Most of us cheered when Major League Soccer made the most significant of tweaks on title-deciding methodology: the decision to house each year’s MLS Cup final on the grounds of the higher seed.
Splendid idea, guys!
With that, the regular season grew even further in importance; every point earned improves a team’s chances of hosting a final. And hosting a final will be a very special thing each year, adding drama and a certain edge that a neutral site simply cannot replicate.
It really was a terrific shift, for a number of different reasons.
There was one, itty-bitty little worry about it all: What if the final lands at one of the less-desirable venues?
By “less desirable,” I don’t mean anything disparaging to the clubs or their hard-working personnel. Really, it’s about logistics. That is, a short list of teams existed that had everyone thinking: “This thing could turn in on itself pretty quickly.”
Still, most of the less-liked MLS venues didn’t seem like such a threat, not for 2012, at least. New England and ill-fitting Gillette Stadium, where the MLS final might be played over unsightly football lines? (Update: I’ve been alerted no such thing would happen, that no gridiron lines would be visible in such a scenario.) Well, the Revs were rebuilding, so that really didn’t seem worth worrying about.
Yes, Jay Heaps’ men could find great late-season form and fight their way to the final; but it seems highly unlikely they could stack up enough wins to be in position to host the final.
Columbus, where nasty winter weather could pose a threat, and where hotels and other ancillary sites might become a real problem? Well, a young Columbus team could make the playoffs, for sure, but they didn’t seem to be a threat for a top finish.
(Truly, only by finishing first or second in the conference would a team have a realistic chance of hosting the final.)
Who else? Well, San Jose would be a problem due to its tiny venue, cozy and quaint little Buck Shaw Stadium (pictured). But San Jose …
Frank Yallop’s team is very good this year. A lot better than last year, in fact.
You will currently find the Earthquakes with the league’s best record. So, if they keep chugging along and then crack the playoff code, your first final in the new M.O. will land somewhere in the Bay Area.
They could move it Stanford Stadium, site of last weekend’s big win over Los Angeles. But MLS Cup’s Dec. 2 date falls two days after the Pac-12 Championship Game, which could also land at the historic Palo Alto grounds. That would pose a strenuous complication.
After that? It could go to Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, but that facility is far less than perfect for a number of reasons.
Or, they could just keep it at Buck Shaw and take the PR hit of having their nationally televised championship marquee contest in the league’s smallest ground – an up-armored college soccer facility.
Of course, it could all work out just fine. A final in Kansas City, New York, Washington, D.C., or Salt Lake City – other reasonable possibilities at the halfway pole of this MLS season – would work just fine.