Major League Soccer announces the 2011 playoff schedule - what a mess

So there are a couple of very glaring things wrong with the MLS playoff format, which we knew would happen when they announced the format after a long delay.  You remember at MLS Cup when they said they would announce the new format with in 30 days, then of course they actually announced it on Feb. 23rd, only about 60 days later than promised.

I was no fan of it, I think 10 teams is too many, I think ensuring 3 teams from each conference make the playoffs proper while the next best 4 teams have to play their way in is wrong.  I feared and we will likely see teams from the Western Conference have to play their way into the playoffs despite having better records than some or all 3 of the automatic bids from the Eastern Conference.  If the playoffs started today that is exactly what would happen.

Now I understand that Don Garber is hung up on conferences, and for 3 straight years the MLS Cup has featured teams from the same conference, which doesn't allow him to have a East vs. West final.  Of course I don't think many fans have nearly the same hang up about that as he does, and I don't know many fans who like conferences.  Oh I know the Don believes that you have to have them in order to form rivalries, but how stupid is that?  Dallas and Houston hated each other before they were in different conferences, Seattle hates Portland, RSL hates Colorado, Philly hates New York (OK to be honest everyone hates the Red Bulls) and not one of those would change if there were no conferences.

So if they playoff started today, Chivas USA (29 pts) would play at Colorado Rapids (37 pts) and Sporting Kansas City (30 pts) would play at Real Salt Lake (36 pts) for the right to advance to the playoffs. Now we know not all of these teams have played the same number of matches but I have added in how many points they have in parentheses.

The lowest team to win would face the LA Galaxy (48 pts) and the other wildcard team would face the Columbus Crew (34 pts), while the Seattle Sounders (41 pts) would host FC Dallas (42 pts) and the Philadelphia Union (33 pts) would play at New York Red Bulls (30 pts).

To me that thought that two teams with more points than every team in the East being forced to play for a spot in the playoffs is sad, pathetic and simply wrong.  I know Don and his staff thought that New York would be a dominant team and they had to hope that the East wouldn't be as week as it appears to be again this year, but the reality is that the Crew (tops in the East) would find themselves in 6th place in the West and by some random dumbass picking of conferences quality teams will likely be forced to "qualify" for the playoffs while worse teams get in because they play in the East.

After the jump find out why this is the least of the problems with the playoffs:

So because we have added a new round of playoffs "the wildcards" and because for the first time ever MLS will take a "break" in the middle of the playoffs for FIFA dates Nov. 11th and 15th, the schedule which was announced today adds even another hurdle for the "wildcard" teams, but you don't have to believe me check out the official announcement from MLS:

2011 MLS Cup Playoff Dates

Postseason begins Oct. 26 and culminates in MLS Cup 2011 on Nov. 20 at The Home Depot Center

NEW YORK (Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2011) - Major League Soccer today announced dates for this season's MLS Cup Playoff matches, culminating in MLS Cup 2011 on Sunday, Nov. 20 at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. 

The road to the League's 16th championship consists of 13 total games, with a break for FIFA fixture dates (Nov. 11 & 15) between the conference championships and MLS Cup. The broadcast schedule and kickoff times for playoff games will be announced at a later date. 

Ten teams will qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs upon the conclusion of the regular season on Sunday, Oct. 23. The top three teams in each conference will enter as automatic qualifiers and the next four teams, regardless of conference, will enter the Wild Card Games. 

To see the current playoff standings and full qualification procedures, CLICK HERE

The 2011 MLS Cup Playoff schedule (prospective teams listed as if the season ended today, but in reality, 11 weeks remain in the regular season) is as follows: 

•      Wild Card Games - hosted by higher seed; single elimination

(Currently Chivas USA at Colorado Rapids and Sporting Kansas City at Real Salt Lake)

o   Wed., Oct. 26                  

o   Thurs., Oct. 27                 

 •      Conference Semifinals, First Leg - hosted by lower seed

(Currently LA Galaxy at lowest remaining wild card; Columbus Crew at other remaining wild card; FC Dallas at Seattle Sounders; and Philadelphia Union at New York Red Bulls)

o   Sat., Oct. 29                       

o   Sat., Oct. 29                       

o   Sun., Oct. 30                      

o   Sun., Oct. 30           

 •      Conference Semifinals, Second Leg - hosted by higher seed; winner by aggregate goals

(Currently lowest wild card at LA Galaxy; other remaining wild card team at Columbus Crew; Seattle Sounders at FC Dallas; and New York Red Bulls at Philadelphia Union)

o   Wed., Nov. 2                     

o   Wed., Nov. 2                     

o   Thurs., Nov. 3                   

o   Thurs., Nov. 3                  

 •      Conference Championships - hosted by higher seed; single elimination

o   Sat., Nov. 5                        

o   Sun., Nov. 6                       

NOTE: A break occurs here due to FIFA fixtures on Nov. 11 &15. 

