Dear MLS, please kill the No. 4 vs No. 5 playoff game dead By Steven Sandor Posted on October 30, 2014 4 0 520 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter 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.