There Are No Favorites Here

Monday, November 08, 2010 | View Comments
Without LA's dismantling of Seattle at the Home Depot Center last night, the MLS playoffs might been a party made up entirely of underdogs. Colorado beat the higher seeded Columbus. San Jose shocked first in the East Red Bulls. FC Dallas took out the defending champs RSL. Only the Galaxy made their favorite status stand up over two legs, conceding just one garbage time goal in the process.

The failure of three favorites speaks directly to MLS parity. Top of the table in the regular season is all well and good, but short series level the playing field immeasurably. This is still a league where the quality of the eight teams that make the playoffs is not only comparable, but nearly identical in a realistic sense. A hot striker, a hot goalkeeper, a well executed strategy or bit of luck can turn a game no matter which teams are on the field.

The talking points coming out of the upsets mostly revolve around the lack of benefit for the higher seeded teams; the idea is that the first round two-legged series doesn't give enough of an advantage to clubs that earned more points over the course of a long and taxing season. Without a larger reward for finishing in a top spot, the regular season is made less meaningful.

Perhaps that's true, and the series-the-then-single-game format is certainly odd. New York, Columbus, and RSL were each forced to go on the road to start the playoffs in a total goal series; rather than push for goals (which would mean more if MLS used an away goal tiebreaker), their mindsets were to hold on for dear life and get back home with the opponent within shouting distance. After Columbus and RSL took home second leg deficits of one goal each and New York managed to get back to Red Bull Arena with an advantage, every higher seed had a chance to win in the comfortable environs of their own stadium. They just flat out didn't do enough, be it due to defensive breakdowns or missed chances. Rewarding the higher seeds in the playoffs might be a legitimate need, but lack of a larger advantage is not why this weekend's three favorites went down.

We assign the "favorite" and "underdog" roles in every match-up, but the MLS playoffs have proven once again that those labels mean little in this league.

The actual difference in quality between a team like New York, first place in the East and boasting three big money talents, and San Jose, the club with a Golden Boot winner making $45k/year is essentially non-existent. And that's the point. MLS chose the parity model because give the league the greatest chance to attract casual interest in each of its markets; when every team has a chance to turn things around in short order or come out of "nowhere", the total baseline of attention across every city is likely to be greater. MLS willingly trades off the chances of a superclub taking root in New York, LA, or elsewhere to ensure that teams aren't handicapped by never having a real chance to win. Everyone, even Toronto, can reasonably dream that they'll be lifting the MLS Cup by the end of any given year.

Parity and playoffs mean there are no guarantees. It doesn't matter if New York was better than San Jose, or if RSL was taken out by a lesser team. The legitimacy of the title lies in the needed effort and level of play it takes to get to the Final and win it; a full schedule played over the course of months is one way to determine champion, but a short pressure-packed knockout-style tournament is an equally valuable alternative. If a team isn't good enough to put everything together when it counts the most, perhaps they don't deserve to be called champion.

Which is exactly why the "favorite" label means nothing in Major League Soccer. That label implies that one team is better enough than their opponent to have an actual or significant advantage in talent. MLS just doesn't work like that.  If points earned during the early season are the difference in where the two teams finished, we might as well throw the records out.  Too much changes, and teams improve or regress over time, for a separation of 10 or 12 points to mean much of anything.

The conference finals are set, with LA hosting FC Dallas and Colorado hosting San Jose. After the first round, it should be eminently clear that we label "favorites" at the risk of looking foolish.

blog comments powered by Disqus
    KKTC Bahis Siteleri, Online Bahis



    Privacy Policy