Friday, October 28, 2011

This wild card business is a crapshoot and it's stupid

I had to tend to a drunk, crying man last night. Baseball does strange things to people.

So MLS' first wild card round is in the books, and it was every bit as randomized and arbitrary as we thought. FCD's impressive 34-game bandage job was torn asunder in the span of 98 minutes (yes, eight minutes of stoppage time) by the 10th-best team in MLS. The Crew, which was the best team in an admittedly down Eastern Conference for a large portion of the season, watched its season end on a brief flurry of activity in the first half. I know there are some among you tearing a page from Ron Washington's book (ONE STRIKE TWICE) and shouting "That's how baseball go" at me, but this reinforced a widely held belief the playoffs are driving home with particular vigor this year: the MLS regular season is pretty much irrelevant. Here's what Becks had to say. I don't necessarily agree with his premise that cutting out the playoffs is a solution, but the format is numbingly dumb, which Bruce Arena then gives voice to.
“Anywhere else in the world we would be champions," Beckham said. "Do I agree with [playoffs]? No, I don’t agree with it. Obviously it should be the same everywhere else. I’d be sitting now with two league medals. But it’s not the same, so you have to get yourself up again for the playoffs, and it's tough after a long season of hard games. But it is what it is.”
And now we pass the mic to Brucey:
“I think what you need to do is kind of throw everything out the window and say, ‘This is another competition,’” Arena said. “This is a 10-team competition with a format. That’s what this is. All this is going to prove is who is the best team in this 10-game format over the next couple games.”
Paging the 2010 Rapids...

The Galaxy won the SS so some of this comes from a place of, "We won and let's end it here." But he makes a compelling point. A full 55 percent of the league qualifies for the postseason, and now New York, which barely even deserved to be here, is lumped in the same bracket as the Galaxy, Seattle and RSL. Huh? Soccer is notoriously fickle when it comes to goals, so why are we having one-off playoff games before the final? Only to switch to a home-and-away format and then switch back to a winner-take-all MLS Cup? It's bafflingly counterintuitive, but thereyago.

We focus mainly on FCD-New York tonight. It's not that the Colorado-Columbus game was sloppy, but, well, yes it was. Big ups to Omar Cummings, whose goal right before the break felled Columbus for the second year in a row. He straight Tebowed this, though I'm not sure what Will Hesmer was up to.

In Frisco, Henry may have been the biggest talent on the field, but Shea had the most influence in the first half. Shea's early service on point-perfect crosses and refusal to allow FCD's build-up to stagnate is one of the primary reasons he's become a buzzword across Europe. But he's still unpolished cutting inside, and I still have concerns about his face-up ability on defenders who aren't already running. His ability to break outside the box still needs work. FCD could've used him in the last 45, and he wasn't there.

As for New York's most contentious DP, Rafa Marquez has no business calling out teammates when he pulls disappearing acts like he did on Wednesday. He can't spring the break and left fellow center mid Teemu Tainio and his backing center backs on islands by being in position to help neither. He routinely isolated himself, be it on the wings or so far removed from an attack support role that New York consistently found itself shorthanded in dangerous positions. Play him as an outright defender or don't play him at all. I realize the politics of the situation make this task difficult, but all Backe is doing by continually handing Marquez playing time is hampering the Red Bulls in both boxes. Henry was terrifying when he received reliable service. Trouble was, that rarely came.

Which brings us to the group at the back. New York's center back pairing of Tim Ream and Stephen Keel were a house of cards constantly in fear of a light breeze. Luckily for New York, Dallas' finishing touch was "consistently inconsistent," as Brian Dunseth would say… 1,000 times over. FCD's lack of a true striker came to bear in the worst way. Keel sawed a clearance off the side of his foot early in the first half and it almost led in Jackson for a clean chance. Minutes later, Ream's failed clear allowed Marvin Chavez a free shot, but he flubbed his too. Then again, Chavez challenged Ream at the edge of the box and earned a dangerous free kick when Ream chopped at his leg and earned a yellow. Flash prediction: LA is going to shred this group if something doesn't change. I'll never understand why some are still blowing Ream's trumpet, especially when it's at the expense of Omar Gonzalez. I continually hear this "wait and see" refrain with Ream, and everything I see is shaky positional awareness and horrible man marking. He can play passes forward. Great. He also can't decide whether he's a RCB or a LCB... ever. He overlapped Keel continually and rolled out reams of carpet for a wasteful FCD attack. Gonzo is better. The end.

