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How do you prefer to crown your league champion?

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What makes a team a league champion? Is it the team that  played the best throughout the regular season, or the team that reached the playoffs and defeated all comers to lift the trophy?

This debate has raged on in American soccer circles for years as those fans influenced by the European model of naming the best team in the regular season champion square off against those fans who believe the playoffs determine the true league champion.

For those of you who missed it, this debate kicked off on Monday in the comments section of the latest edition of Your Questions Answered, which got me wondering how SBI readers would vote on the subject.

Now is your chance, vote for which system you prefer for naming the MLS champion. Does the regular season's best team deserve the title of league champion, or do you believe the MLS Cup winner deserves the title of league champion? Cast your vote:

As always, feel free to share your thoughts on the subject in the comments section below.


  1. With all this talking with our heads up mighty Europe’s buttinsky, I’m surprised people are forgetting all about the “big league” right here in our own back yard – Mexico. In Mexico, if you don’t win the Liguilla (playoffs), you’re not there, because Mexico doesn’t even have a “Supporter’s Shield”. All regular season record gets you is tie-breaker in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds. Therefore, “rest of the world” argument = F-A-I-L.

  2. It really, really doesn’t have to be an “either or”. Valuing the SS more than MLS Cup does not mean you want to get rid of the playoffs and the MLS Cup.

    READ what Ives said.

  3. silent e – Those coaches would then probably need to find new jobs, as its a coach’s job to keep his team both fit and in form.

    The proposed playoff rounds would be played same-day and 4 days apart. That would come in just under 2 weeks. The SS winner could schedule an exhibition during that stretch to stay fit.

    There’s an advantage to being well rested. The 2nd spot team would be fatigued from playing 3 games in 12 days, so I’m not sure they get an advantage over a team that’s been able to focus on training and tactics over that same span.

  4. “and i simply stand firm on the fact that i cannot take a team seriously as champs when they BARELY made the playoffs”

    Brett, you don’t have that problem, because Red Bull didn’t win. And again, if the league is at 15,16,17,18+ teams with only 8 playoffs spots it becomes less and less likely that a midling team makes the Playoffs.

    I hope that the MLS Cup Playoffs don’t grow as the league does.

  5. Brett, I suspect a lot of coaches would be wary of having their team sit out and grow soft while their opponent played 3 rounds of tough games to earn their spot.

  6. Feasability aside, I prefer the league champion to be crowned by the regular season, where each team plays each other team home and away. It is the most fair and rewards the team that plays the best football for a complete season.

    However, I understand that for MLS, being an american league, a playoff format to determine the champion is more viable.

    If I were to design my own sructure for MLS, the Supporter’s Shield winner would earn a berth in the championship round by virtue of their regular season form. The second spot of the championship round would be determined as a classic single-elimination playoff where #2-9 (in terms of overall record) are included.

    This way the rest of the field remains relevant while the top club gets a just reward for their regular season form.

  7. As a former Brit I have never understood the European league model. It results in a vast number of meaningless games and an anticlimactic end to the season. By contrast, the US variant on the regular season and playoff system is not only better adapted to a league without promotion and relegation but also keeps more teams involved in meaningful games to the end of the season. Under the standard Euro model, only a few teams at the top and bottom of the league are involved in anything interesting after about the half-way mark in the season, and the championship can be settled even before the season is over. OTOH, take last week in the NFL, the last regular season weekend. I counted 11 games of the 16 being played which had some impact on the playoffs. Add in the Detroit Lions game, which was also of some dubious historical value, and fully 75% of all games in the final week were important. And of course, all ensuing playoff games are by definition important.

  8. That this argument still goes on is just silly. There has to be playoffs in this league. That’s the bottom line and it’s not because “it’s the way we do things here”. No, it’s because there is no promotion/relegation and no meaningful International cup competitions to play for (and, I’ll say it again, Concacaf Champions Cup and Superliga just don’t cut it). Fans of all the MLS teams who could not win the championship because of their standings (and a bunch of teams at the midseason mark would know they have no chance of winning it) would not even attend games at the end. Yeah, let’s keep talking about the ‘Purity’ of the game but let me tell you that these MLS owners want seats filled and want their teams in the hunt for the championship until the very end.

  9. dave clark- and i also believe with the Cap and the draft that there will be just as many teams in the running for that last spot as the league grows… there will still be 3-5 teams battling it out for that 7th and 8th place spot… and due to parity, the middle of the table will still consist of teams bordering the .500 marker and at least 1 or 2 making it….

    unlike other leagues, any team here can win any game…there is no clear cut favorites… each team has the same advantages and disadvantages… we will have 1-3 teams ahead of the league battling for SS, and we’ll have safe playoff bound teams and then a series of teams battling for the last few spots, and then obvious teams who wont make it…

  10. dave clark- truth be said they had just as long of good stretches as they did poor stretches….

    but the fact remains is they stood a chance at being deemed league champs despite having a relatively poor season…. they had a solid end stretch, in fact a solid 3 1/2 games coming off of a slaughtering at chicago…

    my point on the subject wasnt about how whether a team performed enough to make the playoffs and earn a spot, it is when the league champs should be crowned… and i simply stand firm on the fact that i cannot take a team seriously as champs when they BARELY made the playoffs…

  11. brett,

    they still qualified for the playoffs. It wasn’t just a short run of good games, they needed a minimum level of performance over the reg.season.

