Yes, as ridiculous as it sounds they are, in fact, playing for the Eastern Conference title, even though one team is based about 20 miles from the Pacific Ocean while the other is practically in the heart of the Rockies.
The fact that we have a match up for a geographic title with two teams clearly not in that geographic region is in part to MLS Commissioner Don Garber and his evident reluctance to move away from a conference driven format.
If you look at the MLS playoffs, you'll notice that one side is the East bracket, while the other side is the West bracket. If one looks at the overall standings, it comes to attention that the clubs New York Red Bulls and Columbus Crew, the top two Eastern Conference teams finished the regular season in third and fifth-place, respectively.
The big deal? The MLS clubs Real Salt Lake and Seattle Sounders FC, clubs that had seasons just as strong, if not stronger than the east coast powerhouses, were literally being punished for playing the west.
This is a result of the lack of equilibrium between the strength of the East and West Conferences: six Western teams qualified, while the only East teams in the playoffs were the two that automatically qualify.
Because of this disparity, MLS seeded the weakest Western teams (Colorado and San Jose) against Columbus and New York, respectively. As a result the Seattle Sounders, who finished fourth in the West, yet sixth overall, are stuck playing the Supporters’ Shield titleholder, Los Angeles Galaxy. Dallas, which finished third in the west, and fourth overall has to play the defending champions Real Salt Lake. Salt Lake has been unstoppable lately in both MLS action and CONCACAF Champions League action.
Rather than just docking the tables and giving each team a seed of one through eight, there’s much too much emphasis on conferences, causing the format to be something like this:
(3) New York vs. (8) San Jose
(6) Columbus vs. (7) Colorado Rapids
(2) Salt Lake vs. (4) Dallas
(1)Los Angeles vs. (5) Seattle
It’s simply unfair, and it has given weaker MLS clubs such as San Jose and Colorado a much easier path to title contention than stronger clubs like Seattle and RSL. If we want a fairer playoff system, a single table with seeds 1-8, will have to be enforced.
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