Saturday, November 6, 2010
Eastern Conference ousted from playoffs
By Charlie Corr
Major League Soccer's playoff system typically doesn't turn out the way it is supposed to on paper.
At this point last year, the Chicago Fire faced the Western Conference's Real Salt Lake in the Eastern Conference Final. That set up an MLS Cup that featured RSL and the Los Angeles Galaxy, with Salt Lake earning the crown.
This year is also guaranteed to have a West champion, only both conference finals have yet to take place.
On Saturday, West wild card team Colorado Rapids topped the East's Columbus Crew in a shootout, sending Colorado to the East final to face a fellow West opponent, the San Jose Earthquakes.
Former Fire player trackers might be interested in this year's East matchup, with two former Chicago goalkeepers -- Jon Busch of the Quakes and Matt Pickens of Colorado -- manning the nets. Beyond that, the East final is for the Western half of the country to latch onto.
For those unfamiliar with the MLS playoff format, the top two teams from each conference during the regular season advance, followed by four wild card teams based on their accumulated regular-season points. This year, all four wild cards were from the West -- FC Dallas, Seattle Sounders FC, Colorado and San Jose.
Fans have the right to voice some displeasure about not seeing an East team even attempt to qualify for this year's MLS Cup. But did any Eastern Conference organization truly earn the opportunity to be in the final?
The Western Conference dominated this year under a regular-season schedule that equally pits two games against each MLS opponent, regardless of conference. Even at the bottom of the wild-card table, San Jose (13-10-7, 46 points) had seven more points than the East's Kansas City Wizards (11-13-6, 39 points) and 10 more points than the Fire (9-12-9, 36 points).
Columbus had a good start to the season, holding an unbeaten record through its first eight matches. But the Crew also posted only two regular-season wins spanning September and October. New York made for an exciting story -- a worst-to-first team in the span of a year. But the Red Bulls could not hold onto their aggregate scoring lead in the postseason while hosting San Jose at Red Bull Arena.
The majority of this year's hot streaks were in the West, particularly the Galaxy's unbeaten start. L.A. did not suffer a loss until a 1-0 defeat against Salt Lake on June 9. Salt Lake had only four regular-season losses this year -- just one defeat after April.
MLS certainly could (and should) change the current playoff format to represent the country a little better. But in the meantime, maybe the Eastern Conference teams need to step up their play on the pitch.