higher seed
            going through if goal aggregate is tied.

          2. Problem with that is that the higher seeded team then has an
            incentive to play for a tie and not a win. I don’t have a problem
            with away goals rule per se, I was just suggesting that it could be
            eliminated if you were trying to make the format easier to
            understand. My personal preference would be no away goals rule, two
            15-minute periods of golden goal, then followed by PKs if needed.
            Just seems like that format would be the most compelling for
            television audiences.

    1. No, baseball is pretty easy AL teams play AL teams NL teams play NL
      teams you have the division winners and then the team with the best
      record that isn’t a division winner gets the wildcard. Football is
      the same way AFC teams play AFC teams NFC teams play NFC teams and
      two teams with the best records that aren’t division winners get
      the two wildcard spots. That is pretty straight forward you don’t
      have conference/league cross overs. The only thing that is odd is
      first round of games they don’t allow teams from the same division
      play each other in the first round of the playoffs.

        1. Let’s not forget 49ers getting in with a below .500 record. Lets
          not forget the chargers getting in the playoffs with an 8-8 record
          while Pats stayed home with a 11-5 record. Divisions and
          conferences are stupid.

  2. Sancho- Your right in that I underestimate how other leagues are
    confusing as well. Baseball gets wild card standings printed, and
    NBA and NHL coverage stacks each conference into a single table
    regardless of division towards the end of the season; but the MLS
    is a bit harder because it is 3 teams from each division that get
    special treatment as opposed to just one. If it was just the
    division winners plus 6 got in, then Yahoo sports and local papers
    could just stack it in a single table like they do for other
    leagues. Anyway, the subject gets old……………………. But,
    let me add one thing, MLS has a chance to do better than those
    leagues in some respects because traditions are not as settled, so
    I hope we don’t keep separate brackets- it’d be great for Seattle
    and LA to meet in a final. It is a shame that the NHL can’t have
    Islander – Rangers finals anymore (or Philly – NY), and that the
    Red Sox and Yankees can’t meet in the world series (yet the Mets
    and Yankees can). I know in baseball they used to be separate
    leagues with different umps and no regular season games, but that
    was a long time ago.

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