MLS season begins tonight

Let's get the most important playoff question out of the way first: if New York and Vancouver advance to MLS Cup, the Red Bulls would host on the basis of most wins.  Make your travel plans accordingly.

I'd like to test out a playoff theory for you, if I may.  And frankly, at this point, I don't see how you could stop me.  It also ties in with the Supporters Shield, and can fuel some of the more hilarious and/or ponderous arguments you plan to have with your fellow fans about its relative importance to the actual league championship.

Since I'm old and boring, and because I only have one example that sticks in my mind, let's look back a hundred years ago to 1998.  It was a simpler time - the Western and Muslim world worked side by side in harmony.  People used to play a stick-and-ball game known as "Base Ball."  MLS was a terrible two, and its best team, by universal acknowledgment, were the Los Angeles Galaxy, who had 2,767 points and a goal differential of a googolplex.

Except when it came to playing other playoff teams.  In 1998, we can see that the Galaxy ended the season with four straight wins, but lost to the Fire in the first round 34-10.  Already bitter rivals, the Fire went on to....

Wait, 34-10?

Oh, sorry...wrong Galaxy and Fire.

Well, this is only marginally better, since in 1998 we apparently had a blue and gold logo and had big games against Sporting KC, the New York Red Bulls, and FC Dallas.  But in the regular season against fellow playoff semifinal teams Columbus, Chicago and DC, the Galaxy were 3-5, with a goal differential of -6.

You would think a team that had trouble beating playoff teams would have trouble in the playoffs, and you would be absolutely right.  The Galaxy lost game one outright and game two in a shootout, and helped make Bob Bradley what he is today.

The lesson is, you can win the Supporters Shield, and you can win with ridiculously gaudy numbers - but that doesn't necessarily mean you're the best team.

So, let's FINALLY come back to the present, and apply that theory to this year.  Here is your modified MLS regular season standings including only games between teams that didn't stink.  In fact, let's make this a single table, just to be obnoxious:

Seattle:  23 points, -6 goal differential.  Wait, that can't be right, Jesus.  Let me try again.

Okay, well, someone check my math on this after I'm done.

Los Angeles: 30, +12

Look, God damn it, I checked THAT one three times, all right?  I'm doing this by hand.  You know what, get ENIAC or the college football polling staff on this, if you don't believe me.

Los Angeles: 30, +12
Vancouver: 28, +7
Columbus:  23, +3
Seattle:  23, -6
DC United: 22, 0
Salt Lake: 22, -1
New York: 21, -5
Dallas: 19, -4
New England: 16, -6
Kansas City: 13, -11

Wow.  Sporting KC went from hosting MLS Cup last year to can't possibly host MLS Cup this year.  That's suboptimal.  And this chart makes it look even worse.  It doesn't look good for Kansas City fans - I hope they have something to distract them this week.

Well, it will be LA in a walk.  I can't think of a single flaw in my methodology, except if a team were to have added someone to their roster who altered their fortunes in a truly significant way, but

Oh, right.

Still, Seattle turns out to be the leading candidate for this year's biggest fraud.  If they hadn't gotten four points in their last two games, they wouldn't have cracked the top six playoff teams.

Of course, the Sounders got those four points against the Galaxy, the team with the ridiculously gaudy numbers in my so-called formula, so maybe there is a better candidate for MLS Fraud of the Year.

This is probably a good time to emphasize that, apart from ignoring positive roster moves, I give equal weight to games at the beginning of the year, which might as well be the Permian Era for as much as they matter to playoff predictions.  I also didn't unbalance the schedule, so Eastern teams still played more lousy Eastern teams and Western teams still played more terrific Western teams.  And, my math might be completely deranged.

So, don't bet the farm on Vancouver.  Just the back forty.

(EDIT....I was hacked.  Okay, fine.  What, you think I write these INTENDING to have a shelf-life of forty-five seconds?  Look, it's home and home the rest of the way, after tonight at least, so I'm not willing to send this to the Island of Misfit Premises quite yet.  But, thanks for absolutely nothing, Whitecaps.)