Good Friday morning Caps fans, hope you all had a spooky Halloween and that you aren’t rotting your teeth with leftover candy (no comment on that front).
The main event looms large: The Caps will take on LAFC to fight for their playoff lives on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. PST.
The club announced that they will take the rare step of opening up the top deck, meaning we should see an awful lot of fans at BC Place to try and lift the boys to victory. Doing this requires the logical reasoning of an amoeba but credit to the club for trying to maximize interest in the biggest (non Voyageurs Cup final) match in recent memory.
But while we wait for Sunday to arrive, why don’t we zoom out and take stock of the first round of the playoffs as a whole? Namely, what should we make of the new first round playoff format, which MLS has touted heavily (but which was largely imagined to help ensure Apple has enough TV inventory).
I was skeptical of the notion of expanding the playoffs when it was announced earlier this year but, at the time, was open to a new playoff format. I’ve always been partial to the single elimination format but this certainly does have flaws — namely that a one-off match doesn’t always produce the best soccer, nor does it necessarily reward a more deserving team.
There are certainly examples to the contrary in recent MLS history (need we forget that the two best teams in the league qualified for last year’s MLS Cup, which was perhaps the most exciting final in league history). But a three-match format can’t be boring, right?
Well, the good news about the format is it kept a bunch of teams (Caps included) alive after bad performances. Only two of the matches were settled by one-goal margins and some were absolute blowouts (again, Caps included).
There is a bit of good news here: Fears that teams like FC Dallas, New York Red Bulls or Nashville SC might be rewarded for trying to play for penalties with conservative soccer were not realized. Indeed, in only one match did the lower seeded team win (Sporting KC’s pasting of St. Louis City SC).
But I get the theoretical concern. Let’s imagine that the Caps scrape a 1-0 win on Sunday night, then return to LA and win in penalties. LA will be sent packing, despite only losing one match and out-scoring Vancouver handedly. That is certainly an exciting outcome but doesn’t exactly seem fair — LA (or Philadelphia or FC Cincinnati) are not rewarded for commanding victories.
In part, this is by design. Treating each match as a self-contained entity means that the losing team has every incentive to play entertaining soccer and push forward to try and pull off a miracle. If away goals or goal differential are in play, the risk-reward calculation changes considerably.
Players have not been shy about bemoaning the new format and fans seem lukewarm as well. Obviously the TV executives are probably OK with how things are playing out but they aren’t reading this blog (if anyone from TSN is reading this blog, drop us a line).
The best-of-three format does have precedent in the North American sports world and it is certainly not the worst idea MLS has ever had. But if this writer has his way, it will be relegated to the dustbin of history and the knockout format restored. Hopefully this only happens after the Caps storm back and win MLS Cup.
Shameless Self Promotion
Catch the latest podcast before Sunday to get caught up on all things Caps, CPL and more
Best of the Rest
A nice feature on Vanni Sartini and how the players feel about his unique management style
More on the uncharted territory of the upper bowl at BC Place being opened by both the Lions and Caps
Riding a near-Golden Boot season, Giorgos Giakoumakis nabbed MLS’ newcomer of the award
The Caps have a presence in Canada’s U-17 World Cup roster, announced Thursday