Major League Soccer’s Playoffs Spits in the Face of the Regular Season, Again

The Major League Soccer playoffs have yet again thrown a wrench into the spokes of all thought and belief supporters and fans have in the MLS regular season.

Sporting KC, whose points total was the second best in the league and some believed was the best team overall, was knocked out of the playoffs at the hands of the Houston Dynamo Wednesday night. Only to be outdone by San Jose Earthquakes, the league’s best team in the regular season, who was dismissed by LA Galaxy.

Houston is the fifth seed in the league’s Eastern Conference half of the playoff bracket. Meaning, the club was the fifth best team entering the playoffs in the east. Going one step further, while Sporting KC finished second in overall points to Supporters’ Shield winner San Jose, the Dynamo finished 13-points and nine places behind the Earthquakes.

However, in the playoffs those places mean very little as the league has shown fans throughout the years.

Regardless if you love the playoffs or hate them, MLS continues to be an interesting league – and exciting this time of the year – for fans and neutrals alike. While many in the US and abroad enjoy lamenting the league for its ability to crown a champion that isn’t truly the best team throughout the year, the league championship is still seen as being winnable by all in MLS.

Though many pundits believe just making the playoffs is good enough, the regular season and playoff structure makes it possible for almost any team to win the MLS Cup at the beginning of each season. Well, almost any team.

This season San Jose won the Supporters’ Shield following a seventh place Western Conference finish in 2011, completely missing the playoffs. Since returning to MLS play in 2008, San Jose had not finished higher than sixth in the Western Conference and had only made the playoffs once prior to this season.

In 2012, Earthquakes’ supporters just hoped the team could make the postseason and some even wondered whether Frank Yallop was capable of leading the team any further. However, MLS once again showed us anything can happen during the regular season; and as both Sporting KC and San Jose found out, anything can happen in the playoffs.

This year marked the second consecutive year Houston knocked the top team in the Eastern Conference out of the playoffs. In both years that top team was Sporting KC.

The Dynamo had already played the Chicago Fire in the first round of the playoffs. While Sporting KC received a bye thanks to their top of the Eastern Conference finish. The win against Chicago and Sporting KC showed the importance of momentum at this time of year.

Similarly, San Jose’s elimination at the hands of LA showed the MLS Cup Champions return to form when it truly mattered.

The Galaxy capped off a fantastic 2011 by winning the MLS Cup in front of their home supporters. However, the regular season, CONCACAF Champions League, age of the squad and injuries all took their toll on the club in 2012. However, in their Western Conference semifinal win over the Earthquakes, the Galaxy showed the form that made them runaway Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup winners a year ago.

Regardless of whoever wins the MLS Cup Final, the team will have the fortune or misfortune of enduring a similarly grueling season as the Galaxy did in 2012. As no matter how talented the team is, the amount of games and travel are the true opponents. The Galaxy treaded water during much of the season – finishing fourth in the west – and just like Houston, used the first round of the playoffs to build momentum.

Both teams have now used that momentum to carry themselves into their respective conference finals. This year’s playoffs have, once again, shown the relative importance of not winning the Supporters’ Shield. With San Jose’s loss, the Supporters’ Shield winner has only done the double six times in 17 chances.

Other than DC United’s three MLS Cup wins in four years, and Houston’s back-to-back wins in 2006 and 2007, MLS has lacked a dominant team; though LA can make a case for that title. The club has featured in seven finals – most by any team – winning three – second most to DC United.

MLS is unique in the fact that in any given season, the MLS Cup could end up in any of the 18 cities that make up the league. Though in reality, teams like Toronto, Portland, New England or Chivas USA would be happy just to get into the playoffs.

Now with the two best teams according to points out of the playoffs, many fans will once again clamor for the end of the postseason. However, no regular season in MLS could make supporters care quite as much as the playoffs have already. This year is a victory for the MLS postseason.

Follow Drew Farmer on Twitter @CalcioFarmer and read Drew’s work at MLSTalk and, where he covers Italy’s Genoa CFC. Drew also hosts the  weekly Club Focus podcast and writes his own personal football and travel blog at Excellent Adventure/Bogus Journey.

32 thoughts on “Major League Soccer’s Playoffs Spits in the Face of the Regular Season, Again”

  1. The regular season needs to mean something. There has to be some advantage awarded. Every other contest in the world rewards the league winner. This was unjust.

  2. This was unjust. One game was better. You must reward the team that wins the marathon of the regular season. Every other sport does.

