Wednesday, June 8, 2011

33% of the season is over

Last season and during the off-season there were a plethora of blogs dedicated to MLS becoming a single table league (amongst other things). But MLS went a great distance in squashing that idea as well as doing away with the MLS playoffs. There's no question that MLS needs the dual conference structure to keep casual fans and markets interested in the league. If MLS was in a single table only two teams from the Eastern Conference would currently make the playoffs; Philadelphia and New York. The entire midway and midwest of America, sans Dallas, would miss out on the MLS post-season. Financially this would be a massive blow for the league. Not to mention alienating fans from areas of the country who only have a passing interest in the league as a whole anyway. I believe the It's Called Football podcast summed it up best when they said Toronto isn't a MLS town, it's a TFC town. To go one step further North America isn't a MLS country, but fans are interested in their city or regions team. Most USA soccer fans don't go out of their way to watch a MLS match that doesn't involve their team. That is one reason ESPN's MLS ratings are regularly low.

Unfortunately, it does make sense to have a league with two conferences and a play-off format. Promotion and relegation are another topic and this won't happen for the two biggest reason: The casual American fan will lose interest if the team can't compete for the league title and there's too much money at stake.

However, the reason I wrote this was to look at where MLS stands as of the minute. Roughly one-third of the 36-game season has been played thus far. LA Galaxy has played the most matches with 16 while Sporting KC has played the least with 10. This is how the league looks with 33% of the season finished already:

1. LA Galaxy- 30
2. FC Dallas- 25
3. Philadelphia Union- 21
4. Seattle Sounders- 21
5. Real Salt Lake- 20
6. New York Red Bulls - 19
7. Colorado Rapids- 19
8. Chivas USA- 17
9. Portland- 17
10. San Jose- 16
11. DC United- 16
12. Houston- 15
13. Columbus- 15
14. New England- 13
15. Toronto FC- 13
16. Chicago Fire- 10
17. Vancouver- 10
18. Sporting KC- 6

Looking at this table it's easy to see a gap between the top teams in the league and the worst team(s). When seperated into two conferences perhaps it doesn't look as bad for Sporting KC to only have six points thus far. However, in a single table we see they are 24-points off first place, though they only need to be good enough to be 10th overall in the league. This team has a very good shot a stringing together some results and making the playoffs still. But looking at the table like this I believe it would be an injustice not only for them to make the playoffs, but an injustice to the LA Galaxy who are proving yet again they are the best team in MLS. Play-offs are a North American tradition if you will, but LA's season will be meaningless if they go without rewards for being the top team only to lose a match in the play-offs. There are two-thirds of the season still to play, and it will be interesting to see if this gap from top to bottom widens. MLS contains 18 teams this season (Montreal joins in 2012), and we are seeing a difference top to bottom we didn't see in the past.

I feel the true travesty of this situation is LA Galaxy maybe the best team over 36-games, but may have nothing to show for it due to a one off play-off match.

** on a side note I advocate the Supporters' Shield winner (worthless title) automatically being placed in the MLS Cup Final and the other play-off teams battle it out to play them. Currently, the Korean K-League does something similar and I believe rewards the top teams in doing so. ***

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