On the surface, it might seem like fewer playoff berths would make the regular season more competitive, where each game means just a bit more – after all, the rarer something is, the more it’s worth, right? Maybe not. The MLS’s 20th season sees 20 clubs for the first time, bringing along a couple extra teams to the playoffs. This year’s playoffs will showcase the top 12 teams from the league. Well, the top six from each conference, at least. Of course, that’s assuming no tie-breakers are needed (does “fewest team disciplinary points” help determine the better team?). For most of the MLS’s existence, only 8 teams made it in and after a few seasons with 10 berths, the MLS have now expanded the playoffs to 12. These playoff berths may not be nearly as rare as they were in the last several seasons, but clubs – all but one, in fact – are fighting for them like the Peaky Blinders at a race horse auction.
Whether the MLS should mimic its international counterparts and determine its champion at the end of the season still occupies heated discussions – only amongst friends, of course. After all, that makes every game matter all the more. Sure seems like 19 teams with only a few games remaining think every game matters. After a fight to the finish like this, how great will the playoffs be? Let the debate rage on; in the meantime…
Most of the teams in the league have only three games remaining and of the three that have five games remaining, the New York Red Bulls are the only club in the league to have secured a playoff spot while only the Chicago Fire have been eliminated from playoff contention. Yes, Rapids fans, you have a chance. Colorado, in tenth place at the bottom of the Western Conference table, could win out and make the playoffs if…IF…SKC and Portland and San Jose and Houston and RSL don’t pull a 2009 Detroit Tigers. That’s just one of the MANY scenarios that could play out. What does that mean for everyone else? It’s not entirely clear and we don’t have Joe Buck to tell us the Magic Number for each team. Oh, by the way, record matters, too. A higher seed gets you a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout. Seems like that could matter in a season where nearly every teams’ home goal differential blows its road goal differential out of the water (The league’s best (by record) LA Galaxy sit on the best HGD and the third worst RGD). My goodness, could it get more complicated or interesting? Yes - Many clubs are or will be missing key players to international call-ups during this season’s conclusion.
This should be the one of the greatest finishes to a regular season of all time…in all of sports (ufda): 95% of the league’s teams are fighting for playoff spots and seeds at the end of the season – when else has that happened? What other sports loses its key players at THE most important part of the season?
Certain your club is in? Don’t be so sure. Think you’re team’s season is over? Think again. Enjoy the finish.