Skip to content

Why MLS teams are so desperate to avoid fourth- and fifth-place (with league playoff dates)

Oct 21, 2013, 10:10 PM EDT

MLS Cup trophy

We know for certain that teams can and have advanced out of the those yucky fourth- or fifth-place playoff spots, all the way to MLS Cup. Houston and Los Angeles did it last year, after all. So, case closed.

But that doesn’t make it the easier path, of course. And that certainly doesn’t mean any team wants to try it. Here is exactly why MLS players and managers are desperate to dodge fourth- and fifth-place, willing to lay a lot on the line to finish third, at worst, in the East or in the West:

Clearly, the most obvious answer is that an extra chance to lose is, well, just that … one extra chance to lose. Purely statistically speaking, a club with sights set on reaching the MLS Cup final sees its success percentages tumble with that additional round, that added opportunity to fail.

Past that, it’s all about the scheduling, which gets seriously jammed up for teams pushed into that early elimination contest.

Here is the playoff schedule:

  • Single-elimination games (4th vs. 5th place): Oct. 30-31 (Wed.-Thurs.)
  • Conference Semifinals, Leg 1: Nov. 2-3 (Sat.-Sun.)
  • Conference Semifinals, Leg 2: Nov. 6-7 (Wed.-Thurs.)
  • Conference Finals, Leg 1: Nov. 9-10 (Sat.-Sun.)
  • Conference Finals, Leg 2: Nov. 23-24 (Sat.-Sun.)
  • MLS Cup: Dec. 7 (Sat.)

So here’s what a potential bugger of a playoff schedule might look like for some club. We’ll use Seattle as an example, since the Sounders and their implausible tumble are topical:

Let’s say the SigiSounders cannot get a sufficient result this Sunday against Los Angeles. That’s a Sunday night match. Late Sunday, no less.

Sigi Schmid’s team (one without much playoff success as it is) might then have one day before traveling to Colorado (most likely, although it could be Los Angeles) for a mid-week match on Wednesday or Thursday.

If they survive, they would travel back home before a conference semifinal first leg contest on Saturday or Sunday, against a better-rested club. The conference semifinal second leg (more travel) then happens a few nights later, again on a Wednesday or Thursday. Add it up, counting that regular season finale, that’s now four matches in 12 days, with potentially significant travel between each stop.

(MORE: MLS Week in Review for Round 34)

By the way, that’s four matches in 12 days and counting. Because the conference final first legs are scheduled for Nov. 9 and 10. That could mean five matches in 15 days plus travel before a big (and quite quirky) break before the conference finals second leg.

One more thing, that additional match is one more chance to lose a player for the final to yellow card accumulation. And who wants to get all the way to MLS Cup – only to play without your top midfielder or your best center back or whatever?

Latest Posts
  1. Report: De Gea moving to Madrid as Costa Rican hero Navas heads to Old Trafford

    Aug 31, 2015, 1:42 PM EDT

    David de Gea won Manchester United's Player of the Year award in what was likely a landslide. Getty Images

    Manchester United and Real Madrid have swapped goalkeepers, with the Premier League side landing a load of dough, too.

  2. VIDEO: Premier League Team of the Week — Round 4

    Aug 31, 2015, 1:23 PM EDT

    Manchester City v Everton - Premier League Getty Images

    The UEFA Champions League clubs don’t find themselves well-represented in the Premier League Team of the Week after a weekend of shocks around Britain.

  3. Fireworks as transfer deadline passes in Germany: Draxler to Wolfsburg, Januzaj to Dortmund

    Aug 31, 2015, 12:32 PM EDT

    Draxler AP

    We’re still waiting to see whether Javier Hernandez seals his move to Bayer Leverkusen. “Chicharito” has been spotted around Bayer HQ.

  4. VIDEO: Premier League Player of the Week — Round 4

    Aug 31, 2015, 11:23 AM EDT

    Swansea City's Bafetimbi Gomis, left, celebrates scoring his side's second goal beside Manchester United's Luke Shaw during the English Premier League soccer match between Swansea City and Manchester United at the Liberty Stadium in Swansea, Wales, Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015.  (AP Photo/Matt Dunham) AP

    The Black Panther is doing more than simply prowling; He is finishing his chances with style.

  5. Miami FC confirms AC Milan, Lazio legend Alessandro Nesta as first manager

    Aug 31, 2015, 11:09 AM EDT

    Defender Alessandro Nesta slips on his new jersey after signing with the Montreal Impact soccer team, Friday, July 6, 2012, in Montreal. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson) AP

    The 2006 World Cup champion will organize Miami FC for co-owner Paolo Maldini during the club’s first season in the NASL.