    Qualification matters, and next year the chances that a sub .500 team makes the playoffs goes down, and in 2010 it will nearly disappear.

  12. dave clark- you cannot just add the post season and the regular season as an argument in this case…. the redbulls REQUIRED a loss or a tie by DCU to even make the playoffs…. then went on a 3 game solid stint….

    if you want to change the pts distributed, do it to all teams…

    1-CLB-67 pts
    2- Hou- 52 pts
    3- Chi- 50 pts
    4- RBNJ- 46 pts

    now much higher in the points, i agree with that, but this is a very incorrect way of thinking seeing as the points are for the regular season and determine the playoffs…

    ending the season with 39 points means you hit a rough patch for a decent stretch of the season… having lived through the fire 07′ season i know for a fact that there was a large patch of the fire’s season that was poor poor poor in order to end with 40 points (10-10-10 record)…

  13. Voted MLS Cup because why have it if not to crown a champion? If the SS winner cannot win MLS Cup, then they are not “that good” are they?

    I’d say have the SS winner play the MLS Cup winner for a true “champion” but that would only make the discussion drag on more…

  14. A possible solution to this, if the public is truly as split on this as the poll suggests, is to have both a supporter’s shield winner and playoff cup winner, as now, but award the title “league champion” to the team that amassed the most points in both the regular season and playoffs combined.

  15. I’m surprised I haven’t seen the following myth knocked down yet

    “Playoffs can’t be best because a team can just have a run of 4-5 games”

    Well, no not really. Said team would have had to QUALIFY for the playoffs.

    In the case of RedBull, they had a mere 39 points/8th in table for the regular season, but guess what? The won 2 games and drew another earning 7 more points, and finished with 46 for the playoff+regular season. That would have been good for the third best total of all teams.

    They did not win the Sheild or Cup. They were 8th, 2nd or 3rd depending on how you look at it.

    They didn’t have just a good run at the end of a 34 match season, they also had a great June and a great August.

    The fact that qualifying for the playoffs gets more difficult each year reduces the logic in the argument that a bad team can just have a good run and win the Cup. If that were true the Galaxy would have had a title since Sigi left.

  16. Ives, what you say is true. But when we are talking about ‘playoffs’ in the common lingo, we certainly mean a multi-round knock out tournament, yes?

    I’m only trying to make the point that crowning the regular season winner as Champion isn’t entirely alien to American sports nor exclusively European in nature, but rather something that’s grown up relatively recently in the USA.

  17. Zeppo, a championship game is the purest definition of a play-off. Hence the World Series, which began around the turn of the century, and the NFL Championship game, which was first played in 1933.

  18. Ives, why do you describe the full season champ as the ‘European model?’

    Here in the good ol’ US of A, that sure as heck used to be the way for a long time in the two great American sports, football and baseball (not to mention the conferences of the NCAA in football, basketball, just about any team sport).

    While the MLS model may be based on pro football as it is today, it bears reminding that until the 1960s, there was only a single NFL Championship Game between the two division winners; no “playoffs” as we know them now. The NFL grew into the playoff format they have now after many, many years and only as the popularity of the league grew. The league certainly didn’t start with over 50% of the teams getting into a post-season tournament. Playoffs in pro football are more than anything a product of the AFL’s success and its effect on the NFL, leading to the merger.

    And as we all know, any kind of playoffs in baseball only started in the late 1960s, and for a long time only included 4 teams total.

    To say a playoff system is somehow innately American is to ignore the long history of pro and college sports in this country before the final third of the 20th Century.

  19. I’m a playoff fan.

    And I know its been hashed , but with the uneven schedule there is no way in mls to award it to the league winner and feel everyone had an equal opportunity.

    That being said, as a fan i enjoy the play off atmosphere and the american fans seem to love it too as a game in chicago for the playoffs is pretty crazy and it seems like there is more passion for the team then as well.. of course if your in high 30s and rain , well you are proabably a passionate fan anyways. 😉

  20. I prefer a league set up. However, I feel the best mix could be a single table, with some sort of play-off. Or some system that is a hybrid. Part of the reason I don’t follow basketball and football is because I can’t get trough a season.

