What follows is one humble man’s (brief) impressions of his first MLS playoffs… Hey! It was Halloween weekend. Give us a break.
Wanna hear a scary story? This is the first time I’ve watched any MLS post-season action in over three years of seriously caring about soccer. Not that you’re looking for an explanation, but I’ve never had anything against the MLS. It’s just never worked with my schedule. Aston Villa and the Premier League made it very easy for me to become obsessed with it. Even during my crazy busy college years, it was rare that I had anything going on Saturday mornings before noon. It was pretty simple waking up and pulling up an online stream or driving to the Brewhouse in Atlanta. As strange as it sounds, the time difference enabled me. The MLS was always going up against college football or the NFL, or were doing games on weeknights when I was doing whatever I would be doing on weeknights (it was generally something, however). I never had anything against the MLS, but I never cared enough to start shifting things around in my schedule to accomodate it.
A bye-week for the Falcons and the general hype surrounding LA/Red Bulls compelled me to watch; during halftime I had to get on Wikipedia to make heads or tails of the playoff system. It occurred to me how strange it must be for Henry, Keane, and other foreigners to come to the US and play in our strange hybrid attempt to Americanize the sport. “You mean to tell me that effectively all the work we did to have a great season could mean absolutely nothing if we lose this over two legs?” Perhaps I’m exaggerating slightly: there are elements of the American playoff system to the League Cups in International Leagues. And yet when Villa are inevitable knocked out of the Carling Cup (is it even called that anymore?) by a terrible team, it’s not like the season is over. The ultimate validation is where you finish in the table. Sure, hardware’s a perk, and it can get painful to be without it for a long period of time (amirite, Arsenal?), but I’d take a fourth place finish for Villa over a trophy on most days.
It begs the question: what’s the point? I’m not gonna come down on either side here, but I would be intrigued to see the MLS Cup start when the Cope Del Rey starts (OK, we do have the U.S. Open cup, which, I’m told, is similar to the FA Cup etc.). What would be the effect? I imagine that the typical American sports fan wouldn’t be able to handle the dragging out of what should be a very exciting month or so. We don’t do delayed gratification here very well. Other than that, would there be any realistic differences? Ratings probably wouldn’t change very much; advertisers would still cash in on the big matches; same length to the season, players play same amount of matches. On the other hand, I can’t think of any reason not to keep it the way it is right now. I suppose in the end, it’s just a peculiar quirk of the way two similar cultures view the same type of event. Like driving on the other side of the road.