Sunday, November 16, 2008


New York beat Real Salt Lake on Saturday in the Western Conference final and will play in the MLS Cup final against Columbus Crew.

How many people could have seen that coming just a couple of weeks ago?

The Red Bulls are making a miraculous run to their first-ever MLS Cup title and while I criticized the Red Bulls' participation in the playoffs, I think I'm changing my mind. I welcome the Red Bulls' run to the cup and hope they continue to make noise. If they do win MLS Cup, we will have two non-deserving playoff teams win the title in a span of four years. Along with the 2005 LA Galaxy, who had the ninth best regular season record that year, the Red Bulls are helping expose the sham of a playoff system MLS has in place.

This reminds me of 2005 quite a bit actually. Perhaps the only difference was the Galaxy won their first playoff game and held the top-seeded 'Quakes on the return leg. I remember talking to Kevin Hartman, then the Galaxy's goalkeeper, and he was not at all masking his thoughts about the postseason, which he referred to then as a "four-week tournament."

Here's what he told me in the tunnel outside the Galaxy locker room almost four years ago to the day.

"What a great team they (San Jose) were. As far as I'm concerned, they deserve some sort of trophy other than the Supporters' Shield. Throughout the world games are very, very important week in and week out because whoever wins the league standings is the champion and then you have your cups or whatever the case may be. I understand this is a very American-type thing, to do a playoff format, but I think it does tend to slight teams like San Jose who don't quite get it at the right page at the right time."

And here's what he had to say about the MLS regular season.

"It's difficult to keep games hyped up in June and July. The fact is they're not as important. San Jose wins the entire conference and unfortunately for them they have to play us in a two-game series where they have to go on the road for one game and then go try to pull it together at home."

Now, what's different this time around is that New York won 3-0 on the road as opposed to winning the first game and then holding serve on the road. But Hartman was dead on back then about his observations regarding the regular season and those words ring true today. Games are not as important in June and July. They just are not. They weren't important in June/July 2005 and they weren't important in June/July 2008. More teams has not translated into more meaning. Statistically it is more difficult to make the playoffs now than it was in '05. There were 12 teams then with eight going through and now there are eight from 14. But that's still more than half, and statistically it is more likely for a team to make the playoffs than to miss them.

At this point of the playoffs, the Red Bulls have earned their ticket to MLS Cup 08. They have played excellent soccer, probably the best of any team in the postseason. They have gone on the road and pulled out two tough shutout victories, impressive considering they won just once away from Giants Stadium during the regular season. The Red Bulls have been impressive and many more people (including myself) will give them an opportunity to win MLS Cup.

(As an aside, I'd promised a reader to ease up on the playoff bashing but I really just had to get that off my chest.)

Anyway, here's hoping the Red Bulls continue to make noise and expose the playoff system for the pathetic joke that it is.


Dan Haug said...

Hey Luis,
I've got to say that I disagree with you saying that the Red Bulls have played well in the playoffs.

They have executed a strategy, but I would argue they are here more by luck than anything else. They played Houston even at home, and then were outplayed in Houston. The Dynamo chances just did not go in for them, and the Red Bulls got a lucky PK and a late counter-attack goal.

In the RSL match, Salt Lake had one horrible defensive breakdown, but hit the post, what, five times?

I'm not saying that they don't deserve to be where they are. It's just that they are an inferior team that has used the only strategy available to them to advance. They have been very very lucky, but they did put themselves in the position to take advantage of that luck.

If you compare that to the 2005 Galaxy run, LA played very well in the playoffs. They were not dominated in possession. They were a little lucky against New England in the final, but I thought they had the edge in play against SJ and Colorado.

Anonymous said...

How about a 6 team playoff with number one seeds in each division getting a first-round bye?

L.B. said...

A six team playoff with byes for the top seed would be good. It would put a lot more emphasis on the regular season and really make teams covet a top seed. Now its not necessarily an advantage to finish with a higher seed. In fact the regular season provides little advantage to begin with. Your regular season can be a notch of two above terrible and it doesn't matter.

Anonymous said...

Nice give fewer games column. If New York wins the MLS Cup they had to beat Houston the best team in the west, a Salt Lake team playing at their best soccer of the year, and supporters shield winners Columbus. If the Red Bulls win the MLS Cup give them some credit.

L.B. said...

Give them credit? Did you read the part where I said I felt they've been playing the best soccer in the playoffs? I think that counts as credit.

Gregg said...

I have always thought the Supporters Shield is the more important of the two. It takes a lot to have the best regular season record and it really only takes a hot few weeks to win the MLS cup. I would love it if they would put the emphasis on the regular season and still hold the tournament at the end of the season as a league cup that takes qualifiers from how people finish in the regular season.

I know I'm dreaming.

Anonymous said...

As much as I hate to see any east coast teams win anything in any sport, I have to admit that the Red Bulls have been playing some good soccer, but I agree that the playoff system needs to be changed in order for the regular season to mean something.

Dylan said...

Do you feel the same way about the Mexican playoffs? Eight out of fourteen isn't that different than eight out of eighteen.

[And is it true the Liguilla starts Wednesday, the same day as the CONCACAF qualifiers? I can't find a definitive source.]

L.B. said...

Hi Dylan,

The playoffs start on the 22nd, not on the same day as the qualifiers.

As far as the system in Mexico goes, it is a bit unfair considering Chivas and Morelia each finished with more points than Santos but neither made it through. I think the reason why I don't feel the same with that one, though, is that there are two seasons per calendar year. It probably doesn't make sense and I've wondered about this comparison for several years but that seems to be the main reason. The Mexican league should just go to a single table since the groups change every before every Apertura season. As far as the number goes, statistically in Mexico it is harder to miss the playoffs than it is to make them.