MLS playoffs - the center of the American sports universe

World Series? Hey, you pre-empt "Glee," you're dead to me.


Well, that happened.




THIS HAS BEEN THE COMPREHENSIVE okay, okay, I'll make a guess.

Bill - who, as it happens, is not Fake least, I think he's not Fake Sigi...anyway, Bill forwarded me something my close, personal friend Luis Bueno wrote about depressing the playoffs are going to suck this year. Here's what he thought the "rightful" playoffs should have been:

Why would Chicago be at home to Seattle in a single table? That's not the question. The question is, why do you want playoff matches that suck?

Expensive playoff matches that suck. That's an extra cross-country flight or four that you've handed the Galaxy and Chivas USA, for no very good reason at all.

But that isn't the point either. LA-CUSA and Chicago-New England are going to be absolute bar fights. Even Houston-Seattle has some nice Open Cup residual heat (probably because the Sounders can quote chapter and verse from How To Make Everyone Hate Your Expansion Team Bible*).

Besides, the thing about parity is, it kinda sorta makes no difference, record-wise, whether Los Angeles is jobbed by "having" to face Chivas USA in the first round instead of New England. There's not a lot of difference in MLS between forty points and forty-eight points - not this year. Each MLS team is its own unique snowflake, but you can't tell those differences from the standings.

Should Houston have jobbed on Sunday to avoid this match? It's probably better to get Seattle home and home than one game in Washington, true. But whoever your semifinal opponent is, you've given them two weeks to rest and recuperate at home. If Chivas USA had beaten Houston, Chivas would have had to fly up and down the coast, and the Galaxy would have had to fly to Texas and back.

Good news for Houston - whenever the Earthquakes/Dynamo have won the division, they have invariably been bounced out early. They've never won the MLS Cup and the Western Division in the same year. In fact - and we're well into the realm of small sample size now - but whenever Houston doesn't win the West, they win MLS Cup. Place your bets now.

On paper, Houston is vastly better, but on paper, Seattle is just another crummy expansion team. I don't think Sigi is so vastly superior a soccer mind than Dominic Kinnear to make up for Houston's superior experience and depth, but Sigi has pulled off both huge miracles and monumental flops in the playoffs before.

Also, playoff refs dislike calling fouls even more than usual, which is my polite way of saying Ljungberg and Montero's dives will be for naught. Seattle 1-0 in Seattle, Houston 2-0 in Houston. Whoever wins this goes to MLS Cup, I reckon.

Bill is a Crew fan, and doesn't want to offend the soccer gods, so he pointed out yesterday that the Crew have been pretty mediocre lately. True. They've had very little to play for, though. Yes, I wish MLS teams treated the Supporters Shield a little better than the Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence.** Columbus wanted to give it away, but the West just wanted it less.

Every year since 2003, a first place team has been overturned in the first round. Frequently, it's been the Shield winner, although since the Crew themselves broke that curse last year, it shouldn't weigh heavily on their minds. And fifth place teams have always made it to the semifinals at least.

And I like Real Salt Lake, I do. Not enough to pay to watch, maybe, but they're among the bottom two teams I wouldn't want my playoff team to face.

But Columbus is just flat-out the best team in the league. They've been putting out second-line players for a month now, against desperate teams, and they've been controlling their games. The results haven't been dazzling, but what of it? Warzycha isn't Schmid, but what has that cost them so far? First place? The Shield? The Open Cup?

The only way to beat the Crew is to focus on Hejduk, right now the least reliable of the Crew defense. Lamentably, Hejduk is a big-time big-game player - for example, the Home Depot Center last November, where Hejduk scored and Van Den Bergh was invisible. And if Hejduk isn't the Crew's weak point, then the Crew really don't have one. I just don't see anyone beating Columbus until 2010, and that includes Salt Lake. RSL will be their toughest test, but that's what the Lakers will have to settle for. 1-1 in Rio Tinto, 3-1 in Ohio.

Both road teams win, penalty kick shootout, winner totally gassed for the semifinal. I'm intrigued to see what Nicol does with this patchwork Rev team, but more interested in seeing who wins the postgame brawl in Chicago.

Anyone else catch Harkes and Dellacamera talking about Paul Mariner leaving, and quoting Nicol as saying - I'm paraphrasing - "meh"? I mean, wow. There's GOT to be more to that story. Okay, Plymouth's season is ongoing, so it's unreasonable to ask them to wait...but it ain't like New England has time on their hands. And then there's Nicol replacing Mariner with someone outside the organization, at least for the moment. Wee-ird.

I think both sets of fans are picking the other team in this one - Fire fans have no faith in Hamlett, Revs fans have little faith in their banged-up team. Since game two is in Chicago, I'm going to go with New England. Not that it matters, the Crew will tune up either team that makes it out of this pit alive.

....Oh, God. Give me another day on this one.

*An ongoing work of considerable controversy, best compared to the Bible. The Chicago Fire are the Old Testament, Chivas USA the New Testament, Toronto FC the Koran, and Seattle is the Da Vinci Code. Portland is projecting out to be Dianetics, and Philadelphia the Satanists' Bible. I can't really think of a holy book to connect with Real Salt Lake.

**What do you mean, that Simpsons reference is old enough to vote? The Simpsons are still on the air! I mean, can you imagine if the Simpsons were on for twenty years? The new episodes would be unwatchably stale!