  3. Give the supporters shield winner a bye to MLS cup. Then have 2-9 battle it out in the playoffs for the right to play them.

  4. I disagree in modern sports the best team often doesn’t win-the marathon of the regular season means little- in baseball/NFL- the wild card team wins often, NCAA basketball best team rarely wins. Even in European football no one thinks Chelsea was the best team in Europe last year… but yes in European football the league winner is the league winner.

    Do I think it’s fair- not really but I don’t know what’s better- are the days off a penalty or an aide? should the wild card round be 2 games and the other rounds 1 game at the higher seeds? loss of revenue and interest there then, crazy morphed idea 1 game at higher seed and if lower seed ties or wins they get a home game as in current format… just spit balling not sure I’m serious.

    US soccer doesn’t have relegation to hold interest, nor do we tie in our Championship (CONCAAF) to 2-4th etc so how do they hold interest in non contending teams without a playoff. The Supporters Shield should be the highest honor no matter who wins the tournament

  5. Just give the supporters sheild winner the Supporters Shield, and home advantage, and let them see if they can go on a cup run. I’d guess that 7 out of 16 is better than the odds of any other seed. And we just had a team do the double last year, not every year produces a team that special.

    SJ gets a Champions League spot next season. The league should give them a different color ball as well, and a scudetto on their shirts. If team does the double, they should get both the scudetto and the cup on their shirts. And maybe a rare gold ball for home games all season. My point is award both- their different sorts of challenges.

  6. I’m a fan of the playoffs; San Jose didn’t win to advance in the playoffs so they’re not the best team in MLS. Remember the playoffs is part of the regular season its not a different tournament, by a team winning the season they are not the best team yet, they just advance to the next round ,which is the playoffs. The playoffs is a higher playing level than the regular season, games are tougher, more intense, teams and players step up a notch compared to the regular season. For the fans this is great to watch!! There is more drama involved, watching the L.A Galaxy beating the best record team in the league in their home field to end their season is priceless, that’s the playoffs!! How boring will it be if the best record team always wins, there will be no point in watching.

    The playoffs bring a higher level of excitement to the fan compared to the regular season!! I would not change the playoff format at all. And San Jose did get awarded for winning the season, they won the supporter shield, but in order to be regarded the best team in MLS you need win the playoffs. San Jose showed they do not deserve to be that team.

  7. I’m not sure what part of “parity league” people don’t understand.

    The league’s structure – both financial and competitive – is set up for exactly this purpose. The real difference between the first-place and fifth-place club in each division is not that great.

    The only real answer, if it’s so important that the top clubs not be embarrassed in the playoffs, is to remove the salary cap and make club owners pay their own players so NY, LA and Seattle can win everything all the time while the other clubs have to get extremely lucky to win anything, just like in England or Spain.

  8. I spit on the regular season too…ptui.

    The Sounders are charging $50 a seat behind the goal for the game on the 18th. I am guessing they will rake in $2.5-3 million if they open up the stadium.

    If they host the MLS Cup Final that number will look small.

    Every game has been on national TV..

    Everyone take a good guess on whether the playoffs get bigger or smaller based on those facts.

    I will go first. Bigger. 3 game series soon.

  9. I would like to see MLS Cup played along side the regular season. 1-10 qualify, NASL Champs Qualify, USL Champs Qualify. Make it a league cup and the USOC can be extra silverware as well.

      1. Being a San Jose fan, the playoffs do NOT diminish anything. San Jose played a bad game when it counted and paid for it. It sucks, but that’s that. San Jose STILL had the best record for the season, fared better than they have in the US Open Cup, are now in the CCL, and won every home game. They had home field advantage and sadly blew it. I was at the game. It was disappointing, but that does not lessen their great season. They were rewarding games to go watch, and the San Jose players and fans were all extremely proud of their season. Yes, one bad game can eliminate you, just like in the World Cup and Champions League.

  10. I just want to say, I think SJ’s run was diminished. How many fans will remember the 2012 SS winner at the beginning of 2013? Not as many that will remember the MLS Cup winner. That’s sad.

    1. That is why it should be noted with a shield on their shirts and.a different color ball for home games,as well as the champions league spot and the actual shield. But some of us will remember anyway.

    2. That is not to say I don’t like the play-offs, I think they’re fun. And that is not to say European leagues should do play-offs, they have their cups and the Champions League (and balanced schedules in smaller countries). All good.

      1. I must say I enjoy the playoffs, too. Every year I forget until they happen. But then again when the playoffs come around people throw out conspiracy theories, such as LA and Houston being AEG, etc.

