Bringing MLS-style playoffs to Europe? Wouldn’t that be fun! By Charles Posted on December 28, 2012 1 0 722 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Over the years, in various publications, I’ve had fun with reversing the criticisms often tossed at North America’s soccer makeup. What does that mean? If you’re a follower of MLS or NASL or USL or university-level soccer in North America, you’ve heard the criticisms of the playoff structures. You’ve been told that deciding champions through straight tables is far better than Cup finals. You’ve been told that allowing multiple teams into the playoffs rewards mediocrity. And you’ve been told that the table system is sooooo much better, even while you watch a late-season meaningless match between eighth- and ninth-place EPL teams, or see Barcelona make pretty well half of the La Liga season meaningless (same with Celtic in Scotland) because Messi and co. have taken such a large lead over the rest of the field. So, I offer this response: Wouldn’t European leagues be so much better with playoffs? Yes, the tongue is in the cheek. It’s the holiday season and this is written in the spirit of fun, not malice. But, instead of withering over your pint when you are told North American leagues just aren’t legitimate with their playoffs and championship games, respond with this: Having a playoff system is far more preferable than watching Barcelona and Celtic decide their leagues with months to go in their seasons. A league that’s wrapped up with months to go is, well, well, well… Boring. That’s the word. Boring. As many goals as Barca can score, it’s not really “entertainment” to watch it win 7-0 over a last-place La Liga team so it can pile on to its already large lead at the top of the table. So, once again, to provide a counterpoint, I present the scenario: What if the EPL had playoffs? For a legitimate point of reference, I’ve introduced the MLS playoff system to the Premiership, breaking the 20 teams into two “divisions” of 10, based as close as can be to a North-South split in England and Wales (can’t forget Swansea, you know). Because geographical splits in sport tend not to be based solely on, well, geography, we’ve preserved the Birmingham-area rivalry by keeping Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion together in the North Division, while Norwich is sent to the South. (Even though MLS found a way to split its two Texas teams, which is weird). So, based on the standings as of Friday, if we applied an MLS format to the EPL, the standings (and, ahem, playoff races) would read as follows: NORTH Manchester United 46 Manchester City 39 Everton 33 WBA 33 Stoke 28 Liverpool 25 Sunderland 22 Newcastle 20 Aston Villa 18 Wigan 15 SOUTH Chelsea 35 Tottenham 33 Arsenal 30 Swansea 25 Norwich 25 West Ham 23 Fulham 21 Southampton 16 Reading 10 QPR 10 If the season ended today? In the North, we’d have a midweek wild-card match between Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns; the winner of that game would host the first leg of a home-and-away series with Manchester United. Manchester City would face Everton in the other Northern playoff. In the South, Swansea, because of more goals scored (that’s the MLS tiebreaker), would host Norwich City in the South wild-card match-up. The winner of that match would face Chelsea in one South semi, while a North London derby between Tottenham and Arsenal would be the other South playoff match-up. But the season doesn’t end today. In fact, we’re only halfway through. The real difference to the English game would be the fact that, outside of Southern basement dwellers Reading and Queens Park Rangers, the non-playoff teams would all still have something to play for outside of relegation. Manchester United would be in the driver’s seat to have home-field advantage if it won the Northern Division and made it to the EPL final. If Chelsea won the South, the only way it would host the final is if both United and Man City got knocked out in the North. Sure, purists will turn up their noses at any suggestions of bringing North American-style playoffs to European soccer. But, remember that Americans have a massive, growing influence in England, especially. The purse strings at Arsenal, Manchester United, Aston Villa and Liverpool are controlled by Americans. But here’s another wrench in the works for the purist, if we were to make a new, reborn EPL, a 38-game schedule would likely be too long to squeeze in. The schedule would be shortened by, ahem, four games, to make way in the calendar for playoff rounds, just like MLS. So, EPL would need to adopt an unbalanced schedule, with more London derbies in the Southern Division. There would be three Manchester derbies and three Merseyside derbies in the North. And there would only be one United/Arsenal or one United/Chelsea match a season. There’s no doubt that the table system has given us some fantastic finishes. We could argue what was better: Manchester City’s last-day fightback against QPR that gave it the 2012 title, or the 1989 finale, which saw Arsenal steal the title by winning by two goals on the last day at Liverpool? And there was 1995 when Blackburn, despite losing on the final day to Liverpool, won the title because Manchester United couldn’t take maximum points from West Ham. But, in many too many seasons, the title has been decided before the final weekend, which is then reserved for laps of honour and champagne celebrations. The mid-table teams just play out the string, too good for a relegation battle but nowhere near good enough to be in contention for European places. Saturdays come and go, more about ritual than ambition. With a playoff system, those mid-table matches would have meaning. In a playoff system, United and Arsenal, still alive in the Champions League, could more easily rotate their squads in anticipation of ties with Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, respectively. They could more easily afford to drop points in the league. And, most importantly, these paragraphs offer food for thought to the many so-called purists who believe that North American soccer must take on the characteristics of the European leagues to be legitimate. If it is OK for that section of fans to demand that North America change its soccer ways, I encourage North American fans to return with this: Wouldn’t an EPL playoffs be amazing? Really? Really!