116street Soccer

Footballing from a lesser authority...

Location: New York, New York

Monday, November 06, 2006

Really Needs Fixing?

This may be an unpopular opinion in some circles, but I am going to set my passive Eurosnobbery aside and say it outright: I like the MLS playoffs, I like the two-conference format, and I think going single-table with no playoffs is a bad idea. Let's be perfectly honest here; if D.C. United had lifted the trophy weeks ago, would there be any incentive to follow the league from that moment forward?
I am perfectly aware that the current format makes the regular season less relevant than Studio 60, and I have taken into account the fact that promotion/relegation would spice things up a little, but we need to seriously evaluate the landscape faced by MLS. European, single-table leagues are augmented by the alternate, season-long pursuit of the Champions League, as well as domestic cup competition, the equivalents of which are executed sloppily here in the States.
Let's take a look, for instance, at the Concacaf Champions Cup, a tournament for which public awareness and interest is at a minimum in this country, and is at times seen as a nuisance by its own participants. For public interest in this tournament to exceed that of MLS Cup (in a similar manner to that of the UEFA Champions League), some serious structural work would need to be performed (starting over, perhaps?), work that might exceed the grasp of the league and its partners.
The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup has a higher profile, but currently lacks the marketing and television partnerships required to make it a serious competitor to MLS Cup as a domestic championship. Teams do take it seriously, and public interest is decent, but for an MLS single-table to actually work, the Open Cup Final would have to have national television coverage and take place after the season (the former would be very hard to pull off at this point, while the latter could be viable).
As for promotion/relegation, MLS' single-entity structure and stadium initiatives, as well as shared ownership of some teams, puts it a very long way off, and I for one, think that is a very good thing. Honestly, if there is anything worse than watching bad MLS teams, it's watching teams that are worse than bad MLS teams, and there are not enough quality players in this country to go around at the moment. I love promotion and relegation as much as the next guy, but this league is not ready for it, nor will it be for quite a while.
This, of course, brings us back to the MLS format, which really isn't so bad, all things being equal. The playoffs brought us the Dario Sala incident, a renewed rivalry between New York and D.C., the Arena-Wynalda broadcast pairing, and a very fun final matchup between Houston and New England. Fan interest remains high, the rivalries are intensifying and the league's profile continues to progress. What's so wrong about that? Maybe it isn't formatted exactly like the Premiership, but it's been enjoyable all the same. As for the regular season, my remedy would be to cut the number of playoff teams from eight to four. Have a two-leg conference final, followed by one final match, and the stakes are upped for everyone. Honestly, if you think having fewer playoff teams would decrease interest for fans of teams out of the playoff race, what do you think single-table would do? Only truly deserving teams would make the playoffs, and the playoff push would provide great entertainment. Let's not be in such a rush to emulate everything European.


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