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NFL playoff construction right; MLS construction, not so much

Jan 6, 2013, 8:30 AM EDT

Sounders FC Sporting Kansas City Soccer

I’m watched the NFL playoffs yesterday, taking a wee break from our game. But I’m never very far from thinking about soccer. So …

I could not help but think about how the ratio of NFL teams that qualify for the playoffs is spot-on perfect, whereas Major League Soccer’s more lenient qualification policy continues to leave me feeling a tad underwhelmed.

And that’s frustrating, because there are so many areas where Major League Soccer simply cannot compare to the mighty NFL. In any measure of public appeal, it’s no contest, so there’s little cause for comparison.

But in terms of procedures and policies, there’s no reason why MLS cannot match its much bigger “football” brother.

In NFL, 12 of 32 teams make the playoffs. That’s 37.5 percent, or slightly more than a third. Combine that with the fact that NFL teams get just 16 cracks at regular season success, every single game day is a biggie.

By contrast, Major League Soccer’s more forgiving format provides safe playoff passage to 10 of 19 teams. That’s more than half.

And that’s still too many.

The result is too many regular season matches that still don’t carry sufficient weight. (Yes, it would help if there was a promotion-relegation structure – but that’s not going to happen, so let’s not wander down that rabbit trail just now, please.)

Think about this: in the NBA, 16 of 30 teams qualify for the “tournament.” That’s about the same as in MLS, right around 53 percent. They play a whole bunch of regular season games (82), which is the primary reason the regular season is sometimes reduced to a punch line, due to that lack of weight attached to each individual contest.

While the NBA condition is mostly about having so many regular season games, it is also about a playoff format that allows safe post-season passage for too many mediocre teams.

Want to identify one way to instantly make MLS games a little more exciting through the bulk of the season? Go back to the days when just 8 clubs made the post-season. That would certainly help.

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