If you were the coach in San Jose or Colorado or even Seattle this weekend, would you tell your players not to give 100 percent knowing your team might get an easier draw in the MLS playoffs with a loss? It sounds nuts, but don’t be surprised if it happens.
It’s no secret the Western Conference is far superior to the East this year with six teams qualifying for the playoffs compared to two in the East. However, to create a balanced playoff bracket with four teams in the West and four teams in the East (which the league offices are in love with for some reason) the bottom two teams in the West will shift over to the Eastern Conference playoff bracket to become the No. 3 and No. 4 seed.
Confused? Just remember that Real Salt Lake was the “Eastern Conference” champion last year.
The bottom line is the road to the MLS Cup is much easier through the Eastern Conference bracket. Therefore, if you’re San Jose, Colorado and Seattle, what’s the point in winning this weekend? You could lose and possibly play Columbus in the first round of the playoffs or you could win and face either Los Angeles or Real Salt Lake.
Los Angeles has enjoyed the best record in MLS all year. Real Salt Lake hasn’t lost at home all year and is on a 13-game unbeaten streak. Columbus, meanwhile, is 0-3-3 in its past six games. It’s pretty obvious who is the desired first-round playoff opponent.
Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis had some interesting comments about the potential for a team to intentionally lose this weekend.
“It’s a balancing act. If you’re going to weigh momentum vs. what you think is your best chance to reach the Cup final, you’re probably going to take the scenario that’s going to be your best chance to reach the Cup final,” said Kreis.
Asked if he’d ever instruct his players to give less than 100 percent, he said. “No chance.”
“It would be a moral, ethical problem for me. The message would never come that clearly from me.”
Realistically though, he admits the players could do whatever they wanted on the field.