Are there too many MLS playoff teams?

33 Comments

Congratulations to all 10 MLS playoff participants! You have pinned a lovely post-season blue ribbon onto your lapel, and playoff arrival has always stood as the primary MLS demarcation between success and failure over a season.

But if we’re being brutally honest, in a couple of cases, we are looking at the teams gracing the post-season roster only because they erred, fiddled and fumbled just a little less than a few others.

Are there truly 10 MLS clubs that deserve to be in the playoffs?

It was always destined to be this way; back in late November of 2010 when MLS announced a surprise two-team expansion of the post-season field (from 8 to 10 clubs). Plenty of us warned then that it would be this way, and what a real shame, too. Again, we see “small thinking” trump the longer-term “big thinking” from Major League Soccer’s board room.

(MORE: Small thinking strikes again in lack of final-day simultaneous kickoffs)

The logic went like this: keeping more teams involved in the playoff chase longer would get a few more butts in seats down the stretch (because more teams would remain alive in September and October).

But what if more teams were incentivized to build the right kind of audience, real supports, the kind who would quickly understand the value of every match? They kind that would grasp how points earned in April and May are every bit as valuable as points earned down the stretch? Wouldn’t that put more butts in MLS seats through the entire season rather than just beefing up the gate in the fall?

Here’s the net-out as it concerns the MLS playoffs:

We get a team like Montreal, just barely over .500 and with a humble plus-1 goal difference. Is that what MLS wants its playoffs to be about? We get a team that is 2-6-2 over the last two months. That’s bitter coffee to me.

Yes, getting to the playoffs is about points earned over a full season; but the format remains too forgiving, and there’s your evidence.

Even Houston and New England don’t really look like playoff teams, do they? New England is young and just got back in for the first time since 2009, so it’s a good story. But is Jay Heaps’ team a real MLS Cup threat? Debatable.

Dominic Kinnear’s team will be a threat because, well, because it is coached by Dominic Kinnear. So, the Dynamo is clearly a threat because of a manager that understands how to win in the playoffs better than anyone this side of Bruce Arena. But that’s maybe the point. The regular season needs to be more important; it shouldn’t come down to squeaking past the league’s worst team in history on the final match day to book post-season passage.

But it’s not going the other way. I never sense any momentum to fix this pothole along MLS Boulevard. Our best hope now: As the league adds team No. 20 (New York City FC) and then No. 21 (most likely Orlando) and beyond, let’s hope they keep the playoff field at 10 rather than continuing to expand.

The MLS playoffs become a “cup competition,” so to speak. And there’s some luck involved in cup competitions – which is the logic behind crowing the regular season winner the league champ, as so many places do now.

But in the United States we like our playoff system – and I’m fine with that.

Let’s just make it a little tougher to get into the playoffs; there’s the reasonable compromise.

(MORE: Top story lines for the MLS playoffs)

(MORE: MLS Week in Review for Round 35)

(MORE: MLS Eastern Conference playoffs are set)

(MORE: MLS Western Conference playoffs are set)

Coutinho saves Brazil from Neymar’s VAR humiliation

AP Photo/Michael Sohn
Leave a comment

Dominant Brazil needed stoppage time to find a way past Costa Rican backstop Keylor Navas and pick up a 2-0 win in Saint Petersburg on Friday.

Neymar embarrassingly saw an awarded penalty overturned when he flopped instead of shooting following a tug from Giancarlo Gonzalez, but Philippe Coutinho toe-poked a shot through Navas’ legs in the first of six stoppage time minutes.

Neymar would later add a goal in the sixth minute of stoppage time from Douglas Costa.

Brazil finishes the group stage with Serbia, while Costa Rica waits on Switzerland.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Brazil controlled the first 12 minutes of the match, but Costa Rica just missed a bid to make it 1-0 against the run of play.

Deportivo La Coruña midfielder Celso Borges darted into the box to drag a low shot just wide of the far post.

Gabriel Jesus had the ball in the back of the goal in the 26th minute, but was deemed offside. And Keylor Navas stymied another Brazil rush a minute later.

