Thursday, September 9, 2010

The endless infinitude of the MLS regular season

Meanwhile Duane Rollins is staying positive about Toronto FC's chances at making the playoffs. In doing so, he touches on one of the biggest problems in trying to consistently follow an MLS team when you're not a Super Mega Fan:
The biggest mistake people make when trying to analyze MLS is that they assume that it makes sense. The thinking is that results are predictable and that mid-table teams are always going to be mid-table, with bottom dwellers stuck in their spot too.
In any given year there are two or three teams that are clearly the best (although, as we are seeing with LA right now, they are never that far ahead of the pack) and a couple that are awful (but can still win from time to time). The talent gap is not big enough between teams that games in any given week aren’t, to some extent, glorified coin flips.
In that context, being four points out of a playoff spot with seven games to play, as Toronto is, to play is hardly panic time. I don’t say as a naive fan-boy. I say it as someone that has watched this league closely since 2002. As I’ve said over and over (and over and over) again, it’s a race to 40 points. No, really, it is.
This is the problem. We're already a third through of the way into September, and what should have been a decisive season-ending draw in Chicago is just another bit of Toronto FC slouching toward oblivion. It's hard to create much of a motivation to watch these games (or much motivation to players) when even a game like last night's doesn't necessarily mean much in the scope of the MLS regular season. You could hear the stagnation in the depressingly silent Sportsnet broadcast.

This should not be taken to mean I don't like a good measure of competitive parity, but this has always been a problem with me in terms of generating interest in TFC games. I'm sure there's a fairly hefty silent middle of Toronto supporters (or other MLS would be fans) who would agree with me.


elliott said...

I think this shows the pains of playing in July & August - the players are noticeably fatigued and slower. The fans pick up on this, and also feel miserable themselves.

Anonymous said...

You're just disappointed b/c it was a scoreless draw. The game would have meant more if either team had come away with 3 points.

TT said...

I must confess I've never really understood why "parity" is always ballyhooed as some noble mission. That's not even unique to MLS; you get the same talk with the NFL and other American sports. The notion is usually stated as if it's a given -- that Americans (and Canadians?) have some intrinsic appreciation for "parity." Do they really?

If so, I don't get it. Parity is cardboard. There's no romance in it. I like dynasties and underdogs. I like the idea of an L.A. Galaxy that everyone else has to work hard to beat, or a DC United that's a perpetual threat just because it's DC United. There's a kind of certainty to imbalance, and it makes surprises that much more, well, surprising.

"Any given Saturday" just isn't as satisfying to me as "that one really special Saturday."

Deraj said...

I must say that I'm a little confused by your post. It appears that you are unhappy with a tie so late in the season, but the tie actually kept things pretty interesting for several teams that are still in the hunt for the last few playoff slots. Are you actually arguing for a league like the EPL, La Liga or Bundesliga (or any other European league) where the same 4 teams have fought over the league championship for the last 20 years? If by the halfway point of the season the playoff picture is set, then the remaining games become essentially useless. As it stands now, San Jose, Toronto, Chicago, KC and a few other teams still have a viable shot of getting in. Some are better positioned than others, but with an Any Given Saturday league, it seems like its going to be a pretty exciting final push to the playoffs.

I'm not arguing for parity (I like the DP rules and the loosening purse strings), but a league where bottom and mid-table teams almost always stay there, while top of the table teams are virtually assured their spot at the top at the beginning of the season is boring in terms of playoff races (or UEFA qualifying). Seriously, look at the EPL, aside from Liverpool's dramatic slide last season, the top four (and UEFA qualifiers) for the last twenty years have been Man U, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool. Meanwhile, West Ham fans start the season knowing they have no shot. A draw in the final month gets them nothing but a moral victory.

Then again, maybe I've interpreted your post wrong. I'm just saying that having a playoff race with several teams is the better alternative and the draw actually brought more teams closer together than a win for either team.

Anonymous said...

Oh, come on now....
its Toronna youre talking about after all.

Decades of the Maple Laughs mediocrity should have hardened the inhabitants to crappy teams and putrid displays.

The ROC sends their regards.
And laughs.

Richard Whittall said...

The Republic of China?