Thursday, February 10, 2011

On Cascadia, MLS Playoffs and other things

I read a pretty well written piece today by Stanley Holmes on SportsPress Northwest calling for an increase in the MLS salary cap. As much as I agree with the article, I must say that this is a moot point at this time. The league is in just the 2nd year of the 5 year Collective Bargaining Agreement(CBA) and the cap has been set. This would have been a timely piece last year as the negotiations were going on but now it's just old hat stuff.

I find that this is just the latest in a group of articles, posts, tweets, etc about this and other issues coming out of the northwest. Now I don't know Mr. Holmes. I don't know how long he has been following MLS and its issues, but I do find it amusing how the fans in the northwest are acting as if they have discovered something new about MLS. I find it particulary interesting how some Sounders fans are complaining about supporting other MLS clubs via revenue sharing. Don't get me wrong. I think the Cascadia teams are great for MLS. I don't think anyone suspected how successful the Seattle club would be. After all, they were drawing middle of the road numbers while in USL-1. But suddenly I see posts, etc. where Sounders fans think they deserve every consideration, every MLS Cup, All-Star game and the cookies in the cookie jar.

To the great fans in the Northwest I say this... Enjoy your teams and learn your MLS history. The game will change, but slowly. Salary caps will increase and I suspect single entity will end at some time, but not anytime soon. Understand that having the highest attendance gains you the admiration of many, myself included, but does not grant extra privileges.


I also read Brian Strauss' latest on the MLS schedule and playoffs. One thing I take exception to is the theme that the playoff structure makes the regular season nearly irrelevant and lacking a compelling element on a game by game basis. Can it be said that it's any different in the 'Big Four' US pro leagues? By the 2/3 point in the season, there are a few teams that are near locks to make the playoffs, a few that are a near longshot to make the playoffs and a group in the middle that is competing to get to the big dance. Why is their regular season anymore or less compelling than MLS?

I find it a bit ingenuous to call the MLS playoffs abbreviated such that they don't "determine a champion in a manner that captivates fans".What's so different from the other major sports playoffs? It's win or go home whether it be via a series or one off games as in the NFL and MLS Cup. So what makes the other championships more compelling? Fan interest. Plain and simple. Those of us who view soccer as our #1 sporting interest would love for MLS Cup to be surrounded by the same fanfare as the Stanley Cup or the World Series, but there simply aren't enough fans to make it so. The short shrift given the sport by ESPN in particular, as Brian points out, is a critical missing element in building the interest in the game. That may be a shallow method, rather than garnering fans via a direct interest in the beautiful game, but let's face it, if ESPN bombards its viewers with a buildup for MLS games and playoffs as it does for the other sports, people will wonder what it's all about, take notice and some will tune in. The structure of the season and the playoffs is a non-factor in the 'compelling' nature of the championship.

Speaking of Playoffs

The first number represents the seeding within the teams' conference. The second number is the overall seed based on win total. In the case of the NHL and MLS I used point totals. And for MLS I used just the overall seeding irrespective of conference.

Playoffs Playoffs Playoffs Playoffs Playoffs
 01-02 A2(4)N1(1) E1(3)W3(2) E7(16)W1(1) A4(4)N4(7) 15
 02-03 A1(2)N2(1) E2(8)W1(1) E2(5)W7(10) A1(1)N3(8) 12
 03-04 A1(1)N3(4) E3(6)W2(4) E1(2)W6(12) A4(3)N1(1) 41
 04-05 A2(2)N1(3) E2(5)W2(3) lockout A1(2)N4(8) 82
 05-06 A6(4)N1(2) E2(5)W4(3) E2(3)W8(13) A4(4)N3(13) 53
 06-07 A3(4)N1(2) E2(7)W3(3) E4(7)W2(3) A1(1)N1(6) 34
 07-08 A1(1)N5(4) E1(1)W1(3) E2(4)W1(1) A2(2)N2(5) 18
 08-09 A2(2)N4(5) E3(4)W1(2) E4(8)W2(3) A1(1)N2(5) 82
 09-10 A1(1)N1(2) E4(9)W1(3) E7(15)W2(3) A3(8)N2(5) 74

What does this table say? For the 9 year period in the table, out of 44 championships, the overall #1 seed won 11 times(25%). The #1 MLS seed won 33% of the titles. The overall #1 played #2 3 times. The conference #1 seeds have met 3 times(1 time in MLS).

The conference system has inherent problems for sports purists. It is almost inevitable that deserving teams will be locked out of the playoffs. For example in the most recent NFL championship, 5 teams had more wins than playoff participant Seattle. In fact, the MLS system used for the past two years makes it nearly impossible for that to happen. We'll have to wait and see what system the league has in mind for 2011. Hopefully, it will be such that the top 10 will make it in. I have a hard time envisioning a system that would prevent that.

As for the whining that permeated the blogosphere this year over western teams in the eastern championships, the solution is simple. Rename the conferences without a geographical reference. What a specious bit of outrage. I do, however, agree that the playoffs should be seed based, regardless of conference. That would be a problem for the 'Don' as he really likes the idea of a conference champion via a playoff. Too bad. The team that finishes first in the regular season is the conference champion. Of course with a balanced schedule, it's pretty meaningless but what the hell, give them a cup.

Oh yeah, I disagree with the league expanding the playoffs to 10 teams. Dumb.

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