2011 MLS Cup Playoffs: As Expected, The New Format Receives Zero Praise
Well, the new MLS Cup Playoff format has been released, and to literally no one's surprise, the system is being chewed to death.
Ideally, it goes without saying that the playoffs should be based upon a single table, have seeds one through eight, or better yet: get rid of the playoffs altogether.
Allow the Supporters' Shield winners to become league champions, and allow playoff hungry fans to cheer on their club in the U.S. Open Cup.
The evident problem with Major League Soccer is their appeasement, and their ongoing efforts to try to appeal to a casual, playoff loving, American audience, and its sharp polar frenemies: the hardcore, anti-playoff, single table-loving group of fans.
Exactly how evident are MLS' efforts to appeal to the two groups?
First and foremost, the league long ago assembled a playoff format that awkwardly blended a conference-driven playoff format with a single-table playoff format, resulting in more "wild-card" entrants than automatic playoff qualifiers.
This so called appeasement has resulted in Eastern Conference final featuring an MLS club based in Colorado playing against a team no more than 50 miles away from the Pacific Ocean.
It's also the reason that the only so-called "conference championship" title that the New York Red Bulls earned was the Western Conference. That's more than enough ammo for anti-soccer, let alone anti-MLS soccer fans to deliberately mock the league even more.
How do you like the new MLS Cup Playoff-format?
These wild-cards were simply the result of trying to allow the true top eight to qualify for the playoffs.
Unfortunately, the system of retaining the antiquated conference semifinals rather than quarterfinals and semifinals, bit the league in the rear.
As I said earlier, it was a blend of the two, and the top four teams: the conference champions and finalists were deemed the top four seeds. The most recent playoff pairings allowed clubs that had weaker regular season records to play weaker clubs, while forcing stronger clubs to play even stronger clubs.
Consequently, the league ended up with a nightmare final, a final that was considered a "David vs. David" final, that generating a pathetic, laughable 0.4 TV rating.
All this being said, this clearly was just as unappealing to casual fans as it would be to hardcore fans. Appeasing for both, but having favors to casual fans, is diluting the very minimal credibility MLS exhibits.
The unfortunate reality MLS must face is the expectations of the uneducated, casual fans. The league would need to be on the strength caliber of EPL or LaLiga, and have star world class players, along with U.S. national team stars. Instead, a stringent salary cap results in domestic talent spring-boarding across the Atlantic into Europe during their prime, and causing the league to strain the forced budgets on aged stars, that can only make a tiny splash for a few months.
For this to happen, it would require maneuvers that the league would never dare to tackle, mostly in part because of the NASL: all due to the NASL's mantra to buy foreign talent, cause super-clubs, and bankrupt the league.
Secondary and tertiary reasons would be the result of going against current collective bargaining agreements, the need to de-franchise MLS clubs, and allow each MLS franchise to be their own truly independent club, with the club management themselves setting up the budget.
The clear result would be wealthy MLS clubs, such as Seattle and New York buying not necessarily world-class players, but stronger players, creating clubs that aren't world-class, but strong enough to regularly win Supporters' Shield, CONCACAF Champions League and MLS Cup titles, again and again.
In essence, these super clubs would draw popularity; but their popularity would be like the New York Yankees. Certain clubs like the Sounders or Red Bulls would create massive fan bases of casual bandwagons following the select clubs. Yes, these clubs would create intense fan interest, an example would be the Cosmos drawing 50,000 fans a game...in the 1970s.
Crunching some numbers and making guesses, these newfound super-clubs would likely result in the Sounders unstrapping tarped sections of Qwest Field, and Red Bulls needing a massive expansion to Red Bull Arena.
The result of this disparity would cause weaker, less wealthy MLS clubs to never have a decent shot at any cup title, and could cause a decrease in casual fan following. A perfect example would, once again be from baseball: look at the Baltimore Orioles, a club who has long underachieved has drawn around 8,000 fans for select games. That's lower than, yes, an FC Dallas match.
This would put MLS on the map, but it would cause only a select few clubs to gain national spotlight. Yet, this might be a step the league needs to take to appeal to casual fans.
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