Commentary

Who are the Dragons?

You'd think that after 11 seasons, a newspaper as renowned as the New York Times would have someone on the sports desk sufficiently versed in Major League Soccer to catch a glaring error involving the local team.

Apparently not. In Monday's sports pages, in the agate listings of results, standings, transactions, and scoring summaries, tied with Chicago atop the MLS Eastern Conference with four points, in capital letters, were the DRAGONS.

The Dragons were also listed as 3-0 winners over FC Dallas in the results that ran just below the standings. An Associated Press account of that game ran on the same page, just one column away from the standings and results, with all details, including the team name and nickname, accurate.

What gives?

The Arena Football League is apparently as far off the radar screen at the Times as MLS. The New York Dragons play in the AFL.

SINGLE WHAT? Despite polite denials from deputy commissioner Ivan Gazidis during a conference call outlining the MLS "Game First" initiatives, several journalists are insisting the revamped playoff format indicates league officials are moving toward a single table.

This season, the top two teams in each conference will qualify for the playoffs, as will the next four teams ranked by standings points irrespective of conference affiliation. In past seasons, the top four teams in each conference qualified.

The single-table advocates ignore that when the league split into three divisions, the top team in each division qualified for the playoffs, with the next five playoff qualifiers determined by points. The league used the same procedure in 2002 when it contracted to 10 teams, with the two conference winners qualifying automatically and the next six determined by points. The league is no closer now to a single table than it was then. It reverted to the "top four in each conference" formula in 2003 before changing back for the 2007 season.

And as Gazidis pointed out, a single table has little relevance in a league that doesn't play a balanced schedule. When the league reaches 16 teams, and by playing each league rival home and away it can facilitate a 30-game schedule, a single table might gain credence.

But since no U.S. pro league has featured more than 10 teams in a single grouping since the American and National Leagues expanded beyond that number in 1969, and no team owner wants to see. literally, his team mired in 13th place even if that's where it actually is, don't bet on it.

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