The MLS Playoffs So Far

Monday, November 01, 2010 | View Comments
Los Angeles Galaxy forward Edson Buddle (C) is surrounded by teammates David Beckham (partially obscured) and Omar Gonzalez (R) after Buddle scored the 1-0 game-winning goal against the Seattle Sounders FC during the first half of Game 1 of the MLS Western Conference Semifinals at Qwest Field in Seattle, October 31, 2010. Buddle is a 2010 MLS Most Valuable Player finalist. REUTERS/Anthony Bolante (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT SOCCER)

How bout those playoffs?

One leg down in each of the first round series (not going to call them "Conference Semifinals"), and every match-up is separated by a single goal. Last night's Sounders-Galaxy game was entertaining (in part because of the atmosphere), New Yorks' win in San Jose was a blast of a track meet of a soccer match, and those other two games had moments of their own. Real Salt Lake's trek to Texas was certainly interesting, no? Pablo Mastroeni, a man with less than 10 goals in his entire career is the one that breaks the ice for Colorado?

And this is why playoffs have merit. As Major League Soccer's dreadful TV ratings prove, building excitement with regular season games is difficult; imagine a league without a playoff tournament, where the best we could hope for is two teams near the top of the table meeting towards the end of the season. In a parity-driven league, there's no guarantees that will happen, even with attempts at scheduling foresight.

There are just too many factors involved that make American soccer different for me to be comfortable with the idea that the playoffs should go away. If you're convinced otherwise, I'd love to know how to excuse away the problems.

Not that I need to worry. The League doesn't appear headed down the single-table road, even one that includes a post-season to cap things off. With expansion sure to cause problems with scheduling (meaning that a balanced schedule will soon be too cumbersome), single-table is a pipe dream. Moan about it all you want, but it doesn't make sense after next year.

I'm pumped for the return legs. One goal leads are tenuous, the trailing teams have reason to push hard for goals, and the atmospheres will improve in every series save one (with apologies to San Jose fans, who while small in number thanks to a tiny stadium, do a decent job of making noise). And even then, the step down from Seattle's 34k to LA's 25k-ish isn't especially steep. Red Bull Arena will host its first ever playoff game. Columbus will have the Nordecke behind them at Crew Stadium. RSL expects a sell out and has turned Rio Tinto into an absolute fortress. If you believe atmosphere is the most crucial element in selling the game to casual fans (which I do), we could do worse coming off of Sounders-Galaxy (i.e., the Gold Standard) in Seattle.

It's difficult to pick out which return leg has the most potential; the two teams returning home with advantages (New York and LA) could sit back and attempt to stymie San Jose and Seattle respectively, but that strategy carries an element of danger. One mistake and the lead is gone, a situation that will force coaches on each side to make effective tactical decisions. We can't expect either tilt to be "open", but neither should they be drab affairs. Colorado-Columbus could very well turn ugly, but RSL-FCD should have the defending champions going for it from the start (without Javier Morales, unfortunately). Every game has a very real chance of giving us Bonus Soccer and the dreaded penalty shootout.

Some thoughts from the weekend matches (in no particular order, quick and dirty like):

  • San Jose-New York really was a track meet.  If you blinked, the ball was at the other end of the field.
  • I'm going to start praying to the god of stadiums for the Quakes to get their deal done.  Buck Shaw is terrible, and limits the crowd (obviously).
  • Wondolowski proved that the pressure of the playoffs can wreck a hot streak.  He had a chance, and he missed it.
  • I still have RSL advancing, despite the one goal deficit and Javi Morales suspension. I don't think FCD can repeat what they did at home.
  • The officiating was...rough on average for all games, pretty bad in a few instances.
  • Buddle's goal doesn't happen on grass, which I hear is what Bruce Arena said after the game. Brilliant stuff regardless.
  • I think Columbus is cooked, though a return for Renteria could make a big difference. 
  • I'll be disappointed, but not surprised, if the Red Bulls can't sell out.
  • LA Jekyll and Hyde-d their way to the Supporters Shield, became a favorite to be upset, and now are suddenly title contenders again.  
  • Bruce Arena knows what he's doing.
  • Sigi Schmid does too, but he got out-coached.
  • I really don't want to whine about the turf in Seattle, but that stuff just changes a game so much. More of it in Portland and Vancouver next year, too. 

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