They gather every year to piece together the schedule, taking things like weather into account, sticking to certain parameters, but surely wondering as they put the finishing touches on it, “Just how is this going to play out?”
With two weeks remaining in the season, let’s give credit where it is due: The schedule makers done good.
It’s a crapshoot, for sure, when you schedule back-to-back matches between the same teams for the final two weeks. If the planets don’t align, you could get two consecutive snoozers.
But when things work out, here’s what you get: this week and next, Columbus vs. New England, Vancouver vs. Colorado. Home and away, with playoff spots on the line. Might as well call it the playoffs for the playoffs.
It’s a twist that you can probably only see in MLS. Because, as we know, in many leagues around the world, you play a balanced schedule – a set of matches in the first half and the same set of matches in a different venue on the way to the end of the season. That can work, too, as we often see dramatic conclusions to seasons in leagues where, in addition to the championship, there are battles for things like spots in the Champions League or Europa League and, of course, relegation.
But why not relish the flukish beauty that stands before us in Weeks 33-34?
Columbus at New England is a match this weekend where both teams desperately need three points. The Crew have to win out to get to 47 points and would still need teams above them in the standings (Montreal, Chicago and Philadelphia) to falter. The Revolution likely need to win out, as well, though four points would give them a fighting chance to qualify.
A win this weekend at Gillette would kill the Crew’s playoff chances and give the Revs the hope that they could be dealing with a dead team walking in Week 34. Then again, if the pressure is off Columbus in the final week of the season, it’s not crazy to think the team will play better.
As for the Western Conference home-and-away showdown between Vancouver and Colorado, the Rapids get the first leg at home knowing they’re in the playoffs if they can beat the Whitecaps on Saturday and the Galaxy beat the Earthquakes on Sunday. For Vancouver, it's simple: If they lose at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, they’re out.
However, if the 'Caps, who are coming off a 4-1 win over Seattle at CenturyLink Field and their first Cascadia Cup title as an MLS club, can win on Saturday, they will go to BC Place for the season finale tied with the Rapids with a chance to find their way into the playoffs with a win in front of their home fans.
The best part of these series is, and we mean this in the nicest, most sportsmanlike way: Familiarity breeds contempt. You see it in the playoffs when teams play back-to-back. Guys tend to get under each other’s skin.
So, maybe it looked odd when you first glanced at your MLS 2013 schedule, and you saw teams playing back-to-back in the final two weeks of the season.
But now it has the chance to be brilliant.