The Cheap Seats: The parity effect

Hey, look at that! Only three teams in MLS have winning records. What a surprise! Must be something that causes that. Maybe, just maybe, it's that darned parity thing. Maybe.

Have you noticed how just about every team has gone on little streaks? Columbus, for example: First they couldn't win, then they couldn't lose, and then they couldn't win again, and then they did win again. It's truly dizzying. Or Colorado, who looked so miserable early on that you get good odds on the BigSoccer boards on when coach Tim Hankinson would be fired and when John Spencer would finally quit and go back to being Moby; now the 'Pids have a five-game unbeaten streak.

There have been plenty of downsides, as well. Boom! as Rob Stone would say just before Brian Mullan blasts another sitter into the 14th row. Chicago looked unbeatable a few weeks ago when they whupped D.C. 3-0. After that game, the Fire had lost only once in seven games. They haven't won since. Or what about the MetroStars? At this point, I have no idea which team will show up from game to game, the one who made L.A. look like Rodney Dangerfield's Ladybugs or the team that got demolished by D.C.

Speaking of D.C. - which a month ago looked worse than my high school JV team coached by the immortal Señor Gomez, whose favorite line was "Half of you at midfield, half of you on the endline, and the rest of you stay here with me" - is now riding a five-game undefeated streak and scoring more often than Paris Hilton. Of course, that's mostly because Peter Nowak finally realized that Alecko Eskandarian is a goal-scoring machine who is making everyone around him better.

Damn you, parity! You are robbing us of our inalienable rights as soccer fans to have dynasties and our own George Steinbrenners. You are making the games surprising and wild and fun. Fun? How dare you?

We could argue whether parity is good or bad until hell freezes over or until El Rey de Goles scores his next "gol" - whichever comes first. But what about the on-the-field nuts and bolts of the Parity Effect? (Not to be confused with the "Butterfly Effect" which is when a butterfly flaps its wings in Singapore and six days later Jonny Walker has a shocker.)

Basically, parity works like this. With parity and the salary cap, each team is virtually equal in skill, talent, speed, height, intelligence, and hair length. (How funny was it to hear Eric Wynalda, he of the perfect SoCal mullet back in 1990, ragging on Galvan Rey's flowing locks last week?) Being so similar means that even the slightest rise or fall in performance can have disastrous effects.

There is very little margin of error in MLS. In England, where there is no salary cap, a big club like Arsenal can have a mediocre day and still beat the Boltons and Wolverhamptons of the Premier League. That's how Arsenal was able to run the tables last season. In MLS, if the MetroStars play out of their gourds and the Galaxy eat too many fish tacos for lunch, the Metros will win 3-0 in Los Angeles. But if the Metros drop off - maybe Jeff Parke forgot his boots at home or Eddie Pope is off on national team duty - then they will lose 3-2 at home to Colorado.

It's kind of like this: In the European leagues, you've got four Keira Knightleys and 14 Ally Sheedys. Even if Keira has a bad hair day and shows up unshowered and wearing a Hanson t-shirt, you're still going try your luck with her before you settle for Ally. Right? Right. On the flipside, MLS is a bunch of midlevel beauties, Selma Blair, Sandra Bullock, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and the like. None of them are stunning but you wouldn't throw any of them out of bed for eating crackers. However, if Sandra Bullock shows up at Starbucks hungover and puffy-eyed and Selma Blair shows up in a little black dress, odds are Selma gets the nod. (Unless you like the I-was-out-late-and-puked look, in which case, more power to you.) Next time, the roles might be reversed, and Sandra will win your heart.

That's what parity does. It makes every MLS game that much more important because even the slightest discrepancy in performance from week to week, even minute to minute, might mean the difference between a glorious one night stand with Keira Knightley and an uncomfortable breakfast with Ally Sheedy.

Luckily, there's no salary cap when it comes to genetics and beauty.

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Mortal Lock: I'm riding the Wizards' robe-tails until Gandalf's, I mean, Gansler's boys stumble. K.C. over D.C.

Greg Lalas played for the Tampa Bay Mutiny and the New England Revolution in 1996 and 1997. Send e-mail to Greg at cheapseats@g73.org. Views and opinions expressed in this column are the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or MLSnet.com.


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