By AVI CREDITOR
The Los Angeles Galaxy won the Supporters' Shield, amassing the most points over the course of the MLS season, thus earning any and all advantages heading into the postseason.
Their reward: two cross-country trips in a four-day span for a two-legged tie against the only team in the league that can go head-to-head in a bare-knuckles payroll battle.
And while it's not in the Galaxy's control that it was the New York Red Bulls that captured the league's final playoff berth and won their wild card match Wednesday night to get placed in the Western Conference bracket, the fact remains that the ever-changing MLS playoff system is still very much a work in progress. The other Western Conference semifinal pits Seattle and Real Salt Lake, the second- and third-best teams in the league all season, against each other while five other teams with lower point totals duke it out elsewhere.
"No, I don't agree with the system, but I also accept what it is and recognize that I don't get to make those decisions, so we'll deal with it the best way we know how," Real Salt Lake manager Jason Kreis said on Wednesday.
In theory, Los Angeles is supposed to have the advantage by watching its next opponent have to play an extra game. In reality, that advantage is minimalized by the travel required on its part for the first leg in addition to the short rest in between a second cross-country trip back to the West Coast for the second leg.
Seattle and Salt Lake, meanwhile, might have been better off finishing fourth or fifth in the conference and falling to the wild card round, where the possibility of getting shifted to the Eastern Conference bracket — like where MLS Cup champion Colorado ended up last year and could again with a win over Columbus Thursday night — would make for a more advantageous playoff road.
"After the season that (the Sounders have) had, to turn around and have to play us as opposed to a wild card team is a poor place to be," Kreis said.
There's no simple solution as long as the league continues to maintain its stance on separate conference brackets. Unbalanced conferences happen from year-to-year in all sports, so uneven playoff roads are bound to be a casualty of the process. But when the integrity of a league's playoff system continues to get called into question season after season by pundits, coaches and players, it's a sign that more significant changes to that system may be necessary.
Do you think Los Angeles got a raw deal by having to travel cross-country for its conference semifinal series? What changes would you make to the playoff system? Do you agree with Kreis' comments?
Share your thoughts below.