  6. Premier League Playback: It’s time to change the Transfer Window rules

    Aug 31, 2015, 10:51 AM EDT

    LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 23:  John Stones of Everton applauds the fans prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Manchester City at Goodison Park on August 23, 2015 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images) Getty Images

    PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an in-depth look back at the PL weekend.

  7. Morning news: Jelavic medical for West Ham, ball in Borini’s court after Liverpool accepts bid

    Aug 31, 2015, 10:35 AM EDT

    Jelavic Getty Images

    It looks like we’re headed for a bonkers Transfer Deadline Day on Tuesday, and a trio of Premier League teams might be doing some under-the-radar business on Monday.

  8. Draxler, Pogba, Januzaj headline 10 deals to monitor as we near Transfer Deadline Day

    Aug 31, 2015, 9:33 AM EDT

    Queens Park Rangers v Burnley - Premier League Getty Images

    With the transfer deadline approaching its Tuesday conclusion, deals and rumored deals are hitting the headlines at a head-spinning rate.

  9. Mexico’s Chicharito departs Manchester United; Will he reclaim his form in the Bundesliga?

    Aug 31, 2015, 9:10 AM EDT

    Manchester United's Javier Hernandez keeps the ball from Newcastle's Cheik Ismael Tiote during their English Premier League soccer match at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Saturday Dec. 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Jon Super) AP

    This Little Pea went to market, reportedly finding a new home in the Bundesliga (And did he really ask for $135k per goal from West Ham?).

  10. Manchester United to add new $56 million striker as Monaco’s Martial leaves France duty

    Aug 31, 2015, 8:10 AM EDT

    VALENCIA, SPAIN - AUGUST 19: Anthony Martial of Monaco looks on during the UEFA Champions League Qualifying Round Play Off First Leg match between Valencia CF and AS Monaco at Mestalla Stadium on August 19, 2015 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images) Getty Images

    The French federation says Martial was given permission to leave camp by Didier Deschamps, and that he’ll sign a contract with United.

  11. MLS Snapshot: New York Red Bulls 3-0 DC United

    Aug 30, 2015, 9:15 PM EDT

    Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York Red Bulls AP

    A complete performance from the Red Bulls, who will finish the season unbeaten against their Atlantic Cup rivals.

  12. Done Deals: De Bruyne joins Manchester City in busy day for Wolfsburg

    Aug 30, 2015, 8:05 PM EDT

    FBL-ENG-GER-ARSENAL-WOLFSBURG-FRIENDLY Getty Images

    Find out what moves have been completed with the transfer deadline approaching, as Wolfsburg made three big deals today.

  13. MLS Snapshot: Seattle Sounders 2-1 Portland Timbers

    Aug 30, 2015, 7:04 PM EDT

    cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznpwiwy2q3odk1zwm3ownizgywzdkyota2nwzhymvkmgrl AP

    More than 64,000 supporters packed CenturyLink Field as the Sounders downed the Timbers in a Cascadia Cup clash.

  14. La Liga & Serie A roundup: Madrid clubs cruise; Juve loses again

    Aug 30, 2015, 6:20 PM EDT

    Karim Benzema AP

    Catch up on all of this weekend’s action from Spain and Italy’s top flights.

  15. Bayern Munich signs teen sensation Kingsley Coman from Juventus

    Aug 30, 2015, 5:30 PM EDT

    FBL-ITA-SERIEA-FIORENTINA-JUVENTUS Getty Images

    The French winger has played for Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus, and now Bayern Munich. All before his 20th birthday.

  16. USMNT releases 23-man roster for September friendlies

    Aug 30, 2015, 4:38 PM EDT

    Howard AP

    Tim Howard and Geoff Cameron are back in the squad, while the relatively unknown Andrew Wooten gets his first call-up.

  17. VIDEO: Garry Monk’s tactical changes led to win over Manchester United

    Aug 30, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT

    Newcastle United v Swansea City - Premier League Getty Images

    In a managerial battle between the young Garry Monk and the veteran Louis van Gaal, the kid came out on top.

  18. Roma beats Juventus 2-1 as defending champs drop second straight

    Aug 30, 2015, 3:05 PM EDT

    cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznptqwogu2mgu2njgznjflnjbhmtyyota3mdazymzkyjvm AP

    After losing three matches all of last season, Juventus has now lost their first two games of the new campaign.

  19. VIDEO: Louis van Gaal laments being “too dominant” in loss to Swansea City

    Aug 30, 2015, 2:08 PM EDT

    VanGaal Getty Images

    The Manchester United manager believed his club got so comfortable on the ball that they lost their focus.

  20. Saint-Etienne striker Bahebeck hospitalized after breathing troubles

    Aug 30, 2015, 1:38 PM EDT

    Bahebeck Getty Images

    Reports indicate the Saint-Etienne medical staff was initially afraid that the young striker had suffered a heart attack, but it appears the issues are just heat related.

Featured video

MOTD: United's offensive struggles