  21. yes without promotion and relegation, you have to have playoffs to keep the season interesting, and the MLS cup must be the most important trophy. That keeps the end of the season interesting. Promotion and relegation would be better, but it just is not going to work in such a financially weak league. As more teams enter the league the playoffs will get more difficult to make. Some tweaks to the playoff system, that have already been mentioned, should probably be added to give the top 2 teams more of a playoff advantage. And who cares if a Cinderella team almost one – that’s why they play!

  22. OK, I’m gonna get blasted for this, but … f the EPL.

    Seriously. And I’m a Gooner. I love Arsenal.
    But the MLS is not the EPL and it is not going to be. So people need to let the comparisons go. Different countries, different cultures, different sports, etc., etc., etc.

    I’d be willing to bet that there is some sort of playoff in the EPL long before the MLS gets rid of its playoffs.

  23. I’d like to see the regular season champion be the points leader. Keep the MLS Cup playoff but stagger it through the season, with the final culminating at the end of the MLS season. This way there will be a true league champion and teams can still vie to qualify for the next MLS Cup. Maybe find a way to add to the prestige of MLS Cup as well. (Champions League spot, maybe?)

  24. I agree that calling New York league champs would have been a little strange, but I think that’s because the MLS playoff system is flawed, not because playoffs are inherently bad. If I were in charge, I would do the following:

    –play a single-table, balanced schedule (reducing the number of games)
    –give the top two table finishers a bye in the first round of the playoffs
    –give a cash prize to the winner of the SS
    –observe international dates

    I think this would solve many of the league’s problems. For instance, reducing the number of regular-season games would allow our teams to be competitive in other cup competitions. It would make the regular season more interesting and each game more valuable.

    As for the which-is-more-important question, I am a firm believer that that is up to the fans. Ultimately, what draws the interest of the fans will take precedence. Look at the US Open Cup. It isn’t irrelevant because the USSF sat down and declared it so. It’s irrelevant because no one cares. Fans don’t come out for the games.

  25. Playoffs are cool but can we really say that the team that wins them deserves to be crowned the league champion? If New York had won, had they had such a good season that they should represent as league champion? Even if Toronto had won, i still dont think they would have the right to claim such a title.
    Sorry, gotta say (and i despise Columbus) that the league champion is definitely the team with the best record.

  26. The MLS champion should be the team with the most points at the end of the season. The MLS Cup winner should be considered the league cup winner. A concept not much different from, say, the Premier League and Carling Cup in England, except that the MLS league cup is played entirely after the season instead of during it.

  27. I opt for the playoffs for most of the above mentioned reasons.

    One thing that definitely taints the SS is that some teams suffer some handicaps that are unique to MLS. First, teams play during international dates. The case of Toronto losing, like, 8 starters for a match is the extreme. This tends to happen mid-season before the big “playoff push” begins and seems to be forgotten. Also, the better teams have to play many more games which saps the strength of teams with limited roster sizes.

  28. Stop me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t winning the SS already carry the same weight as winning the Cup? The team is given a trophy and a spot in the champs league. And the runners up of both competitions are treated equally. Seems to me the league already is treating these with equal respect. MLS Cup has always felt to me like a post season league cup that you have to qualify for, which i don’t see as an inherently bad thing.

    I feel like it’s up to the fans to decide which is more important. Things will evolve from there. The FA Cup is less important now because the fans (followed by the clubs) don’t care about it as much as they used to. Doesn’t the supporter’s shield exist because a group of fans decided to create it back in 96? If fans got really excited about the SS and less so about the Cup for the next decade or so, i think you’d see a natural shift in attention from the league and media.

    That said, I really don’t see what’s wrong with the playoffs (especially when the league winner is rewarded with a champs league spot):
    –it’s not unique. plenty of other leagues use playoffs of some sort.
    –so it’s acceptable to crown the european club champion, the european national team champion, and the world cup champion with a cup competition, but not the MLS champion?

  29. At first I was shocked that the voting was so close. I thought the vote would be overwhelmingly in favor of the team with the best record during the regular season. Logically, how could you think otherwise? However, after reading the comments I see why the vote is so close. A lot of you took into account other conditions that currently exist in the league before making your decision. It never occurred to me to do this. I just answered which system I thought was best without any other consideration. Perhaps Ives should have specified this.

    Obviously if the best record system was chosen some other changes would be necessary to make it work. As some people have suggested, without making other changes, this system would make a lot of games even more meaningless than they are now.

  30. One more thing I’d like to point out… People keep talking about the having a less valuable cup (like the Carling Cup). I’d just like the point out that the FA didn’t sit down and decide, “OK, League is most important, FA Cup is second most important, Carling Cup is the least prestigious.” This was determined by fans. The fans don’t care about the Carling Cup, therefore the teams don’t care about the Carling Cup. The fans value the league above all else, therefore winning league is the highest achievement. The league didn’t tell the fans, “Care about this, not about that”…it sorts itself out.


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