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 EST

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. Milan derby: Return of Roberto Mancini sets the stage for classic Serie A rivalry

    Nov 22, 2014, 11:59 PM EST

    esteban_cambiasso Getty Images

    On Sunday, AC Milan will play host to rivals Inter Milan in “derby della Madonnina”, and Roberto Mancini is back.

  2. Tim Cahill thinks Red Bulls are plainly ‘better’ than New England Revolution

    Nov 22, 2014, 9:47 PM EST

    Tim Cahill 2

    New York Red Bulls’ Designated Player Tim Cahill is far from doubting his team’s capabilities against the New England Revolution in the Eastern Conference Championship on Sunday.

  3. Jose Mourinho apologizes for criticizing supporters, grateful for Blues’ triumph over West Brom

    Nov 22, 2014, 7:12 PM EST

    Chelsea FC v FC Schalke 04 - UEFA Champions League Getty Images

    Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho apologized to supporters for criticizing the stadium atmosphere, while praising his team’s play in a 2-0 blanking of West Brom.

  4. Arsene Wenger on loss to Manchester United: ‘We dominated 80 percent of the time’

    Nov 22, 2014, 5:15 PM EST

    Everton v Arsenal - Premier League Getty Images

    His squad controlling possession and gathering a fair amount of chances on goal, Arsene Wenger believes his side deserved a better result against Manchester United.

  5. Premier League Sunday preview: Liverpool, Spurs take to road to face fellow strugglers Palace, Hull

    Nov 22, 2014, 5:03 PM EST

    Britain Soccer Premier League AP

    One game is a rematch of the 3-3 draw that left Luis Suarez in tears, but both Palace and Liverpool have much bigger things to worry about.

  6. Bundesliga roundup: Gotze, Lewandowski lead Bayern rout; Reus hurt in BVB draw

    Nov 22, 2014, 4:45 PM EST

    Germany Soccer Bundesliga AP

    Elsewhere, USMNT defenders Timmy Chandler (right) and John Anthony Brooks picked up wins in 90 minutes each for their clubs.

  7. Alan Pardew, Newcastle organization wishing the best for Ryan Taylor’s recovery

    Nov 22, 2014, 4:25 PM EST

    alan_pardew Getty Images

    Despite an wonderful 1-0 result over QPR to keep their winning run alive, Alan Pardew feels the pain of Ryan Taylor’s sudden injury.

  8. “Always annoyed” Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho: “At halftime it should be four or five nil”

    Nov 22, 2014, 3:38 PM EST

    Chelsea v West Bromwich Albion - Premier League Getty Images

    This season, he has all his players and no excuses. So The Special One is a little ticked off that his Blues aren’t pouring forth goals to match their dominant play.

  9. Alan Irvine calls Costa goal offside, bright spot was spectacular Ben Foster

    Nov 22, 2014, 3:35 PM EST

    alan_irvine Getty Images

    Irvine: “We actually went a goal down to a goal which I thought was offside and that makes life very difficult here.”

  10. Defiant win proves van Gaal’s Manchester United on the right track

    Nov 22, 2014, 3:32 PM EST

    Van Gaal was disappointed his team couldn't hand Chelsea their first defeat of the season. Getty Images

    Red Devils surge to victory away at Arsenal, as LVG’s masterplan is taking shape.

  11. MUST-WATCH: Lionel Messi ties La Liga goals record with fitting free kick

    Nov 22, 2014, 2:51 PM EST

    FBL-ESP-LIGA-BARCELONA-SEVILLA Getty Images

    And there’s still time Saturday to make the record his own, as the game is just at halftime.

  12. Three things we learned from Manchester United’s big win at Arsenal

    Nov 22, 2014, 2:34 PM EST

    Arsenal v Manchester United - Premier League Arsenal v Manchester United - Premier League

    What did we learn from United’s big win at the Emirates? Plenty. But here’s three things.

  13. Arsenal 1-2 Manchester United: Too little too late for Giroud and the chance-squandering Gunners

    Nov 22, 2014, 2:28 PM EST

    Rooney bagged what turned out to be the game-winner as United go fourth. Getty Images

    A testy affair that could’ve gotten Jack Wilshere a red card instead got him injured, and Arsenal had no finish at the Emirates.

  14. Klopp on Premier League: “If somebody will call me, then we will talk about it.”

    Nov 22, 2014, 1:00 PM EST

    Germany Soccer Bundesliga AP

    Klopp has been at Dortmund since 2008 when he arrived from Mainz, and would likely have his choice of jobs should Dortmund let him walk.

  15. Leicester City 0-0 Sunderland: Stalemate between relegation candidates

    Nov 22, 2014, 12:14 PM EST

    Leicester City v Sunderland - Premier League Getty Images

    Foxes and Black Cats cancel each other out at the King Power.

Featured video

Preview: Arsenal vs. Manchester United