American Exceptionalism

Boy, I can't wait until Major League Soccer, the United States of Americas' First Division Professional Soccer League, comes to it's senses and dumps this stupid playoff format and finally creates a slavish copy of the vastly superior European (read: English Premier League) single table, winner take all, regular-season-is-all-that-matters setup so that we can have a little excitement at the end of the year.

All these boring, nothing-at-stake, drama-free MLS matches over the last few weeks are really putting us all to sleep. Boooooooore-ing. Wake me when it's over.

Because there's just nothing better than the last month or two of the EPL season when all those middle-of-the-table teams play all those breathlessly exciting games dripping with consequences as the fans are unable to sleep at night wondering whether their local club will finish 11th or 12th.

Meanwhile, the teams who somehow managed to get promoted at the end of the previous season and who haven't won a match since January add to the edge-of-your-seat drama as the punters furiously debate whether Wolves or QPR or EastMiltonFromminghamptonshire will finish 15 points south of the relegation line or only 12.

Because, as we're constantly reminded, that is where the real end-of-season excitement that we're all missing over here in the colonies is located: seeing which really crappy team can manage to somehow gain the right to remain for one more year in a league they cannot possibly hope to be competitive in.

Really gripping stuff.

I often think back to the time not so long ago when hundreds and thousands of BigSoccer mavens scoffed at MLS's pretensions to being an actual, respectable, bona-fide first division league when they DIDN'T EVEN HAVE COMPANY SPONSOR NAMES ON THEIR UNIFORMS.

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(Although a lot of them would have used the word "kit")

I mean seriously, how can anyone believe you're running a real football league over here when the players aren't running around with fast food or small electronics or personal hygiene products advertised on your shirt? How can you expect "real" soccerfootball fans to pay money to watch your teams play when you don't have 22 corporate logos dashing about down on the pitch?


The very idea is to laugh. Foolish colonials.

Fortunately, MLS has come to their senses and, gradually, the labor of various corporate graphic design teams are being displayed on more and more MLS uniform shirts.

And just as all those complainers predicted, fans of "real" football are now flocking to the stadiums in ever-increasing numbers.

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What? They're not? How can that be? Maybe if we plastered more ads until the unis look like they were lifted from the Tippeliga – or NASCAR – maybe that would work. Damn you, Don Garber.


(Perhaps this is a topic you'd like to address with The Commissioner tonight, when he appears on Fox Football Fone-in with Eric and Nick, and takes listeners questions. 7:30- 9:00, be there or be square.)

Anyway, if the point – if we can give it that much dignity – is simply this:


While it may not get me a seat at the cool kids table – not that I ever had one anyway – the end-of-season playoff format, which is largely an American invention, has turned out to be a rousing success. You need look no further than the last four weeks of the 2009 season for proof of that.

Even at this late juncture there are still more possible permutations available than one can easily get one's head around. Dan did a mighty fine job last week running down the whole list, because he's much braver than most. Nonetheless, when you got done reading it I'm willing to bet that not many of you could have passed a 20 question quiz with questions like:

"If San Jose beats Colorado but loses to Chicago while New England loses to LA and Chivas draws with DC, how much does Chuck Blazer weigh?"

Admit it. You just don't know, do you?

Yes, the playoffs are hopelessly American, and therefore completely unacceptable in polite society. I get it.

But just between you and me: I think our way is better.

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