But Costa Rica’s packed-in camp held Brazil at bay into the break.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

Brazil fired out of the gates to start the second half, and Navas was again busy as Neymar clattered into him in search of a loose ball. Well, kinda loose.

When Philippe Coutinho’s hammered shot was blocked out for a corner, it simultaneously felt like Brazil’s goal was either inevitable or destined to not arrive.

Navas then pushed a Neymar point-blank bid over the bar.

Tite opted to bring on Roberto Firmino, but Navas kept up his heroics by collecting a header off another Brazil corner.

The possibility of a scoreless draw felt even more likely when Neymar stole the ball and whipped a 21-yard shot just off the upper 90.

Neymar looked to have a won a penalty kick when Gonzalez tugged him in the six, but VAR overturned the call.

Fabregas praises Vela vs. Germany, not impressed by Ronaldo

Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas was left off the Spain squad for this summer’s World Cup, and has been working as a pundit for the BBC.

Friday morning found him posting a column — well, we doubt he handled the posting — on the tournament so far, one that talked about how Spain rebounded from a tournament-opening loss to win the World Cup.

[ MORE: Lichaj moves to Hull ]

Fabregas then touched on Cristiano Ronaldo’s World Cup, saying credit due to his four goals but also questioning how impressed anyone should be with three goals from set pieces and a fourth from a David De Gea gaffe.

You cannot say that he and Portugal have shown great combinations or tiki-taka football to score great goals.

You have to give him credit, of course, but his goals have come from set-pieces, penalties or mistakes.

Seems a bit of anti-Real Madrid carryover there, although the sentiment is real (Portugal has not been impressive despite its four points).

Fabregas then went on to highlight one particular performance in the tournament: Mexico and LAFC midfielder Carlos Vela’s work in El Tri‘s upset of Germany.

Vela left Real Sociedad to join Los Angeles FC at the start of the year and people seem to think that when you go to the MLS, or that type of league, your level drops.

That was not the case when he played against Germany, because Kroos could not shake him off. He tried but he could not influence the game.

See, Cesc: You can totally come to our shores and run point for a team. Toronto is really close to me, if you’re asking, but Philly, Columbus, and New York are reasonable enough drives.

USMNT back Lichaj finds new home in Championship

@HullCity
Leave a comment

Eric Lichaj is going to bring his Premier League promotion dreams to a new Championship club.

The 29-year-old USMNT fullback has been a key part of Nottingham Forest to the tune of 188 appearances since moving from Aston Villa in 2013.

[ MORE: Sampaoli defends Messi ]

But he’s on the move, joining Nigel Adkins at Hull City on the heels of a three-goal season at Forest. He famously scored a pair of goals in a 4-2 FA Cup win over Arsenal, then naming his new dog Gunner.

“It’s a fresh start for me and I want to repay Hull City for the faith that they have shown in me by bringing me here. I’ll be working my hardest, as I always do, every day in training and on matchdays.”

The versatile American can play left or right back, and has pushed his way back into the national team picture. Lichaj has 15 caps with a goal for the USMNT.

Also, #AStarInStripes? We see you, Hull

Report: Minnesota United chasing Ecuadorian national teamer

Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Minnesota United may be hoping another Ibarra can cure what ails its attack.

Romario Ibarra, 23, is on the Loons’ radar according to The Athletic‘s Kristian Dyer and Jeff Rueter, who say Minnesota would like to land the Ecuadorian when the summer transfer window opens on July 10.

[ MORE: Modric urges humility ]

Ibarra was limited to eight matches for Universidad Católica this season as he battled through a lingering metatarsal fracture. But he’s scored against Argentina and Chile in each of his appearances for the national team, both World Cup qualifiers.

From The Athletic:

Sources say that Ibarra’s contract is unlikely to make him a designated player, leaving Quintero as the club’s sole DP. (It could depend, in part, on the size of the transfer fee.) Based on league standards, his salary will likely be drawn from Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) contract seems likely.

Ibarra’s older brother Renato plays for Club America, and has 36 caps.

Minnesota is six points outside the West’s final playoff spot, and has scored just 17 goals in 14 matches.