What an odd, perplexing feeling.
The un-provable truth is that the New England Revolution are not going to win Major League Soccer's Supporters' Shield. They are probably not going to qualify for CONCACAF Champions League. The lowly - yet somehow champions - D.C. United, eliminated them from the 100th Annual US Open Cup. Odds are they will not go on and win this year's MLS Cup either. Heck, they did not even end up winning the biggest, mostest importantest trophy of them all in the I-95 Corridor Cup.
Still, here I sit weekend in and weekend out glued to MLS Live. Generally, at this point in the year, I will watch the Revs play out of habit and pretty much ignore the rest of the league. This year, however, I am stuck from 1:00 PM to 12:00 AM watching not just the Revs but the entire league play its way to a bloody ending.
In a way it reminds me of way back in 2011 when I first wanted to get into the English Premier League. Unlike everyone who jumps into the Prem cold by picking one of its top dogs (i.e. Manchester United, City, Chelsea, or even Liverpool) to follow, I chose to support a runt in Queens Park Rangers. Why? Mostly because I'm a soccer hipster, but also because everyone kept telling me how great promotion and relegation were.
In 2011, it took the very last day of the season to keep QPR up. In 2012, they earned relegation way before that. This year, they are fighting to be promoted from the Championship once more.
Promotion and relegation is proportionately the best and worst thing about foreign soccer. When your team ekes out a win or draw you are simultaneously excited by the win or draw but fearful that in the end it won't be enough. You spend your Saturdays watching every team closely, counting goal differential, while concurrently doing enough mathematics to make your eighth grade Math teacher Mr. Levine, who you never really liked, wonder where you learned complex variable equations - okay, maybe that last one was just me.
So, while the playoff hunt in Major League Soccer is not promotion and relegation, it's close. I find myself updating tables on excel, counting goals for, figuring out who plays who and the likelihood of them beating other teams based on arbitrary math that has no actual statistical value. I sit and watch teams with little to no shot of winning the MLS Cup that are dying to make the playoffs, because that's just what we do here in 'Merica.
Yes, the simple fact is there is more money involved in the playoffs than in a regular season elimination - even if that playoff money is just a pittance more. Everyone knows this. Even the Revs pulled in a crowd of over 26,000 in a do-or-die match on Saturday. Playoffs are American. They are not solely American as oft suggested, but to Americans they are the ultimate gauge. There is more prestige to winning the playoffs, since the vast majority of casual Americans look at the MLS Cup Champions and not the Supporters' Shield winners as the American (or maybe Canadian) Champion of Soccer-ball.
Sure, I get it, the financial ramifications of not making the playoffs are not nearly as severe as relegation. Yes, I understand that not making the playoffs actually earns you things that the playoff teams don't get (i.e. higher pick in the SuperDraft, better odds at landing a returning U.S. international, more funny money). Yet, as I've sat for the last few weeks knowing that my team must win in order to have a shot at making the playoffs and maybe pulling off some miracle run (like the Colorado Rapids in '10 or Real Salt Lake in '09), there is a similar feeling to how I felt in '11 and '12 watching QPR.
One game to go, and very little is resolved in the East. Depending on Sunday's results, the West could be just as chaotic. This is what Don Garber wants when he speaks of parity. This is it. The ultimate Parity Party.
Last year, the Revs were technically still in the playoff hunt far after everyone knew they were out. This year, the Columbus Crew and Vancouver Whitecaps were actually eliminated yesterday - WITH ONLY ONE GAME REMAINING IN THE SEASON!
I am for promotion and relegation in the United States. Look up anything that I have written prior to joining The Bent Musket. Promotion and relegation has the ability to help teams like Toronto FC, Chivas USA, FC Dallas, and even the New England Revolution get new owners. It will, more importantly, help places like Toronto, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Boston get teams in their city proper. Additionally, it is a far more meaningful way to add markets like Atlanta, Miami, Orlando, and San Antonio than the current discretionary expansion process that now exists.
In all honesty, the USSF could probably start taking steps to implement it now without too much trouble. Owners be damned. However, its not realistically happening for a long time.
And with one game to go, and everything to play for with a good portion of the teams in the East, this Parity Party is the closest thing I've felt to being in a relegation battle since 2012. Parity doesn't always work perfectly, and neither do playoffs (see my previous example of Colorado in '10), but they do work imperfectly. No, the playoffs and parity are not promotion and relegation, but it is close enough...for now.