MLS Marginalizes Regular Season By Placing Emphasis On MLS Cup, Not Supporters’ Shield

schmid

Sometimes in the world of Major League Soccer, the only real candor you observe comes when the harsh reality of defeat sets in for a well-experienced head coach.

Such was the case on Sunday night. Seattle Sounders coach Sigi Schmid, sulking in the shadow of what could have been, vented as the shattered dreams of the greatest campaign in MLS history were evaporating back into the ether. It was short, sweet, and sums up the feelings of many American soccer viewers.

Schmid, on winning the Supporters’ Shield being a consolation:

“The Supporters’ Shield is nice. It’s great because it’s a reflection of the whole season. It shows we are the best team from over the whole season. But unfortunately, our league decides that the MLS Cup winner is the top team. And that’s a mountain that we haven’t climbed yet. I thought for sure this could be our year, to climb that mountain, and I thought we were very close to it.”

The question isn’t if Sigi is right or not, but whether this is a sentiment held by many within the league. See, there are many in the media who attempt to portray these types of views as outside MLS, even anti-MLS.

But the Seattle Times even quoted US international DeAndre Yedlin with this very view: “I honestly think the Supporters’ Shield is more important than an MLS Cup championship,” Yedlin remarked postmatch. “In terms of the best team, this is the best team over a full season.”

Perhaps it’s because Yedlin is too young to know he shouldn’t say such things. Or perhaps it’s because he has one boot across the pond at Spurs.

I would contend the factions aren’t nearly as distinct as they’re made out to be. If you look at the viewership numbers, more people are tuning in to the Premier League, and thus it would be reasonable to assume that those people find a single table system legitimate.

Does the playoff system work? Sure, it decides a champion, and either the LA Galaxy or New England Revolution are worthy champions. But does it really create the vaunted drama? Of that, I’m not sure. The addition of the away goals rule to the two-legged playoffs has increased the drama and quality of play quite a bit, but is it enough to minimalize an entire season of results?

For instance, the seeding of the playoff bracket means little. A two-legged series eliminates any home-field advantage. The bye early in the playoffs is only a minor perk, and if you fail to make the Final, the potential of hosting it vanishes (as it did for the Sounders).

The argument is that “Playoffs are necessary to be successful in America.” There is already a playoff-based tournament with tons of history, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. But that leaves open the possibility of a non-MLS team winning the trophy.

So MLS has wed itself to the MLS Cup playoffs, so much so that they continue to do things to devalue the regular season (and the Supporters’ Shield). A few years ago an unbalanced schedule was introduced, making the table an inaccurate ranking tool. This year, it was accurate as the Sounders were the best team. But in 2013, the New York Red Bulls won the Shield, and clearly attained that trophy via a weak Eastern Conference schedule.

And now the league is close to turning the Playoff into a 12-team bracket. That’s 60% in a 20 team league, which means a less-than-average regular season team has a chance at a title.

This all points back to Sigi’s comments. With the way that MLS has marginalized the season, the only consistent way to crown a victor is to celebrate the MLS Cup winner. And that’s a shame.

And this is another hurdle the league places in front of those who prefer to see league season dominance be the title decider. If the “Any Given Sunday” approach isn’t your cup of tea, you either have to accept the reality or abandon the league.

I’m still not sure this “The US must have playoffs” thing is real, but it’s probably too late now for MLS. We’re likely stuck with this format. The chances are pretty good that next year’s MLS Cup Winner will not be the team who had the best 2015, but instead the team that had the best autumn.

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23 Comments

  1. BSTNFAN December 4, 2014
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  2. Total Relegation @totalrelegation December 4, 2014
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