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Home Sweet Home! MLS Play-offs a Questionable Format.

All four play-offs end in defeat for visiting teams.

DC United v Toronto FC - First Round
Wayne Rooney signed off on his MLS career with heavy defeat in Toronto ...
Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Home advantage was 100% telling as MLS’ 2019 Play-offs got underway yesterday.

Much can be said about the move towards the new single-match knockout-out format introduced this season, but Atlanta, Seattle, Toronto and Real Salt Lake won’t be complaining. At least not this morning.

There was the usual play-off drama peppered throughout the day, but if the MLS needs play-offs to determine its champion club (and in North America, of course, play-offs are deep in the sports-fan’s psyche) then you wonder why they’ve diluted the purity of competition.

At least they rewarded teams with the best regular season records with home ties, but you still wonder why they’ve reduced the knock-out phase of their competition to a one-off 90-minute contest that favours the home side so emphatically.

The new format resembles the FA Cup, where, in England, it’s considered a lottery. Important, although less so these days, but secondary to the League Championship, which is clearly considered the purest test to establish a champion club. All over Europe and in most of the world, this is common practise too.

Play-offs work in North America, the sheer size of the region covered by MLS supports this, as does the fans’ traditional familiarity with the concept, but please let’s make the test a true one. At least restore the knock-out phase to a two-legged affair.

The single game format is actually unfair to the lifeblood of the game too, the fans.

DC United were well hammered in the end last night by Toronto FC, but had they prevailed, their semi-final would also have been away from home. Not only that, had they been able to go all the way to MLS Cup, their fans would still not have had the opportunity to glimpse their favourites in the flesh. All their games would have been played on foreign territory.

Not a great incentive to fans willing their teams towards play-off soccer.

MLS: MLS Cup Playoffs-Round One-New England Revolution at ATLANTA United FC
Atlanta match winner, has recorded more post-season goals than what he’s managed in regular-season soccer.
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

As it happened we saw the end of Wayne Rooney’s MLS-career. Despite DC United securing an added time equalizer at BMO Field, Rooney was unable to inspire his team-mates, who collapsed in the first period of extra-time, conceding four times.

Elsewhere Ezequiel Barco, repaid some of his huge fee when his lovely through ball set up Franco Escobar who fired a spectacular shot beyond Matt Turner, as Atlanta defeated New England by the slimmest of margins. It was the defender’s third career post-season goal. He has only two to his credit in regular-season football.

Seattle’s US international striker, Jordan Morris had a better night at Century Link Field, than he did in Toronto last Tuesday. Morris claimed a hat-trick including the winner in extra time as Sounders finally eclipsed a Dallas side that simply refused to lie down. FCD had come back to level twice; after being 0-2 behind then 2-3 down, but Morris, and Seattle, had the last laugh.

If there was a game last night where you felt the hosts might fail, it was possibly the encounter between Real Salt Lake and Portland, but once again, the home side prevailed.
Despite equalizing just after the interval and looking the better side for most of the second-half, Portland were unable to turn supremacy into goals. Jefferson Savarino grabbed the winning goal for Real Salt Lake in the 87th minute.

Poll

Do you prefer the new format of only a single play-off match or prefer the two-legged concept?

This poll is closed

  • 20%
    Single game
    (2 votes)
  • 80%
    Two-legged tie
    (8 votes)
10 votes total Vote Now