A Bad Way to End a Season?

That’s what is being asked over at the Reuters Soccer Blog on the back of the MLS Cup Final last night, where Colorado beat Dallas in a snowy Toronto.  For those uninitiated and used to a diet of European or South American football (soccer – like the Reuters blogger I’m English and hence snobbish about the name of our sport!), most American sports leagues end with a play-off tournament as opposed to the highest finishing team (which would have been David Beckham’s LA Galaxy) walking away with the honours.

There has to be multiple layers to this complaint; the English writer is used to a “European”, non-play-off system, but is also open to reforming the playoffs for the MLS Cup – the  game was played infront of a half-empty stadium in a chilly Toronto, thousands of miles from either of the competing teams’s homes.  Why not having something akin to a series of games, a-la Stanley Cup instead so that the fans of these two teams get to see their team’s moment of glory?

But the blogger at Reuters is also asking why the MLS doesn’t just crown the top team, as is common practice across the football world.  It gives some of the reasons, notably maximising TV revenue (but then they scheduled this game at the same time as a rather tasty NFL game by all accounts), and also adding that extra bit of excitement – it is true that having the top team win the whole thing means there is no guarantee of a winner-takes-all game (I can think of only one such thing in England and that came back in the late 1980s when Arsenal went to Liverpool needing to win by two clear goals to deny their hosts the Championship, and duly did so.

The question would seem to boil down to what the fee-paying spectators want at the end of the day: They are the life and death of a sport, and particularly in North America where sporting culture is somewhat different to elsewhere in the world, the playoff would seem the natural way to end a tournament, whereas it would seem entirely unnatural elsewhere and hence would be unlikely to work.

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