Max Bretos had an interesting suggestion last night. After noting that none of the higher seeds held an advantage in any of the playoffs series thus far, he opined that the current MLS playoff format was a bit unfair to the higher seed. He proposed that the home-and-away series be switched from the current first round to the conference final round, with the first round being a winner-take-all match at the higher seed's home stadium.
I mulled that over. I'm not sure that the current structure is so unfair. Thing is, I don't believe that any playoff team has put away their opponent. After what the Earthquakes pulled on the Galaxy in 2003, everyone knows that not even a four-goal lead is safe. No team in the current playoffs has more than a one-goal lead.
Basically, I have a hard time believing that any of the teams coming home for the final game isn't confident that playing at home for the final game isn't the exact advantage they need to control their destiny. Frankly, if a team can't beat any MLS opponent at home for the right to continue to battle for the championship, they don't deserve to move on. Even a one-goal win by the home teams would guarantee overtime and perhaps a winner-take-all penalty kick format.
Plus, it's hard for me to look at the playoffs as such an upset when Chivas USA is missing both Ante Razov and Maykel Galindo, or when Chicago merely continues its jinx versus DC United. FC Dallas and New York's results are a bit more surprising, but given their playoff history, I'm more than a bit skeptical that they can finish the job.
Rumor had it that the late Lamar Hunt insisted on the current playoff format, after the league owners scaled back the playoffs to save costs. He contended that reaching the playoffs was an honor, and that each team's fans deserved to see and cheer their team in at least one playoff match. The current format allows that, but the solution Bretos proposed does not.
There's a certain logic to Hunt's argument, but I'd like to hear from readers what they'd prefer. Frankly, I'd like more of a Champions League style format - continuing the home and away set-up all through the playoffs, until the final match, which would of course be the winner take all. I realize that would somewhat nullify the home-game advantage that the higher seed in the conference final currently gets.