Home MLS More MLS Dear MLS, please kill the No. 4 vs No. 5 playoff game dead

Dear MLS, please kill the No. 4 vs No. 5 playoff game dead


For a guy who writes about soccer as much as I do, loves the game as much as I do, I surprise myself about how many times I wonder if there are too many matches being played.

The world would be a better place without the League Cup (we get to see who the big clubs put on the bench today!), meaningless friendlies, North American summer tours by European clubs… They are like the cheapest of Scotch; too much exposure to these things, and you might get so turned off that you forsake the good stuff, too.

And, if Major League Soccer cared about the integrity of its playoff system, it would do the world a favour and jettison the No. 4 vs. No. 5 conference playoff games.

Wednesday’s match, which saw FC Dallas end the Whitecaps season with a 2-1 win, was another example of why the No. 4 vs. No. 5 playoff game is a massive issue. The announced attendance was 10,279. Almost Chivas bad. But, as anyone in Sports Marketing 101 would tell you, what do you expect when a team is expected to sell playoff tickets for a game that happens on a midweek evening, just three days after the regular season ends?

Last year, the Montreal Impact traveled to Houston for a No. 4 vs. No. 5 playoff. A total of 10,476 fans showed up.

In 2012, the Chicago Fire played Houston in a No. 4 vs. No. 5 game — and 10,923 showed up.

Half-full stadiums — for what are knockout games. The public has voted. The jury is in. We simply don’t care about this preliminary round of the playoffs. And MLS has to accept that the customer is right. Because, to anyone not in Vancouver or Dallas, the one thing he or she will notice from Wednesday’s game is the empty seats.

Watching the highlights would be something like this:

“Isn’t it ironic to see a Canadian, Tesho Akindele, score against a Canadian club? Look at all the empty seats!”

“Whitecaps tie it on Erik Hurtado’s goal! Lucky he got the deflection, because he really should have hit that first-time with his left foot rather than have to wait, turn and shift to get it onto his right. Look at all the empty seats!”

“I can’t believe Mark Geiger gave Dallas a penalty for that! The ball bounced up awkwardly! It was ball-to-hand on Kendall Waston! It wasn’t just that Michel buried the penalty! Couldn’t have been the crowd who lobbied for a call, because, c’mon, look at all those empty seats!”

The playoffs are supposed to be when a league shines brightest. But when crowds are much smaller than an MLS side would get for a regular-season game, the No. 4 vs. No. 5 game is an embarrassment to the league, instead.

As a Canadian, it seems counterintuitive to want to scrap the game; I get that. After all, the only way a Canadian side has ever made the MLS playoffs is as the No. 5 seed. But, really, how does it feel to be eliminated from the playoffs just a few days after the regular season ended? You want to say it. It’s OK to admit it to yourself. IT FEELS LIKE YOU MISSED THE PLAYOFFS.

Look, I’m a North American. I grew up with the notion that playoffs are more important than the regular season. I’m comfortable with a playoff format in soccer. It may sound sacrilegious to some, but I think if it’d OK to put four teams together in a playoff for a promotion spot, it’s perfectly fine for the English Premiership to lump the top four teams together for an end-of-season playoff to determine a champion.

That’s how much of a playoff backer I am.

But, the MLS 10-team system — with five teams qualifying in each conference is, well, how to put it nicely? It’s dumb. It would be so much better if we went right to the conference semifinals. No. 1 vs. No. 4.. No. 2 vs. No. 3. Let a week go by to build the hype. Don’t play playoff games in the middle of the week.

OK, so eight teams make the playoffs instead of 10. That’s a good thing. Making the playoffs should be hard. When MLS expands to 24 teams, and only eight make the playoffs — well, then just making the post-season would be a badge of honour. There wouldn’t be the feeling that you got the fifth-place consolation prize.

But MLS can’t keep going on like this — where interest diminishes once the playoffs begin.

Please. Kill this No. 4 vs. No. 5 game dead. The fans have voted by not buying tickets for these games.


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  1. Alex Eagleton - Stems and Legs

    October 31, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    But we are talking about FC Dallas, a market where they have struggled to fill up their stadium regardless of importance. Last year, the Sounders played Colorado in the 4-5 game and we had roughly 36,000+ for a Wednesday Night game. So I don’t think its an interest level

    I don’t know what system(s) FC Dallas have in place for playoff ticket sales, but how we do it is all season ticket holders get an email stating the potential playoff dates and deadlines to buy our playoff tickets before the seats go to the public. They offer season ticket holders pay-as-you-play plans so you’re not out the full amount up to the MLS Cup. The system works just fine for our fans and it seems to be effective in selling the seats ahead of time and planning for how much you need to sell in the open market. If FC Dallas does something similar and isn’t selling seats, then there may be a bigger problem than just the playoff system.

    Another thing I will add is the MLS itself is not helping here. How a playoff game is only available on local TV markets or pay-per-view is beyond me. That’s something that needs to be fixed!

  2. Cristian Tane

    October 31, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    Disagree. The one thing they should change is have this played on a weekend. That would extend the season by half a week, but would fix the “week to build hype” and “empty seats” issues you’ve mentioned, without making the season meaningless for more teams earlier, because of not having that 5th seed to aim for.

  3. renzie

    October 30, 2014 at 6:35 pm

    With all due respect I think you should stick to talking about Edmonton. If the game had been played in Vancouver there would have been 20,000 and if the Caps had won they would have sold out BC Place and perhaps some of the upper bowl in the with 4 days before the Sunday game.

  4. Phil

    October 30, 2014 at 4:50 pm

    You hit it right on the nail. I watch my fair share of soccer, and MLS has made some massive strides for the better (even by force). But next season and beyond, I advocate an eight-team playoff is the way it should always be. It creates heat, excitement, marketability…the glory of being in is sweet, while the agony of NOT being in the playoffs stings. It’s what keeps the fans around.

    Moreover, the fact that Dallas won now gives them ANOTHER narrow window to sell tickets (dumb move by MLS) to a two-legged series (smart move by MLS) where they open at home. Expect about 11,000 for the next game. This is why MLS playoff attendance has either been hot (Houston) or extremely cold (New York, no pun intended).

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