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Parity, playoffs beguile best of MLS
by Ridge Mahoney, May 27th, 2008 11AM

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Fans in Chicago, Columbus and New England should be warned. Their teams are playing with fire, and no pun is intended.

With 6-2-1 (19 points) records in nine games, the Fire and Crew are averaging more than two points per game in the standings, a seemingly tough standard, particularly in the land of parity. The Revs (6-3-1) are just off the pace with the same number of points but having played one more game.

If East teams continue beating up on the West as those teams keep winning, all three could average two points per game over an entire season. But is it a desirable goal? Only three times in league history has a team finished the season averaging two points a game, and none of those teams reached MLS Cup, never mind won it.

Here they are and what happened to them, along with a notable near-miss:

Los Angeles, 1998. Scoring nearly at will, the Gals bagged a league-record 85 goals and conceded 44 (so that's what Ruud Gullit is trying to replicate!) while going 24-8 (68 points/32 games) in the Shootout Era, yet couldn't get past expansion upstart, and eventual champion, Chicago in the Western Conference finals.

Miami, 2001. The Fusion fried its foes to the tune of 57 goals in 26 games and posted a 16-5-5 record (53 points), then scored just one playoff goal in losing a three-game series to MLS Cup champ San Jose.

Chicago, 2001. It just missed the magic mark, tallying 53 points in 27 games (not every team played the same number of games in a season shortened by the 9-11 terrorist attacks), but stumbling in the playoffs after coming so close deserves inclusion.

San Jose, 2005. Here of course is the all-time collapse-o and the most drastic example of falling off the pedestal. The Quakes romped through the regular season 18-4-10, racking up 64 points in 32 games, only to be uprooted by the ninth-place (on total points) and eventual champion Galaxy in the playoffs.

Their ultimate reward for putting together the ultimo season? Off to Houston!

Back to the present. New York could have edged dangerously close to the magic figure when it hosted Chicago Sunday. The Red Bulls went into the match at 3-1-3, and by winning would have compiled 15 points (4-1-3) in eight matches. Instead, they emphatically rejected any notion of excellence by losing in humiliating fashion, 5-1, as the Fire ascended the two-point plateau.

Shrewd man, that Juan Carlos Osorio!

Alas, a quick comparison of other leagues points out that averaging two points per game really isn't all that impressive, despite its rarity in MLS. Can you guess how many current champions of the major European leagues - England, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Portugal, Spain - hit the mark?

Answer: all of them. Try Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, Malta, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey ... every champion averaged at least two points per game.

Parity -- and a playoff structure described as "a crapshoot" by Pat Onstad, who backstopped that ill-fated 2005 Quakes team - does more than render dominance nearly impossible. It reduces, but can't eliminate, the chances of a very bad team really stinking up the place. With six wins last year, expansion Toronto FC tied RSL at the bottom of the heap but didn't seriously threaten the all-time basement.

It must be said that just three years ago, expansion teams Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA did their best/worst by winning a combined nine games out of 64, and Chivas USA tied the all-time league low of four wins, but rank horribleness really is relative.

Take the case of Tasmania Berlin, last-place finisher in the 1965-66 German Bundesliga season. Final record: 34 matches played, two wins, 28 losses, four ties, 15 goals scored, 108 conceded. Under the current system of three points for a win, it would have compiled just 10 points.

English Premier League winner Manchester United tallied 87 points, a staggering 76 points ahead of last-place Derby, which delighted Sunderland fans by erasing their team's atrocious 2005-06 performance of 15 points (3-29-6) as the all-time EPL worst.

Just how bad was Derby (1-29-8, 11 points) this season? Well, the Quakes (2-5-1) need only one tie and one win in their last 22 matches to tie the Rams' mark of 11 points, and this season will play eight fewer games!



0 comments
  1. Robert Reeves
    commented on: May 27, 2008 at 9:52 p.m.
    Interesting comparisons and certainly a problem for MLS. There is, however, the other side of this debate: How many times has it been said in the pages of SA that only three or four of the teams in EPL have a chance as they stand on opening day, of winning? Also true for most of the other Leagues mentioned. Pay your money and take your choice! It isn't easy being a fan of a tem that gets pasted every weekend.


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