Three goals were scored in the first round of the MLS playoffs. Three home teams won by 1-0 scores, and the New York Red Bulls were held to a 0-0 tie by the Revolution at Giants Stadium. These results indicate the league should consider modifying the playoff format.
The current setup is a home-and-away, total-goals series in the first round. The higher-seeded team plays the second match at home, the home-field advantage kicking in should extra time be required.
A change that could encourage more offensive play would be to adopt the European method of placing more emphasis on away goals. In Europe, the first tiebreaker in aggregate-goals series is away goals.
MLS teams seem content with a 1-0 loss away from home, knowing they will have 90 minutes to at least tie the score. It is no coincidence that no goals were produced in the second half of all four first-round games. This is a trend that could continue as teams become more cynical and/or sophisticated in their approach to the playoffs.
But the dynamic could change drastically if away goals were a determining factor in breaking a tie. Chivas USA, D.C. United, and Houston were all trailing in the first half of their games last week; they would have been much more conscious of trying to score if away goals were important.
The Revolution are an example of a team becoming more cynical and sophisticated in their playoff plans, based on recent experience.
Last year, the Revolution lost, 1-0, at Chicago in the playoff opener. In the second half, Clint Dempsey twice broke in on the Fire goal, the second time barely missing the shot after being taken down from behind by C.J. Brown. Dempsey never played another minute at anything close to full speed in MLS, failing to return to action until the second half of the MLS Cup three weeks later, then going to Fulham on a $4 million transfer.
Two years ago, the Revolution lost, 1-0, at New York in the playoff opener. In the opening minutes, Revolution midfielder Shalrie Joseph was taken down by Michael Bradley, who was cautioned on the play. Joseph had been injured during training, and Bradley's tackle aggravated the injury; Joseph literally limped through to the MLS Cup and, as his agent, Ron Waxman, said, "shouldn't have been allowed into the stadium" for the final.
This time, the Revolution decided to be aggressive defensively in Game 1, partly because of the team's recent lack of success defensively. So far, the move has paid off. The Revolution have conserved their health and should be physically fit to face the Red Bulls in Game 2 at Gillette Stadium Saturday night.
Did the Revolution renounce the attacking bent of their 3-5-2 alignment? Not entirely. But wingers Khano Smith and Wells Thompson were thinking defense first, basically saving their forward runs for the home leg.
Caution will continue to be a byword in playoff openers, even if the away-goals rule is applied. But MLS needs to take a step toward encouraging attacking play and scoring in Round 1.
Much ado about Davies
Charlie Davies scored three goals as Hammarby IF took a 4-0 victory over GAIS in the final game of Sweden's Allsvenskan regular season Sunday.
Davies might have been a difference-maker in MLS this season. But he turned down the league's offer of $1 million-plus over four seasons to sign with Hammarby in Stockholm.
Some of Davies's inspiration came from Freddy Adu, who was placed with D.C. United and awarded one of the league's best contracts in 2004. But MLS was unwilling to accept Davies's demands to be assigned to D.C. United or the Revolution earlier this year.
In their early teens, Davies and Adu were teammates on regional teams and were considered nearly equal in talent. Adu gained a higher profile and started his professional career earlier than Davies. But the two are following similar paths now in Europe.
On Davies's breakout day Sunday, Adu converted the tiebreaker in the 87th minute as Benfica edged Maritimo, 2-1, in Portugal's Superliga.
Davies failed to score in 19 league matches, though he had converted for Hammarby in an Intertoto Cup game in June. Hammarby finished the season in sixth place with 12-11-3 record and also went unbeaten in nine Intertoto games (5-0-4) before being eliminated from UEFA Cup contention by SC Braga.
There are no playoffs in European leagues, so just as Davies appears to be finding his stride, the Swedish season is ending. But his strong finish should place him in contention for a place on the US national team for a Nov. 17 friendly against South Africa in Johannesburg.
Making the finals
The Revolution's Michael Parkhurst is among three finalists for two MLS awards, defender of the year and fair play. Parkhurst has committed only 23 fouls in three seasons. Other Revolution finalists include Adam Cristman (rookie), Pat Noonan (comeback player), and Matt Reis (goalkeeper). Juan Pablo Angel (New York), Cuauhtemoc Blanco (Chicago), and Luciano Emilio (D.C. United) were chosen most valuable player finalists.