Michael Lewis explores the current MLS playoff format with the coaches of Major League Soccer-
Memo to the powers that be of MLS who are pondering the future of the playoff system: Here is some unsolicited input from the ones in which the post-season matters the most - the coaches. After all, their livelihoods live and die about reaching the playoffs.
In an informal poll of 10 coaches and assistant coaches, including those who have reached this year's playoffs and others who are on the outside looking in, seven agreed on one thing: keep the post-season at eight teams.
"Eight is enough in the playoffs," Columbus Crew coach Robert Warzycha said. "There is no question."
Six coaches - four head coaches and two assistants - concurred. They wanted the number of playoff teams to remain the same, even though the number of teams will increase from 16 to 18 next season, with Portland and Vancouver joining the League.
"It's got to be a challenge," said Colorado Rapids coach Gary Smith, whose team hosts the San Jose Earthquakes in the Eastern Conference final on Saturday. "To get there, there is some success and some reward for actually achieving that. I don't think those spaces need to be extended or expanded. We're thoroughly excited to be where we are and believe we are moving forward in gaining one of those post-season berths. So don't give them away."
FC Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman said he wanted to see the League remain at eight "unless I'm the ninth."
Then he got serious. "When you have eight teams competing, it just forces you to take every game so very serious," he said. "The better teams are going to be in the eight.”
Here's a quick sampling of other opinions:
New York Red Bulls coach Hans Backe: "If you have 16 teams now, it would be 18 next year. To keep the quality, the short answer for that, it is enough with eight."
Los Angeles Galaxy assistant coach Dave Sarachan: "I would leave it alone at eight."
Kansas City Wizards assistant coach Octavio Zambrano: "The current format is OK," he said. "It does reflect as far who should be around and who shouldn't. I say this with the premise that I am not a believer in playoffs of any kind. I am more of a traditionalist in that sense where I believe the league's around the world, like the German League, the Spanish league, the Argentine league, etc. etc., where there are no playoffs, that is the proper way of doing it. In the absence of relegation, the fewer teams that make the playoffs, the better."
Houston Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear could have easily have proposed more teams in the wake of his team missing the playoffs this season.
"I think if 50 percent of your league makes the playoffs, that's a good number of teams," he said. "Even when we had 10 and eight teams made it people probably thought it was too much. It works out nicely now that eight teams are perfect. I could have said 10 or 12 and then we'd be in it this year. I think when it's eight… every game has a lot more meaning than it did in the past."
Indeed they do.