In the oddest year for every possible reason and facet, American sports fans are facing something they haven’t seen since the first part of the 20th Century. There aren’t any of the four major sports going other than the NFL. The middle of the week is a barren wasteland. In fandom terms, we run from both the living and the dead. And no, Thursday night football is hardly a salvation, given that those games almost always resemble a 4th-grade theater production of “A Doll’s House.”
And it could be this way for a while. The NBA looks more and more like it won’t be back until January. The NHL almost certainly will be back around then as well. And baseball is now in its normal hibernation, assuming it doesn’t tear itself apart this winter and everyone just gives up.
So we must turn to alternatives on these shores, assuming you’re as dedicated to not talking to your family as most. Could MLS fill the gaps during the work week through November and into December?
Well it could, kinda, if it actually bothers to schedule its playoffs during the week, which it hasn’t announced yet. Although it would be very on-brand for it to keep its playoffs on the weekends when there are various forms of football to make sure no one bothers instead of the completely open slate from Tuesday-Friday. No one can step on a rake quite like MLS.
But we’ll leave that. What’s going on with our favorite sporting pyramid scheme? I have no idea. But neither do you. Let’s find out together!
MLS had a season after that tournament thing?
Sure did, though they’ve made it up as they go. After the (Most of) MLS Is Back tournament in Orlando, the league picked up again in August with only six intra-conference games at first, except for the Canadian teams who could only play each other thanks to border rules. Then they added more games with the Canadian teams taking up residence in the U.S. for their “home” games in the middle of that. Then they added more, with the hopes of getting everyone to 23 games.
Except some of them didn’t come off thanks to COVID-19. In fact a lot of them didn’t. Colorado has had seven games postponed, and has no hope of making them all up. Minnesota, Dallas, Seattle, and the Galaxy all sit at 19 games played with only three slots to play games, so they probably won’t get to that 23-game threshold either.
Oh did I mention that the group stage games of (Most of) MLS Is Back counted as regular-season games? But not the knockout ones? Yeah, so figure that one out. I have an abacus if you need it. It was for...a project. You don’t want the details. People have weird kinks, is all I’ll say.
So what does that mean?
MLS is going to have to use points-per-game to determine playoff spots, which makes standings determined after teams have played different teams a different amount of times even more abstract than they already were. Of course, MLS hasn’t announced yet just exactly what they’re going to do about all of this, hoping to still cram games in to get everyone to 23.
They could do that by scheduling games after the currently stated “Decision Day” of November 8th. But that’s a FIFA international window, which either MLS would have to ignore and attempt to not release players to their national teams, or have teams play their most important games while some of their players are off on international duty.
Add to that each conference had a different playoff format, as 10 teams in the East make the playoffs but only eight in the West do (the East has a play-in round for the 7-10th seeded teams). And yes, this is an absolute Pollock painting of a campaign.
Ok, well, besides all that, who’s good?
It looks like the Philadelphia Union is. They lead the East, and have the best goal-difference in the league. They have one guy I know, Brenden Aaronson, who just signed for RB Salzburg and will go play for them and American coach Jesse Marsch in January. Pretty nifty midfielder. The Union also don’t give up much of anything, as they’re coached by Jim Curtin, who was the definition of a defensive obelisk when he played. Had a big mop of red hair. Couldn’t miss him. Also couldn’t miss him because he couldn’t move.
Toronto’s right behind them, even though they can’t play in Toronto anymore. It found someone else to be as bored with this league as Sebastian Giovinco was in years past in Alejandro Pozuelo, who between yawns has piled up eight goals and 10 assists in 21 games.
Over in the West, Seattle, Portland, Sporting KC, and LAFC are all in a jumble at the top, which could get messier if Seattle can’t get to 23 games and they have to go to points-per-game. If they leapfrog KC due to that, you’ll find pieces of KC coach Peter Vermes in several states, as he’s a walking advertisement for anger management courses at parent-teacher night.
Meanwhile at the bottom of the playoff pictures, Vancouver could grab the last West spot with a goal-difference of -19. That’s the good stuff right there.
What about Beckham’s team?
Yeah, Inter Miami CF. They have the last playoff spot in the East, also suck out loud, and are a retirement home for Gonzalo Higuaín (you may remember him from such episodes as costing Argentina major trophies in three consecutive summers by missing chances that most toddlers would have found presentable)
What players are worth it?
Carlos Vela still treats the league like a chew toy in L.A., and when he thinks scoring himself would be too insulting or not interesting enough he dishes to Diego Rossi, who leads the league in goals. Somehow, Gyasi Zardes is right behind him for Columbus, even though he has the silky touch of a rhino, and you can still look forward to him starting over Gio Reyna for the USMNT because U.S. Soccer hates you and your family. And if he doesn’t, Jordan Morris will as he’s also amongst the league’s leading scorers and assist-men. So is Portland’s Diego Valeri, despite being in the league since before its creation. Don’t ask me how that works it just does.
So that’s how the table is set, except the table has a wobbly leg and they don’t have enough plates and one of you is going to have to drink wine out of a coffee mug. But hey, beats doing stuff, and you can’t do stuff anyway. Or you shouldn’t. We’re in this together.