  11. Spits on the regular season? That’s not dramatic at all.

    First of all, unlike previous years we actually have playoff brackets that are seeded somewhat fairly.

    And LA had to play an additional play-in match, as well as two more matches over the course of the season (CCL).

    It’s not the format’s fault SJ lost 3-1 at home. Statistically, they were the favorite; they just choked at home.

  12. The Supporters Shield is for the regular season winner (not that it’s fairly decided with an unbalanced schedule.) San Jose won it and SKC came in second. Good for them!

    The playoffs are a different thing and you have to earn your way into them. Everyone knew this when the season started so this thread becomes a pity party for the losers that want the cup handed to their team.

    If you want the cup you have to beat the best, in the case of LA and Houston – if they meet in the final again it will be because they each played 5 matches against the best in their conferences and prevailed – Not because they were able to fatten up omn the bottom of the table.

  13. Drew, You use the term momentum as if it were some scientific fact of soccer – it’s not. Fact is that LA and Houston are the apparent two best teams in the league and you hate that. Sucks for you.

    If anyone had momentum it was the Quakes and SKC. Are you saying they got beat because LA and Houston took out Vancouver and Chicago? Just admit that you want to see someone else in the Cup Final no big deal.

    1. Actually, I want to see LA because I do believe they are the best. I do think momentum has a lot to do with it. When teams sit over the course of days/weeks they get out of the flow of games. In MLS were the gulf in talent isn’t so vast, it’s easy for one team to overtake another with momentum. I don’t think Houston is one of the best teams in the league.

      Also, in a cup tournament anything can happen. If these were 5 game series than the better team tends to win out. But look at Chelsea’s run to the CL trophy last spring. Definitely not the best team in Europe, but they got the momentum and outplayed their opponents on the day; like Houston. Thanks for reading.

      1. The “hot at the right time” is soooo overblown. If Vancouver got in, I wouldn’t be saying this, but they didn’t have a prayer.

        Houston does have a prayer, and not the Sounder’s current hail Mary prayer, because Houston is that good.

        – The coaching is second to none and the team is underrated with the young lesser known players.

        – Tally Hall is my first choice for GK in the league.

        – Brad Davis is in the running for best passer in the league

        – Bruin can score, gets better every day

      2. Shut your face. The UCL is the OFFICIAL CHAMPIONSHIP of Europe. All of Europe’s best had the chance to win it. They all failed, except for Chelsea. Chelsea was the best. UCL is the standard-bearer. Forget the other competitions when you want to find the best in Europe

        1. According to a German friend of mine, league and cup winners Dortmund were the best team in Europe last spring. They beat Bayern Munich twice in the last few weeks of the season, including the cup final.

  14. Eskandarian in SI today saying MLS playoffs should go to the three game series.

    Who would have thought ?

    Oh yeah me, 10 posts above….I am like a combo of Nostrodomus and a puppet master of the soccer blog.

    The only question is if it starts next year. Yes is the answer.

    1. Would you have ties in the first two games go to extra time? Ties after extra time or penalty kicks? Personally, I like the two-game aggregate system they use now, it incentivises blow outs and creates unique situations. Although I get that it made for international competitions and may make less sense domestically.

      1. OT and PKs

        2 game series is a patch for we dont want home field advantage…then the insecure we need to look like everyone else guys said use it here.

        The aggregate system made the second games boring and in Seattle’s case less attended. Seattle battled back, but still.

        1. I don’t know. TV wouldn’t like the potential for all the overtimes- they like to know a game fits into a specific time slot. The first games were great, every goal meant something and even the misses. But I do see your point.

          1. Well they (ESPN ) don’t seem to mind when Smith State is playing Farmers Univ in gridiron ball and run over the MLS start…..everytime.

  15. I don’t get all the whining about playoffs. Neither format is better, just different. San Jose won the regular season. Good for them. But the league has decided they’re not the best because they lost the playoffs. If the regular season decided championships teams might treat their games differently, but they don’t. And the notion that playoffs are not “true to soccer” is ridiculous. Remember the original soccer competition was not the league but the cup tournament. Also, look at Mexico. They determine their champions in a playoff structure and no one screams that Tijuana’s victory is illegitimate. For that matter, look at how playoffs are being introduced into European football at every opportunity–relegation/promotion battles coming down to playoffs, etc.

    If the Europeans could set back the clock on their leagues I would be willing to bet three things would happen there:

    1-no pro/rel


    3-salary caps

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