Strange, isn’t it? I spend Monday evening idly browsing the MLS (aka Major League Soccer) website trying to work out how it (the league, not the website) operates and then along comes David Millward with a piece about a football convention in the USA. I wonder if the fans he mixed with can get their heads around relegation and promotion better than I can handle the subtleties of the MLS.
I can understand the two Conferences (each of 10 clubs). I can also understand that the top six in each Conference, via play offs and semi finals, end up with a single club which goes through to the MLS cup final, so that the final contains a club from each Conference. It’s very much an American Football, Superbowl-led model, which no doubt appeals to USA soccer fans, and good luck to it.
I can understand that to determine the top six, the clubs in one Conference play the other nine, home and away. I can also understand that they play every team in the other conference, five of them at home, five away, plus another six interconference games, three home and three away. I don’t know what decides who goes where in these games, however, and I don’t know for certain if they all count towards Conference placings (although I’m pretty sure they do), so MLS will remain an arcane system beyond my wit and understanding for the time being.
I also wonder how this system will energise the clubs that, even now, about half-way through the season, know they won’t be going through to the playoffs. With nothing left to play for, is there any point?
Or am I being too judgmental? Does a league of 10 clubs where six go through to the playoffs have the potential to involve all clubs until almost the end of the season, unlike a league of 20 where there can only be one champion and half of the clubs know they can’t win it by Christmas.
The irony, however, is that in the English leagues, the Premier League included, the season’s not over for the clubs in the bottom half, and it won’t be over for a long time. The R word begins to rear its head. Relegation truly makes sure the clubs in the bottom half can’t switch off, and the fact that it exists surely concentrates minds from the start of the season.
This might explain the response to my poll asking who would go down, and the optimism displayed by some fans of newly promoted teams, including the few who posted predictions.
The poll originally went out midweek to the predominantly SAFC fans who visit the Salut site. In three or four days about three hundred votes were cast. When these initial results went out on the Friday evening fans from other clubs were invited to join in. Over the weekend three thousand votes were cast and we’ve now had over 10,000 hits on the site.
Thank you, one and all. Before I give you the results let me remind you of the situation on the Friday:
And then look what happened:
We (SAFC fans) have been ganged up on.
Excuse the tortured English but it’s true. The total vote went up by a factor of about 10 (i.e. about 10 times as many people voted in the second poll as in the first). The votes for the other clubs in the poll went up by around the same factor, so the proportions of votes going to them didn’t change a lot. The vote for Sunderland went up by a factor of 58.
It looks very much like fans of Bournemouth, Watford, Norwich and Leicester (and others – including Newcastle fans, of course) have all voted for Sunderland to go down, and only then have they given any consideration to other clubs. We can’t complain, we’d do – we did – pretty much the same, only the other way round, by voting for other clubs to go down and not us.
So it’s hardly an objective poll, but never mind. The results so far give a strong pointer as to which teams I should track next season, more or less – Villa are still loitering with intent. As things stand it will be ourselves, obviously, and then the four favourites in the poll: the three promoted clubs plus Leicester.
How will I do it? I’ll be looking at win-loss ratios. There’s a rationale for that but I’ve reached the end of the page so I’ll leave a detailed explanation until next week. Before then, though, you might ask yourself what tenuous link connects Sunderland, Aston Villa, Wolves, Wigan, Sheffield Utd, Portsmouth, Derby, Coventry, Southampton and Man City.
I’ll leave the poll running for another week or so. Having mentioned some other clubs we might get a wider response, or Leics/Norwich fans might come out in large numbers to condemn Villa. Whatever happens, if you haven’t already voted, feel free to choose the three teams who will go down. As ever, alternative teams to the seven below are welcome, as are comments. That’s especially true if you’re a visitor from the home of the MLS.