If it must be 10

November, 24, 2010

Ian Darke promised "breakthrough news" would be coming out of MLS commissioner Don Garber's halftime interview during Sunday night's MLS Cup final, so I made sure not to be at the fridge during the interval. Still, I came away feeling I missed something.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the "breakthrough news" was that MLS would expand the playoffs to 10 teams next season, right? I mean, saying that the league would talk about changing to a FIFA-friendly schedule down the road isn't "news," is it?

No, it had to be the 10-team playoffs. Which left me with nothing but a sigh.

Unless -- and I don't expect this to be the case -- MLS follows the Bradley Format.

I've been pitching it for years with six teams, but it could work with 10.

Here's what I'm talking about:

1. Single-table (not happening, but humor me).

2. Top two teams host MLS Cup semifinals.

3. Teams 3-10 "play off" for a chance to appear in the semis. So, it's 3 versus 10; 4 versus 9 and so on. Re-seed after the first round so the best teams continue to get home-field advantage.

Or…if MLS insists on two conferences, East and West champions host MLS Cup semifinals.

In East and West, it's 2 versus 5 and 3 versus 4 in a four-team playoff. Re-seed after first round so the best teams continue to get home-field advantage.

After watching Sunday's game, and the last few MLS Cups for that matter, it's becoming more and more apparent that American-style playoffs are not good for getting the best two teams into the final. This is no knock on the Rapids, who proved to be the best team in a knockout-style tournament. But the current format is too much like college basketball's March Madness and, in a league that's parity-driven, there needs to be a greater reward for being the best team over the course of the full season.

The thing that's lacking from most American professional sports -- ever since MLB decided to expand its playoffs in 1995 -- is a regular season where the fan gets a lot of bang for the buck. Go to a regular-season NBA or NHL game and the building's usually dead. Where MLB used to have incredible pennant races, now too often there's the safety net of the wild card to protect a team that's falling out of a race.

I'm not stupid, I know it's all money-driven, but until MLS starts packing stadiums for all its playoff games, it makes sense to enhance the regular season and give the best teams the best chance to win MLS Cup.

Now that would be a "breakthrough."



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