Sunday, October 28, 2007

Format finagling

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.


Nutmegger said...

Agree with you AC. I think it should be a home and away time for both the quarters and the semis.

Anonymous said...

Arena had a great suggestion.... Single table regular season home and away with the top 8 teams qualifying for the MLS Cup. The playoffs could be all home and away.

Although no regulation the fight during the regular season to reach the top 8 would have teams battling each week.

East River said...

I wouldn't mind having some type of away goal rule in effect to make the away team more aggressive and not so willing to sit back and wait for the return leg on their home field. Interesting to note that MLS playoffs you to have the home and away format years ago but I forget which years. Originally the playoffs were best of 3 games series but MLS quickly threw that format out. I would welcome home and away for quaters and semis. I would even consider a playoff format similar to Superliga's group stage followed by quarters and semis with single games or home and away games.

Beax Speax said...

I'm not a fan of the away goal rule. There's no evidence it makes the away team play more aggressively. If that had been in effect, we'd have never seen the Miracle in San Jose.

East River said...

Yeah not everyone is a fan of the away rule for various reasons its just not everyones cup of tea. But one thing is for sure definitely you don't want to give up a goal to the visiting team. It has its pluses and minuses, maybe having an away goals rule for series tied on goals. However games like the miracle in San Jose are way to rare in the MLS to stick with the status quo.

Anonymous said...

Yep, I like a home and away format up until the championship game. The higher seeds gets its benefit of being the higher seed just by playing the lower seed.

My Opinion Over Yours said...

If they decide to have both rounds be home and away then what real incentive is there to reach the top 2 spots?

Anonymous said...

I agree with the announcer. Personally, I'd prefer to see the teams who have earned an advantage (top 4) get one with a first round home playoff game. Once you've reached the conference finals, it seems fair to go with a home-and-home series with the higher seed getting the second game in their house.

Abrarob said...

I prefer the Mexican system:
Home (lower seed) and home (higher seed) "180 minute games".
The higher seeded team can advance with a 'total goals tie." Away-goal rule not applicable.
So if DC wins 1-0 over Chicago on Thursday they would advance for example, as oppossed to having to play extra time which is what would happen under the current system.
Also, the first two rounds should be home and home. This would give the higher seeds the advantage they fought for during the regular season. So people like Bruce Arena can't say that 'qualifying andywhere for the playoffs' is the same anymore.

siva said...

I wonder if giving the higher-seeded team the option of choosing the order (home v. away) in a home-and-away series would make sense. Some of the more attacking teams might prefer to first score 2 or 3 goals at home, build up a lead and sit back and defend on the away leg, confident that they've *already* built up a lead. Imagine DCU going into Chicago with a 3-0 or 3-1 lead, or Houston going into Dallas with a 2-0 lead...

Despite what the coaches and players say, all the higher-seeded teams seemed to be playing a very conservative game, nervous as hell that they would give up too many goals.

I mean, 4-5-1, for crying out loud? (yes, I know they're missing Razov and Galindo, still....)