So was it any real surprise when New York finally made Dallas pay? New York's goal began with John's failed clearance (it's amazing how inconsistent he's been since August) and Joel Lindpere split Ihemelu and John with a well-timed run to get a foot to recent sub Mehdi Ballouchy's cross, driven low and placed well. Dallas emptied the basket in the final moments, and when Jan Gunnar Solli was sent off with 10 minutes left, even then FCD couldn't do much about it. Hate to say it, but games like these showed how much FCD missed Ferreira this year. That they even got this far was pretty impressive. I'm not sure anybody in the league did a better coaching job than Hyndman, regardless who wins it all.

New York spent itself to earn this one. Solli's insolent challenge in the 80th minute, which earned him a straight red, cuts him out of New York's home leg against LA, and Dax McCarty's injured ankle, which took a knock on a hard Daniel Hernandez challenge, forces his status into doubt. According to his Twitter, he's "hoping to recover soon." Another flash prediction: the Galaxy are going to roll over this New York side. Both legs.

The US isn't nearly as well-stocked with young center backs as I previously imagined and both FCD and Columbus were hosed by a balky system. Those are my takeaways from the week. And here's your updated weekend schedule. Enjoy the games.

Seattle at Salt Lake, 10 p.m. Saturday (FOX Soccer)
LA Galaxy at New York, 3 p.m. Sunday (ESPN2)
Houston at Philadelphia, 5 p.m. Sunday (ESPN2)
Kansas City at Colorado, 7 p.m. Sunday (FOX Soccer)

- Will Parchman


Matt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt said...

First of all, if I look south I see plenty of other parts of the world that don't do it "just like the rest of the world."

Second, why is it exactly that you're crying because the 4th best team in the West and the 9th best team in MLS are no longer in the running to be champion?

If you want to call yourself the best you need to be able to beat the rest. When it matters.

UEFA doesn't seem to mind the concept.

Will Parchman said...

Like I said, I don't agree with removing the playoff system. But it needs reform.

Bonji said...

The Rapids finished the regular season with more points than Columbus, so if the argument is that regular season standings should matter more, then you can't really argue with last night's result.

Will Parchman said...

[wildanalogy]Carpet bombings raze condemned buildings now and then, but they level even more functional city blocks [/wildanalogy]

It's a clumsily built playoff system with the sensibilities of multiple sports hemmed onto one another like Frankenstein's monster. You've got traditional legged ties, a wild card system ripped from the American sports tapestry and alternating one- and two-game series' with teams from the East and West flying willy nilly to either side of the bracket at will.

I'm not going to carp on this throughout the postseason, but I wanted to get that argument out of the way. It's just how I feel about it.

Phil McCracken said...

Why can't we just celebrate the Supporter's Shield winner more and clearly separate MLS Cup from it? Give the SS winner a trophy at the end of the season and let them celebrate this great accomplishment. They are two very different competitions so why not treat them as such?

Jacob Klinger said...

Occupy MLS HQ!

Cam said...

The wild card system might need work...and maybe the Supporters Shield winner should be celebrated more but I think that an American league needs a playoff

To say that no other leagues in the world are untrue, Leagues in countries that have playoffs as a part of their sporting culture mexico, and the A-League...People got pissed when American owners supposedly proposed to end relegation in England... why propose an American system geared toward an American fan base with no playoff system?....I agree that the playoff system should be more straight forward with less teams qualifying but i do not agree with the argument against the system altogether

I also think that the playoff system shows in the mentality of the people and in the national the United States nobody talks about "who deserved to win" or if a team "earned a draw"....every score is what it is...if you win you deserved to...this also shows in the never-say-die mentality of the national team because the team realizes that how they've played in the past doesn't matter

In opposition is the English national team (for instance) the English always love to talk about games they "deserved" to win and the team tends to implode when things don't go exactly their way...

the point is if you come from a culture where playoffs are an acceptable way to decide outcomes and you believe that the best team is the team that wins like in the United States it benefits your mentality in the national team

If you come from a culture where "the best team doesn't always win" then you have a built in excuse when things don't go 100% your way

for some reason i feel that if there was a playoff system in Germany...the Germans wouldn't spend time complaining about a system out of there control...they would probably put their heads down and work to win the competition the way it was constructed

Will Parchman said...

I understand what you're saying when you draw a parallel to the Germans, but if something is broken - or at the very least needs a tweak - it does nobody any good to sit on constructive criticism and keep your mouth shut. All that does is imply complicity in the problem and allows it to continue. And I highly doubt the Galaxy are trying any less fervently to win the Cup because they have issues with the playoff format. I'm sure they're putting in just as much effort.