Voices: Sam Jones

How to hate-watch the MLS Cup Playoffs if your team didn't make it

1012 Hate Watch

Welp. I asked Tom “Scoop Dogg” Bogert and his sources are saying your team didn’t make the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs. Bummer. 

But there are still plenty of reasons to watch anyway. Even if you’re from Atlanta or Seattle and still don’t quite understand how you ended up at the loser's table in the MLS cafeteria.

Someone’s probably going to win for the first time

Of the 14 playoff teams, just three – Real Salt Lake, LA Galaxy and NYCFC – have ever won MLS Cup. Of the seven Western Conference teams, zero have won the conference since 2014. And of the seven Eastern Conference teams, just two teams have ever made MLS Cup. It’s extremely likely we end up with someone adding to their trophy case for the very first time on Nov. 5.

In fact, it’s likely that if your team didn’t make the playoffs, you can remember the very first time your team lifted a trophy. Maybe even a second or third time. The odds are much higher this year that your team has won hardware if you didn’t make the playoffs. Of the 52 MLS Cup participants ever, teams that didn’t make the playoffs in 2022 represent 38 of those appearances and 19 of 26 winners.

So I don’t think it’s unfair to ask fans of the teams that didn’t make it in to try and live vicariously through the remaining teams and think back to the days when you didn’t know what winning a trophy felt like. Can’t you remember the joy? The excitement? The emotion? Now, just try and do that from the couch while you watch FC Cincinnati make a run at MLS Cup. It will pretty much be the same if you try really hard.

Which brings me to my next point…

There are plenty of quality bandwagons to hop on

Ok, I’ll concede the first point might have been a tiny bit snarky. But I’ll shift toward sincerity here and point out…

• FC Cincinnati won the Wooden Spoon three times in a row (2019-21) before making it into their first-ever playoffs this year.

Austin FC have put together a fun and dynamic team with a legitimate chance to win the title, and they happen to be backed by one of the great atmospheres (Q2 Stadium) in MLS.

CF Montréal lost their world-famous head coach (Thierry Henry) just a few weeks before the season last year and passed along the job to Wilfried Nancy, who unexpectedly turned out to be one of the single-best managers in the league and who’s guided a team without a ton of marquee names to the third-best record in MLS in just his second year in charge.

I could go on here, but the point is there are a ton of teams to latch onto. I mean, even a New York team like the Red Bulls could use a little love and support from afar. We’re talking about a team that’s made the playoffs 13 years in a row and hasn’t won MLS Cup (#ThatsSoMetro). And even if I went a little out of my way to point that out just because it’s objectively pretty funny, there’s still truth in the sentiment watching a team overcome that kind of Sisyphean existence is as pure an experience as you can have watching sports from afar.

Or, if you’re not looking for that and just kind of want to make everyone else kind of annoyed, you can put all your energy towards the Galaxy, NYCFC or, I dunno, Orlando City winning another trophy. There’s nothing wrong with hopping on a bandwagon propelled by spite.

I once saw a team win a game without taking a shot

Anything can happen in the playoffs! In fact, last year RSL won a game without taking a – oh wait, actually, I think this is making a few of y’all more upset. We’ll just move on quickly…

Watching big things fall over is cool

There’s a big difference in the “wow” factor of watching a small building topple over versus, like, a massive stadium. The same principle can be applied to playoff watching, too. You don’t have to pick a team to ride with the entire time, you can just pick a team to ride against the entire time. 

You can do your best to make sure Supporters' Shield winners LAFC don't lift a second trophy in one year. You can work to keep big stars like Gareth Bale, Chicharito and Hany Mukhtar from the joy of winning MLS Cup. You can send your worst to the Philadelphia Union because no one wants to be shown up by a team making smart decisions with a low budget in a way that maximizes their value in a way that teams with larger budgets have wholly failed to do. What, do you think you’re better than us, Philadelphia? 

They are. They obviously are. But that’s beside the point. The point is you can cheer for failure as much as you can cheer for success. It won’t fix your broken heart, but it will at least drag others down with you. How great is that?

Throwing predictions back in people’s faces is fun

The playoffs are the time for predictions. And considering we’ve been watching these teams for 34 match weeks now, you’d think we’d have a pretty good idea of how things will shake out. The problem is, we have absolutely no idea how things will shake out. It’s MLS.

That won’t stop plenty of so-called “experts” from sharing their brackets and predictions throughout the playoffs though. Maybe there’s one, in particular, you don’t really like. Maybe that one is me.

Well, I have good news: You can take those predictions and celebrate like you won a title every time their predictions come up wrong.

Do it. Just go crazy with it. Buy a jersey of the team they picked to lose. Pop champagne at full time. Hang an “Andrew Wiebe Picked FC Dallas To Win But They Lost On Penalties” banner in your living room. Find your passion.

Or maybe just take a screenshot or whatever and post it on social media. That will probably be fun too.

Why root for anything when you can root or everything and nothing?

A lot of this has been predicated on encouraging the playoff-less among us to find a team or person to support or cheer against. But, to be honest, it’s not the ideal way to consume the playoffs or MLS in general. The ideal way involves abandoning all attachment and living solely for entropy.

Why would you want a team to just “win” when you could cheer for a team to score three own goals and win 4-3 anyway? Why care about “who advances to the next round” when there’s a legitimate chance a team loses on their opponent’s lone shot of the game and that shot just happens to come from 40 yards out via a center back who’s never scored? Why ask “what’s the score?” when you could ask “wait, is that an outfield player playing goalkeeper in a penalty shootout?”

The playoffs don’t have to be about the destination. They can be about the pure, undistilled journey only a league like MLS can provide. You don’t need someone to support. You can just support nothing. And everything. All at once. You’ll probably be rewarded for it in the end.

Even if you didn’t make the playoffs, you can at least take solace in the fact you don’t have to worry about losing on something like this:

There. Don’t you feel better now?