I started the last post with a legendary quote by a coach (Bear Bryant), so why not do the same here as well. As Jim E. Mora once inquired (word for word): “What’s that? Ah – Playoffs? Don’t talk about – ah – Playoffs? You kidding me? Playoffs? I just hope we can win another game! Another game!” OK, so maybe Mora wasn’t as witty as the Bear.
But, many soccer fans around the globe feel the same way Mora does about playoffs. They abhor the thought of “another game” when the regular season ends, and they definitely do not want to talk about playoffs. But, as STO Commissioner, I must tell you I think every soccer league in the world – and not just MLS – needs a postseason.
Why? After all, the well-established leagues of the soccer world (EPL, Serie A, La Liga) don’t have playoffs, and people love them. Moreover, those leagues all play Cup tourneys with a similar “knockout” style to playoffs. Why fix what isn’t broken? Well, because even if something isn’t completely broken, it can sometimes use a little repair. So…
I would mend soccer fans’ broken hearts at the end of every season by awarding them a few more games to obsess over. Plus, as we Yanks could tell you, a postseason is critical because it allows fans to see who was the best team at the end of the year. Many good squads don’t hit their stride early in the year, and the lack of playoffs penalizes them.
Why else would adding playoffs to the world’s most popular leagues make soccer even more of a global addiction? Well, whether you know her as Cendrillon (France), Cenerentola (Italy), Cenicienta (Spain), or even Aschenputtel (Germany), you understand the story of Cinderella, who overcame long odds to best her enemies and marry up.
“Cinderella Stories” are a staple of US sports culture, and while world soccer may have its “minnows” and “sharks”, it’s not the same because it’s “just another game” and there is less on the line. When a small squad upsets a top seeded team, it is simply thrilling. It’s those moments that give sports fans a reason to watch even if their team is out of it.
This year in Serie A, Inter was crowned champion approximately a month before the last game was played. In the Prem, Man U hoisted the trophy in advance of the final week. Moreover, because both Inter and Man U are so dominant, they are both just collecting titles after easy regular seasons. Why not make them work harder?
After all, seeing the same team win the title a month before the season ends every season is completely anti-climactic. We Yanks like the season to end with a “Grand Finale”, an enormous spectacle, if you will (i.e. “The Super Bowl”). Just imagine if the Prem and Serie A had playoffs and a “Super Bowl of Soccer” for their respective leagues.
It would be a delight. How would it work? Well, I don’t want these leagues to have playoffs like MLS, NHL and NBA where almost every team gets an invite, even mediocre .500 teams. I think you could pluck the top 6 teams, let #1 and #2 get a bye (they earned it), and then play #3 vs. #6 and #4 vs. #5 to see who makes the semifinals.
Thus, if I was the Commissioner of the Prem, fans would have been treated to Chelsea vs. Aston Villa and Arsenal vs. Everton, before getting to feast on the winners of those games against Liverpool and Man U. In Serie A, my playoff system would have produced AC Milan vs. Roma and Fiorentina vs. Genoa for the right to play Inter and Juventus.
Are you saying you wouldn’t want to see those games right about now? Of course you would. The “scudetto”, or regular season title, could still be considered one of the top honors (like in MLS), but fans would also get more soccer, players would make more money, and some surprising teams could make up for early mistakes and become legends.
I know, I’m a wacky Yank, obsessed with grandiose events, like the aforementioned Super Bowl. But, if the world’s top leagues would experiment with playoffs, I think we all would come out winners. Does soccer really need playoffs?
You be the judge…
I’ll just be the – ah – Commish?
But I won’t ever look as sweet as Mr. Chiklis (or Cinderella) did…