•      MLS Cup 2011 - at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.; single-game final

o   Sun., Nov. 20               

NOTE: No team will be scheduled to play on Thursday and Saturday of a given week

So let me get this right, the 4 wildcard teams, all are currently playing on Saturday Oct. 22nd, and then they would play again on Wednesday or Thursday, and the winners play again on Saturday or Sunday, and then again on Wednesday or Thursday, and the winners then would play again on Saturday or Sunday.  So while this new schedule would be murder even on the top 6 teams, playing 3 matches in 7 days, for a wild card team it would be playing 4 matches in 10 days.  Then a two week break before the November 20th MLS Cup.

Umm hello, I have to believe I am not the only one who thinks that is insane.  So to compare it I thought we would look at the schedule of the 2010 MLS Cup Champions, the Colorado Rapids (yes that still make me puke a little bit each time I say, type or think it).  They played their first playoff match on  Thursday, Oct 28th, , they then played the second leg on Saturday, November 6th  (yes that is 1 day less than the entire playoffs this year), then they played on Saturday, Nov 13th, before heading to MLS Cup on Sunday, Nov. 21st.

So MLS in their wisdom add another round, and then take 14 days off.  Yup, we have a real brain trust in charge of MLS.  Now let's just think about a couple of aspects, first player safety, you know after we lost a few top players to stupid fouls the league suspended players for putting others in danger, and now they do the same thing with short recovery times.  Then let's think about travel time, now there are no ways to know what will happen in the playoffs, but if you don't mind I am going to play devil's advocate for a minute:

Say a road team wins in the wildcard round on Thursday, they then have to travel home on Friday, do regen with no rest, then they would have one day of practice to prepare to face either the #1 or #2 overall seed on Sunday.  Now this is possible, but it seems to me that player safety and fitness, as well as fair play in competition both take a back seat.  But think about this, say Sporting KC plays RSL on Thursday, do they assume they will win and sell tickets to their fans?  Knowing if they lose that they will probably need to issue over 10K refunds, or do they take a more conservative approach and not sell tickets until after the match with less than 72 hours to do so?  

Then after playing at home on Sunday, they would then need to be in for either a Wednesday or Thursday match. This means regen on Monday, and then either a flight Monday night or Tuesday morning (depending on if MLS would pony up for an extra day at a hotel) and then one day of practice before another match.  Then if they were to win the series they would need to very likely travel directly to the location of their Conference final opponent without going home for regen, and again, they would likely have one day of practice for a Conference Championship match.

Now I understand that for some the FIFA dates in November are huge as they represent the final two dates of the 2nd World Cup qualifying round for CONCACAF, but I am going to go out on a limb here and say I think moving the MLS Cup to the Sunday after Thanksgiving might be the wisest move.  It would allow teams to play their Conference Finals on Saturday, Nov. 19th and then have time to train, recover, travel and be ready for a MLS Cup Final on Sunday, Nov. 27th.

I think the mistake was adding a round for Wildcards, I think having 8 of 18 teams qualifying for the playoffs is plenty and would make the regular season mean more than it currently does.  I still am a firm believer that MLS must at some point simply go with the top teams making it in and not being so hung up on a Conference system that adds no value currently and even when we leave a balanced schedule (a sad day for MLS) shouldn't be used to determine what teams make the playoffs.  The current system punishes teams who have an excellent regular season but are in a stronger conference, by making them enter via a wildcard match while teams with a worse regular season get a distinct advantage of not having to play an extra match.

Oh I know, there are some of you out there who think that no matter what was announced that I would find flaws with it.  You are probably right, but when the solution to the problem is so very, very simple, to not point out the mistakes of the current system would be negligent and I for one care too much about my team, the league, and the sport to allow poor decision to go without being criticized.

OFF MY SOAPBOX 

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