Saturday, November 10, 2007

Let's Go Wiz-zids, Embarrass MLS HQ!

I need something to keep me warm tonight. It sure as heck isn't going to be the oil heating system at my house. It's a tad mind boggling that the elected representatives of the most oil dependent people in the country are usually the ones to block any sort of oil exploration when it comes to a vote in DC. Oh, but the Senate just ratified a UN Treaty which will effectively allows Chinese companies to drill a few miles off the shore of Florida. It's OK, though. NBC logos are green this week and The Today Show flies people around the globe to lecture us on our carbon footprints.

But I digress. The absurdly high heating bill (not including electricity) has caused me to look for alternative sources of warmth. There's an outside chance I'll be warming myself to the Fox Soccer Channel broadcast of the Houston - Kansas City match tonight. The Wizards have a chance to truly embarrass MLS and their complete lack of foresight. Kansas City, the fifth place team from the Eastern Conference, could actually win the Western Conference championship. If that were to happen, I'm putting the trophy presentation on loop and turning off the furnace. I'll be set for weeks.

FATCOC. That was the watchstanding principles mnemonic I learned while I was a reactor operator with the Navy. The "A" stood for anticipation. It basically meant asking "what if" whenever conditions changed and to know all the possible ramifications resulting from systematic anomalies. MLS may have seen this possibility and took their chances, but that really tweaks my sensibilities. Then again, I spent a decade in a community where there was no room for such carelessness, and you couldn't put a positive spin on poor planning with a press release.

Many journalists have justified changing, or abolishing, the playoff system based on boring play or DC choking once again. Guess what, soccer is hit or miss when it comes to excitement. You can't artificially generate non-stop action. Tweak it all you want, there's just no way you can use outside forces to create the 1982 World Cup semifinal classic. Games like that will happen regardless of the setup.

As for abolishing the playoffs, that's definitely not happening. What should happen, and to credit MLS is happening, is getting the word out on the importance of the Supporters Shield. The winner of the league's top record gets a spot in the international competitions MLS is invited to. They now have a trophy celebration at the winner's home ground (as opposed to handing it to the head car parker like Columbus did a few years back). They seem to be leaning towards a home and home schedule when the league gets big enough, which will help to legitimize the Shield from a competition standpoint. These are important steps. What MLS needs to continue to do is promote that trophy so it becomes much, much more important than, say, the one they hand out to the team that has the best record in the NHL. To point out it's level of prestige, I can't even remember it's name (President's Trophy, maybe?).

For those that hope the league "comes around" to the way the rest of the world crowns their champions, give it up. As long as sports like baseball and football have expanded their playoffs and reaped the rewards of more teams being in the hunt for longer into the season, MLS will chase that red dragon. And I don't blame them. Look, winning the Supporters Shield is actually a greater accomplishment. You need to win out in a league where everyone is basically equal. It shows you were the best team over the course of six months. Winning MLS Cup, conversely, is actually a tougher task. It's hard enough to win back to back games in MLS, much less four. Both have merit, but the playoffs are much more exciting which is why they'll never go away.

Getting back to the lack of foresight which lead to the set of circumstances surrounding tonight's game, that problem can be fixed. Oodles of journalists, bloggers, and internet commandos have offered up their resolutions. Why should I be any different?

If I were to make changes, it would start with renaming the first round the quarterfinals, and the next round the semifinals. MLS HQ got a woody from the DC United - New England Eastern Conference Final in 2004. The problem is, they thought the playoff system "created" that game. That's not how it works. Yes, the playoffs add the importance which makes those games exciting, but classics happen on the field, not at the Board of Governors' meeting. What's to say that game in 2004 wouldn't have happened if the two rounds leading up to MLS Cup had the same number of games? Nothing. Either team could have taken a lead into RFK that night or it could have taken place a week earlier. Which leads me to my next change: make the playoffs make sense.

Since Taylor Twellman's fantastic bicycle kick, there's been a little buzz about the Revs in the New England sports scene (given the state of other teams in the area, that's actually quite a leap forward). This buzz has lead to commentators and sports fans actually looking at the MLS playoffs a little more closely. When a lot of people have done that, both on the radio and through anecdotal evidence, they have all gotten confused with the setup. Typically, you'll get the soccer-haters saying something like "just another reason to hate that sport". Those who make that conclusion can pack sand, and I'm someone who actually understands why most Americans can't get with the sport. However, the mass confusion over the setup is what bothers me.

MLS made a marked improvement in their playoff format by having the top eight teams league-wide make it instead of four from each conference. They need to be commended for that. Going into the last two weeks, five teams were fighting for two spots and four were still alive on the last weekend. However, the playoffs themselves need to make sense not just for the fans, but for the teams that compete in them.

They should either have the first round one game or the second round two games. I'm fine with having MLS Cup as one game. That's the annual big game and the only real shot the league has at hyping it's product. If they went to two games per round, I would make it so the lower seed hosts on a weekday (Wednesday or Thursday) and then the higher seed hosts on the weekend. They could rework the ESPN deal to cover two games on both weekend nights (how's that for buzz?). The higher seeds would benefit from a better attendance draw, and the colder weather teams could play during the day before temperatures drop into the 20's like it did at Gillette on Thursday. Having this setup would also shorten the playoffs by one week, allowing for more scheduling versatility which will be needed as MLS clubs take a more serious attitude towards international competitions.

In the meantime, get rid of the "conference final" moniker. Tonight, it's a misnomer. No one takes that glassware seriously, anyhow. Unfortunately, MLS would get away with it as long as Houston wins.

From a competition standpoint, both teams will have just as good a chance at beating the Revs as the Revs have in beating them. However, there's one important fact to consider: Missouri sports teams have been New England's bitches when it comes to championship games since the 70's and they have been the unfortunate losers in these landmark titles:

1957: Boston Celtics defeat St. Louis Hawks to win their first NBA title.

1970: Boston Bruins defeat St. Louis Blues to win their first Stanley Cup in 29 years.

2002: New England Patriots defeat St. Louis Rams 20-17 to win Super Bowl XXXVI, their first ever.

2004: Boston Red Sox sweep St. Louis Cardinals to win their first World Series in 86 years.

In other words, we need to play Kansas City in the final before they move across the border to Kansas next season. The Missouri Mojo (momojo) is still intact as long as they played their home games at Arrowhead this season.

So now there's two big reasons I want Kansas City to win tonight. As the cheerleaders at my high school used to chant: Let's Go Wiz-zids!


Adrian said...

You're forgetting the 1946 World Series, which the Sox lost to the Missouri-based Cardinals.

If I designed the MLS playoffs, it would be single game, homefield advantage for the higher seed, all the way through. That would really make the seedings mean something, and would end the confusion of our smaller-brained non-soccer-following friends.

Jimmy Chowda said...

I worded it "since 1970" and listed the landmark championships on purpose. The Cards also beat the Sox in 1967.

Adrian said...

Moot anyway - looks like we're playing Houston in 8 days, possibly without Brian Ching.