Commenter and pal Eric B said this last week in response to my ponderous whining about the playoff format:
Yup. I thought the excitement the format produced outweighed the difficulty of explaining it to people. But, I understand and accept what a logistical nightmare that format can be, so now I'm favoring the one game NFL-style playoff system.
Look, there IS no good option in the home-and-home first leg. If the home team wins, what the hell did the fourth place team do to deserve a big advantage going into the higher seed's home game? Get lucky for ninety minutes? If it's a tie, what's the point of playing the first game at all? If it's a road team win, what's the point of playing the second game?
And if home-and-home is such a great system, why ditch it for the semifinals? (I should back off this complaint, because if MLS next year says "You're right, let's have home-and-home for the semifinals," won't I look silly.)
So what if Mexico has it? Mexico also has a convoluted, incomprehensible system of promotion and relegation, I suppose MLS should adopt that, too? (Oh, look, a can labelled "Worms." I wonder what's inside.)
One of the defenses of the home-and-home system is that, yay, everyone gets a playoff game! And yay, maybe someday playoff games will outdraw regular season games! It's tempting to crack on Salt Lake for not selling out their first every playoff game, but (correct me if I'm wrong*) only DC United and the Earthquakes** maintain or improve at the gate in the postseason. It's one of those really weird league-wide problems.
Also - Thursday games are attendance dogs. Toyota Park should be more crowded than the Patriot Bowl last week, and I cheerfully grant that Chicago fans bring energy not dependent on numbers. But if it's another four figure showing tonight, don't be surprised.
Oh, the game? Well, I was surprised that New England kept it close, until I saw last week was "Let's Not Win Anything Week." I shouldn't have underrated New England's defense that much, especially in the playoffs. Hard-ass veterans tend to be tough in those types of situations.
On the other side...another bunch of hard-ass veterans.
Look, this game is going to be a couple of awesome brawls mixed with complete garbage. This may end up being one of the top two or three unwatchable slogs in league history, combining the sportsmanship of the Khmer Rouge with the aesthetics of a demolition derby between motorized wheelchairs. MAYBE Blanco comes up with one of those free kicks that by federal statute must be described as "sublime." Or maybe Rolfe comes up with another of those long-range jewels. We can hope. But most of the game is going to be McBride competing against Reis for hospital balls. Ask Paul Gardner to spend two hours describing his worst nightmare - that'll be tonight's game.
I don't think New England can keep the Fire off the board for 120 minutes, and I don't think they have a prayer of getting past the Fire defense. That tells me 1-0, and if you decide to wait until tomorrow to watch the highlight, I'm the last guy to criticize.
*I am wrong. I looked this up for a tangent that I ended up cutting, but ever since MLS Cup 2006, the Dynamo have drawn fantastic playoff numbers. It's just those three teams, though. We'll see what Toronto ends up doing when they make the playoffs, in the year 34,022 or whatever.
**For all the good it did them. That said, I think we can confidently predict that Quakes fans will attend Quakes playoff games in numbers at or better than before the move.