With playoffs less than two weeks away, Major League Soccer teams are fighting for a chance to compete for MLS Cup glory. The playoffs disregard consistency, offering a clean slate to all who enter and open the door to the underdog. In the last 10 years, only two Supporters’ Shield winners won MLS Cup. The league ostracizes itself from the rest of the soccer world by creating a playoff system, and that’s a good thing—for now.
Last year, the world watched on the edge of its seat as Leicester City Football Club defied 5000/1 odds to win the Premier League title, completing one of the most compelling underdog stories of all time. If you stopped by a youth club training session in America during the Premier League season, you likely saw as many Vardy jerseys as Messi ones. That’s because everyone loves the underdog, and American culture stimulates an unparalleled thirst to see the little guy succeed.
MLS Cup gives 12 teams a chance to create a smaller Leicester City story, and it’s born out of the history of American sports. Taking a look at every other professional and college sports league in the United States—the most popular ones all have playoffs: baseball’s World Series, football’s Super Bowl, college basketball’s March Madness and hockey’s Stanley Cup. Playoffs allow the supporters to be invested in their teams for the longest time possible, giving every fan a chance to see his or her team achieve greatness without necessarily having to be great for a long period of time.
The most memorable moments in sports rarely occur in the regular season. In other countries, soccer embeds itself in the culture. The fans of the sport have a love and knowledge high enough to deeply appreciate the grueling consistency needed for a league title. In the United States, many fans need playoffs. While America’s love for soccer is growing, the high stakes of MLS playoffs can nurture fandom and create memories for budding supporters of the beautiful game. Perhaps eventually, American soccer fans will put their emphasis on winning the Supporters’ Shield. Perhaps it will implement a promotion and relegation system to add stakes built on consistency along with the rest of the world. But for now, let’s just marvel in the uncertainty of the playoffs and enjoy as many more underdog stories unfold because of it.