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Russell Berrisford

Russell Berrisford

Russell’s support of Derby County eventually led him to leave the country. He has lived in Canada since 2007 and currently writes about soccer for The Vancouver Sun.


How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Play-Offs

Written by on September 30, 2011 | 8 Comments »
Posted in General, MLS

The footballing purist in me knows that by far the best way to decide which team should be crowned the Champions of Major League Soccer is to let every team play every other team twice and then just tally up the points at the end of the season; whoever gets the most gets the trophy.

Yet the realist in me knows that this system just won’t cut it at this stage of the MLS journey. If the League had adopted that approach then the LA Galaxy would be on the verge of claiming the title with only Real Salt Lake and (maybe) the Seattle Sounders having any chance of catching them, effectively leaving only three teams with meaningful games left to play.

Of course if there was relegation within MLS then the battle at the bottom would be compelling with as many as eight teams still fearing the drop, and if the CONCACAF Champions League carried the same allure as its European cousin then as many as five or six clubs could be fighting it out for that allusive fourth spot.

But neither of those scenarios is likely to occur in anything like the near future, so the powers that be needed to devise a system that created the maximum amount of interest for the maximum amount of teams and their supporters.

Hence the system that we have right now.

The New York Red Bulls may be having a train wreck of a campaign but they still retain interest in the possibility of post-season play, as do at least a dozen other franchises. That may not be fair from a purely sporting point of view, but from an entertainment perspective it works out just fine, with attendances still maintaining high levels despite the challenge of the start of the NFL season.

We can argue about the way that the post-season is structured (far from perfect) and we can argue that a neutral venue threatens to take away much of the atmosphere that can make soccer such a compelling spectacle, but what cannot be argued is that the current format makes the season far more enjoyable for far more fans, and that is no bad thing at all.

Next year I have to learn to love an unbalanced schedule but lets take it one small step at a time.

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8 responses to “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Play-Offs”

  1. Clay says:

    We have little choice but to accept an unbalanced schedule. However, how long before teams (and fans) start whining about having “easier” schedules than others? My concern is it will become an excuse for under performing teams (“They only had to play XX once or at home”) or even threaten established rivalries by reducing games home and away.

  2. Tim says:

    i am with you on this…playoff race is exciting

  3. Russell Berrisford says:

    Clay- If anything the unbalanced schedule will probably increase the number of games that established rivals play.

    It’s open to debate whether that is a good thing or not.

  4. J says:

    Hooks me in, anyway. I don’t think I’d still be paying attention at this point, especially with the UEFA Champions League on top of the EPL schedule. Some of us have to work for a living!

    Playoffs are traditional in North American sports. The folks you’d want to convert would find it odd, otherwise. Relegation is way off, but it’s too bad that the concept hasn’t reached baseball or basketball.

  5. Thomas says:

    Why the (maybe) caveat for Seattle and not for RSL to catch LA? Last I checked, with RSL finally catching up on games played, SEA are in 2nd, 3 points ahead of RSL. RSL also has a tougher schedule, playing the team that both are chasing (and without their captain due to his red card against Chicago). Even if LA lose to RSL, that helps Seattle equally.

    Sorry, as a Seattle supporter, that just irked me a little and I felt compelled to comment. Great article otherwise. Love the title.

  6. Russell Berrisford says:

    Thomas- it was actually written a couple of match days ago when RSL had won five straight and (as I remember) Seattle were in third.

    Hence my slight dismissal of the Sounders chances of catching LA (nothing whatsoever to do with me being a Whitecaps supporter).

  7. Gus Keri says:


    Next year is not going to be the first time MLS plays an unbalanced schedule.
    As a matter of fact, they played a balanced schedule only twice in their 16 years history (2010 and 2011).
    No body complained about that before and I don’t think there will be any in the future.

    In regard to the rivalries, MLS will make sure to keep them alive. The unbalanced games will eliminated only those that have no fan fare or financial interests.
    I can guarantee you, for example, that the NYRB vs LA Galaxy will be played twice each year and the Cascadia cup competition will be kept as it is right now.

  8. John Bladen says:


    I have no problem with a return to an unbalanced schedule, so long as they eliminate the ‘crossover’ format for lower qualifiers in the playoffs.

    If they abandon the balanced schedule, they cannot reasonably continue to allow a fifth place team in one conference to displace the fourth placed team in the other, no matter what the points difference.

    It’s back to four/five per conference, or at least it better be…

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