Sounders Insider

MLS pairings unfair; and solution will get tougher

Coach Sigi Schmid generally takes an attitude of simply playing the team that he has to play and not worrying about things he can't control. And that's largely the attitude that he's taken about the MLS playoff system that rivals only the BCS for basic unfairness.

This season, 10 of the 18 MLS teams have made the playoffs. They all get there by playing the same schedule: facing the other 17 teams home and a way. And yet, somehow the teams with the second and third best records will open against each other, absolutely assuring that one of the top three teams won't advance to the final four. It also absolutely precludes the two best teams from meeting in the final. This is nuts.

And RSL coach Jason Kreis sort of said as much today during a conference call of three playoff-bound coaches (the other's were Philly's Pete Nowak and Houston's Dominic Kinnear. Schmid will go tomorrow.)

"I don’t agree with the system," Kreis said. "But I also accept what it is and recognize that I don’t get to make those decisions, so we’ll deal with it the best way that we know how. I think you have to feel particularly aggrieved for Seattle because after the season that they’ve put together to have to turn around and play us rather than what should be a wildcard team, really, if it was the other way is I think a particularly poor place for them to be."

As I mentioned, Schmid usually takes the attitude of not worrying about what he can't control. And because in this case, the control rests with MLS executives, we asked general manager Adrian Hanauer about if the system should be improved.

And without talking much about this year's unfairness, he rightly points out that fairness is going to become a lot tougher to define next season if the league switches -- as expected -- to an unbalanced schedule.

"I think that in a growing league it’s almost going to be year to year looking at how you do it," Hanauer said. "Because now we go to unbalanced again next year with 19 teams and there’s discussion of whether we end up balanced schedule. … There’s a lot of direction toward not a balanced schedule: potentially playing intraconference more than interconference. It starts to muddy the waters even more as to who the best eight/10 teams are at the end of the league season – because if you’re not all playing the same teams home and away, it eliminates the purity of who the best 10 teams are. … No matter what we end up with it will be flawed in some way in terms of the purity of the best teams placing in the right order. But there is a competition committee meeting coming up real soon. That will be, I’m sure, on the agenda."

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