There was plenty of be happy about the opening weekend of the MLS Cup playoffs. (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Over the past several years, Major League Soccer has been the pin cushion for much criticism and complaints from fans, supporters and media.
Let’s see. The list includes the changing expansion team stadium policies, the fears of over-expansion, the scarcity of American attacking players, the controversial ban on political signs and the double-leg playoff series, among some other challenging issues.
But let’s give credit to where credit is due. The league got it right, at least in the opening round of the MLS Cup Playoffs this past weekend.
For years, playoff series were two-game affairs, with the lower-seeded team hosting the first leg and the favorite the second one. Instead, there’s one game, played at the higher seed, giving much more meaning to home-field advantage during the regular season by the higher-seeded sides. This playoff method rewards teams for accruing better records over a 34-game season.
BTW, home teams won five of the six matches, with the LA Galaxy prevailing over host Minnesota United Sunday night.
The first round was a rousing success, with so much drama and so much on the line in every encounter. When the league used home-and-home series, it seemed the first game lacked the intensity fans would see in a one-shot deal. Action picked up multifold in the second leg, which always seemed to be the best of the two games.
In this past weekend’s encounters, the best games, of course, were the late, late, late shows — extratime extravaganzas such as Seattle Sounders FC’s epic triumph over FC Dallas and the Philadelphia Union’s epic comeback over the Red Bulls.
The other games were not too shabby either, for the most part, although, you can’t expect every playoff contest to have high drama with 11th-hour heroics. But we can dream, can’t be.
Hopefully, the mid-week conference semifinals will follow suit.
And hopefully, the playoff El Traffico between the upstart Los Angeles Football Club and the MLS original Galaxy will live up to the hype of what is becoming the best derby in the league (sorry, New York/New Jersey fans of the Hudson River Derby).
Now, you can’t expect every game to be a classic or a barn burner, but the new playoff format already has been a big hit for a league that has been taken hits over the years