MLS Playoffs - The Loser Now Will Be Later To Win

Boy, when you actually see Bob Dylan lyrics written down outside the context of the song, it really looks different. 

Sorry - that was me being easily distracted. 

I'm about to get on my trusty box of Dr. Bronner's and yip about how The System has shafted the bovine-mascotted franchises, so it's probably best not to lose sight of how their plights are in great part self-inflicted.

Maybe my taste for Taylor Twellman is waning slightly, but to me, the worst thing about New York giving up a goal nine seconds into the first game was hearing Twellman go on about how series-changing it was for eighty nine minutes and fifty-one seconds plus stoppage time. 

Hell, even that's not accurate - the Red Bulls actually had a hundred and seventy-nine minutes and fifty one seconds to do something about it, and ninety of those in their home park after a week's rest.  It was the goal at the end of the first game that figuratively literally killed the Red Bulls.

Well, that and being outplayed over both legs.  And, amusingly, outcoached.  Nothing against Jesse Marsch, but the MLS Coach of the Year award is apparently an even bigger kiss of death than the Supporters Shield, as far as MLS Cup is concerned.  Wikipedia is there when you want to check, but from 1996 to 2001, the MLS Coach of the Year won the MLS Cup of the Year four times out of six times (EDITED because I ran out of fingers to count on ever since that unfortunate bagel-slicing incident).  Since 2002, that's happened, let's see, one, two, three, four....twice.  Sigi's 2008 Crew and Bruce Arena's 2011 Galaxy. 

Both teams also won the Supporters Shield that year.  The moral of the story?  If you're going to win regular season awards, be so awesomely amazingly dominating that mere curses flee from your presence.

Oscar Pareja ended up on the wrong end of his ongoing duel with Caleb Porter, to the dismay of everyone outside a five mile radius of whatever Merritt Paulson is calling Civic Stadium this week.  Porter - himself a former MLS Coach of the Year, by the way - displayed his tactical acumen by starting Nat Borchers and ordering a downpour on to fans held up by security. 

Which also might work against the Crew, come to think of it.  Some rain, a stadium crammed full of Porter's old University of Akron fans to take away home field advantage, Berhalter starting the wrong guys.  Keep in mind - or don't - that Portland beat the Crew in However You're Supposed To Pronounce That Insurance Company Name Stadium back in September.  Portland's road record is now 8-8-5 - unimpressive until you see that only one other MLS team made it to .500 on the road this season.  (Vancouver, if you care.)

So the stats say that Portland has an excellent chance to be the first team to win MLS Cup at the other guy's stadium since 2002.  I guess that trumps my own eyes, which tell me that Portland was looking very, very hard for ways to lose that series against Dallas - right up until the Lucas Melano goal. 

Remember the first time you ever played FIFA, and you were just figuring out the controls, so you set it to amateur level and set up a friendly against Sudan and set the weather to a pouring rainstorm so you could win 1-0?  That was Lucas Melano's goal.

The Crew, or at least their stadium, will host their second MLS Cup.  Unlike the 2001 Final, this one sold out by a comfortable margin.  There was some talk of moving the game to Ohio Stadium (where the Ohio Glory of WLAF used to play), but the tiny field and other logistical headaches made sure the Crew weren't going to go completely MLS 1.0 on us.

Portland would of course have made terrific hosts...and would have hosted, if the Crew hadn't unloaded on DC United in the last game of the year to pull ahead of Portland on goal difference.  Two years ago, it was an unlikely and seemingly meaningless regular season loss by Salt Lake to Sporting that had Kansas City host.  Keep these in mind when someone says the MLS regular season doesn't mean anything.

....except it doesn't mean as much as it should.

No, New York and Dallas did not cover themselves with glory these past couple of games.  But why were they in that position to begin with, having to cover a two-goal deficit before they kicked off their home game?

Yes, they knew the rules going in.  Yes, the result was decided on the field.  And yes, the games were exciting, especially the second legs. 

But saying the second legs were exciting is a terrible counterfactual - a one-off would have been equally as exciting, because of the stakes at, er, stake.  We wouldn't have seen New York advance by winning 1-0 and hosting whoever won in the Dallas-Portland overtime - we would have seen completely different games. 

Portland and Columbus won fair and square, according to the rules.  Probably even more fair, since both teams had an equal number of minutes on their home field.  I just think the Timbers and the Crew should not have had a level field.  They should not have had a fair fight.  FC Dallas and the Red Bulls finished first.  Their reward was a first round bye, and nothing else.  It should have been harder for them to lose.  

One game playoff rounds make it a lot easier to fit the playoffs around that annoying FIFA date.  And it makes no kind of sense for the final to be a different format than the rest of the playoffs.  Although I've probably now just talked MLS into a two-legged final, like in Mexico.   

Well, whatever, never mind, as Elvis and Kurt Cobain said. But if we also implement Liga MX's split season and promotion/relegation/corruption, I'm done.  After all, I have a nascent laughingstock USL team now. 

I won't be particularly surprised, let alone heartbroken, if Portland wins next Sunday - barring the fact that Caleb Porter and Merritt Paulson will be insufferable in ways that will one day make us all Sounders fans. 

I just think the Crew are a tiny bit better right now, and are, after all, at home.  I also think we can disregard the ridiculous 53 goals they gave up during the regular season, and go on the current form that held the Red Bulls to one over two games. Kei Kamara is going to lose the MVP award to Giovinco, and will get the "I told you so" goal in the final game while Gio is in street clothes.  This being MLS and MLS Cup, freaking Will Trapp will probably score the Crew's other goal.  Portland presses late and gets one back to make it tense, but won't send the game to overtime.  

Wait...on second thought, Portland isn't going to score.  No offense, Timbers.  But MLS Cups are greenhouses for shutouts, after all.  And thanks to Caleb Porter, I can make this prediction: Columbus 2, Akron zip.

But most of all, predicting a big game in Columbus Crew Stadium to end by any other score?  Heresy.  Home team wins, 2-0.