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Real Salt Lake: Not the ‘Real’ Champions November 24, 2009

Posted by Master Shake in General blog.
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It has been a while, but I’m back to chime in on Real Salt Lake’s ‘victory’ in MLS Cup ’09, which, as you know, was not a real championship at all.

In MLS, we're ALL winners!

MLS: We're ALL Winners!

Basically the team with the worst name had a nice winning streak at the end of the season. Do they deserve to be called champions? I don’t think they do, no more than a wild-card team in baseball or the 16th seed in the NHL playoffs. Why? They have not earned it; they basically took advantage of Don Garber’s self-described pre-occupation (it’s at the bottom of this CNN/SI page) with making sure that every team has the opportunity to be a winner. It’s like pee-wee league soccer, where even the worst team gets a trophy for merely participating, and the spirit of competition is tempered in favor of everyone feeling good about themselves.

Quite simply, RSL were not the best team in 2009. They squeaked into the ‘playoffs’ on the final day of the season as the last seed. Up to that point their accomplishments were barely good enough.  A typical refrain at this point would be that ‘no one gave them a shot’, which is how they should have concluded their season. No shot.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t advocate the EPL system of a ‘league winner’. That is the opposite problem, where, because of their inequitable system, every year 16 of the 20 teams know going in that they don’t have any shot at winning the league. And so their goal is to not be relegated: can you imagine that the goal for most English teams is to not be the worst? They strive for mediocrity. But maybe that’s just an inherent part of being British…I don’t know, you’d have to ask them.

Major League baseball had a good system up until 1995, when they decided that it was more lucrative to include more teams to its playoff structure. If you’re lucky, like the Colorado Rockies in ’07, you make it to the Series, where they were trounced by a team that deserved to be there. Or maybe you get hot like RSL and win it all, after posting a losing regular season record. In the NHL, the regular season is a complete joke, as 16 of the 30 teams reach the post season. The NBA has a similar system. The message and the incentive is to be ‘just good enough’. Then you can start playing for real. Why waste everyone’s time? Just have a season that lasts 5 games and a championship!

Is there a solution? In this country playoffs are a way of life, so don’t expect them to go away (much to the chagrin of Eurosnobs) in favor of a European system. Reduce the number of teams in the playoff by half, based upon a single-table point system. Only the top four teams advance, with an eventual champion. Statistics bear out that these top four teams will have similar points at season’s end, so the level of ‘deservedness’ is justified. In our more equitable system, this could work quite well.

I’m not so naive that I don’t understand that this is all about revenues from playoffs, and brand-building in the respective playoff cities. But while RSL may have had a good run, there is no way they deserve to be crowned ‘champion’. Unless you include slacking as a criteria.

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Comments»

1. Patchogue Wonder - November 26, 2009

You should at least have a winning record to make the playoffs. It is an embarrassment to have a team with a losing record be champions. Yet, in England, there is a happy mediocrity, too. After the top four spots, which are now fought for by maybe seven teams, the battle is for staying alive in the Premiership. In Holland, they have playoffs for the Champions League slots, as well as the Europa Cup positions. It’s just that those teams always have winning records….


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