If you've spent enough time on this site then you will know by now that I'm the resident buzz harsher here at Soapbox Towers. I take pride in being able to turn a 4-0 win against former champions Portland Timbers into a bad thing. I love talking about how Yura Movsisyan was not the striker we needed before we slapped two million dollars into his back pocket. The only reason I wake up in a morning is to tell you all that Nick Rimando is on the way down.
I kid, of course. I don't enjoy it when the team struggles and while reflecting where things could be better is important to a team it should never be at the expense of the positives. No matter what happens now, Real Salt Lake have entertained their fans with a story that could end on a dizzying high or a bitter sweet defeat. That's the power of a closed league with a post season.
Post season action is not always something us in the UK get to see thanks to our league structure; the top two/three teams (depending on the league) get promoted while the bottom two/three/four (again, depending on the league) get relegated, no second chances. The lion's share of the teams remain where they are but the four team under those in automatic promotion positions go into the playoffs to determine who will gain promotion. It's a system many purists in the US have been clamouring for and to be honest I hate it. I won't go into the massive detail but this system has created a monopoly for the top clubs, killed so many clubs who couldn't support the growth and then contraction of promotion and relegation (Coventry, Blackburn, Blackpool, Portsmouth, Wigan, Bradford, Leeds United and even Manchester City have all be victims of this at some point) and has left so many clubs snapping at the same scraps that most of them are simply treading water, too good to go down but never strong enough to go up.
It makes for a very dull season at times. MLS teams now are getting ready for the off season, the playoff run to take them to full glory and honestly it's exciting to see. Even as somebody who has followed the league for a while I still find the level of passion at this point in the season amazing. Nothing is final until the very last day, something rarely said about the Pro/Rel leagues. Every game is still worth fighting for and there's still more to come, which creates an atmosphere within fan communities like no other. We're cheering other teams so we can get a better place, we're developing new rivals for screwing us over in the final push. Quite simply, we very rarely get this experience outside of MLS and yet it's one of the most exciting things about soccer.
It creates a lot of new dynamics as well as playoff games are where players create their legacies. Real Salt Lake's greatest striker in the history of the club, Devon Sandoval, came up huge in 2013 with a goal that got us ahead against Portland. Those reputations might not always be the one you want though as Lovel Palmer learned after his game-losing miss against SKC in the historic 2013 MLS Cup final. It's a place in soccer where drama lives, where season long quests come to a conclusive ending rather than the constant cliffhanger most Pro/Rel league teams find themselves in.
Take Stoke City. They have been in the EPL since the 2008-09 season and here is where they have finished: 12th, 11th, 13th, 14th, 13th, 9th, 9th, 9th and 13th. They are a good team but they've achieved nothing, done nothing, won nothing and made no progress on anything in almost a decade. A full decade of mediocrity and it doesn’t look like it will change that this year. In that time, 12 different teams have made it into the MLS Cup finals. You can't compare the two in terms of excitement, a closed league with a post season is more exciting.
There is a thing called Narrative Psychology, which states that human beings will always try and turn things into a story that makes sense as the brain has been conditioned to think this way and we simply can't deal with the idea that things can happen at random with no connection. We seek the satisfaction of cause and effect; if you see something on the floor, you will instantly think that somebody has dropped it. That's your brain making a narrative.
No matter how the story ends for Real Salt Lake, it's decisive. If we fail to win then we told the story of a team fallen on hard times, starting in the worst way possible and under extreme circumstances making a heroic push only to fall short on the last days. At best, we become the most unlikely MLS Cup champions for the second time in a row, upsetting everybody who would say we're a team to be written off. They've made movies about sports teams with worse stories than this and you're only getting that in MLS. We're hanging on to the final day hoping for a miracle.
It's October now and the EPL is only a few weeks old but I'd guess most Stoke fans don't think they are winning the league and won't be worrying about going down either. MLS has created a model that would give far more excitement to fans across the board and it’s something we should be proud of. Don’t shy away from making noise about the playoffs in the face off Eurosnobs shouting about how the regular season is all pointless. Toronto have shown that the Supporters Shield has just as much relevance as the MLS Cup. We should be proud of our league and the way it’s run because come the end of the EPL, fans of that league won’t have anywhere near as much fun as us.