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Bring MLS Cup in from the Cold

December 12th, 2017 · 1 Comment · Football, soccer

The MLS Cup needs some help.

Starting with the site of the championship match being decided years in advance and going to the most attractive bid city — in a place where December weather is not predictably nasty.

Why? Because giving the championship match to the team with the best record can yield something that looked as thoroughly unpleasant, and as awkward, as Toronto FC defeating the Seattle Sounders 2-0 on Sunday.

Soccer is played in inclement weather around the world, but it doesn’t mean a league should purposely leave itself open to getting frigid blasts for its title match.

Odds are pretty good that Toronto’s dominating lineup, led by Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, would have won if the match been played on a vacant lot or the surface of the moon.

But why not have it in a bigger venue, in the Sun Belt, or inside a dome?

MLS used to do it this way, through 2011, and it did not seem to hurt the product. And it certainly made life easier for people who turned out and sat in the stands.

The weather was so arctic that it made me shiver while sitting on the couch in my home.

And the Sounders looked miserable. Not just because the other guys were better but, almost certainly, because Seattle may be wet but it rarely is as cold as Toronto was on Sunday.

My sense is that MLS went away from predetermined sites because it wanted places like Chicago and Minneapolis and Toronto to be able to host it.

That’s a nice thought, but wouldn’t the league sell more tickets, and wouldn’t its championship match be a bigger deal if it approached things Super Bowl style?

Weigh up the bids, pick one that looks best, and let everyone know years in advance. Generic fans might turn up. Host cities might have time to plan more Super Bowl-ish things. It would have more than a game attached to it.

We can’t even suggest playing a title game at the venue of the winningest team is “traditional soccer” because MLS is one of the few leagues that has playoffs. Pretty much everywhere else, the champion is found by looking at the standings after the final match of the season. Whoever is on top is the winner.

If MLS is going to stick to playoffs — and they last forever, do they not? — why not end things in a setting where players are not slipping and sliding and fans are not wearing a half-dozen layers of clothes?

It could have been sunny in Toronto, I suppose, on December 10, but that is not the way to bet. Instead, it was 40 Fahrenheit and fell to just above freezing at the end. Ugh.

The league needs to return to picking out sites ahead of time. It will make for better viewing and better competition than that we saw, grimacing, on Sunday.


1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Gene Hiigel // Dec 13, 2017 at 9:42 PM

    I disagree for several reasons.

    Most importantly, I think that the current format does make the 34-game regular season more important because it acts as a reward for a good year (not perfect, of course, because the regular season schedule is unbalanced to minimize travel).

    I am not sure that MLS is ready for a Super Bowl-style game in any venue other than an MLS stadium. I would be worried about the embarrassment of seeing Dallas and Columbus play in a large stadium with 10,000 people in the stands. Once you are stuck with an MLS stadium and place a premium on weather, the choices come down to Los Angeles, Orlando and Houston (with the possibility of giving home-field advantage to only certain teams).

    And yes, it is difficult to win on the road with a hostile home crowd and unfamiliar weather, but Seattle did that just last year in Toronto (and it was much colder than this year). In fact, the road team has won two of the last three MLS Cups.

    I would rather worry about working out a way to avoid having the playoffs run on for 6 weeks. The international break is the real problem because it falls in early to mid-November, so there are no games for a couple of weeks. Lots of ideas about how to do this, but there is no magic bullet that I have heard of.


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