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November 5, 2011
Galaxy’s Arena suggests changes to MLS playoff system

By Charles Cuttone
Executive Editor

Galaxy coach Bruce Arena advocates tweaking the MLS playoff system to offer additional reward to the Supporters’ Shield winner.
Galaxy coach Bruce Arena advocates tweaking the MLS playoff system to offer additional reward to the Supporters’ Shield winner.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Los Angeles Galaxy coach Bruce Arena knows the playoffs, especially in the compressed time they are being played this year, are a grind for MLS teams, but as winners of a second consecutive Supporters’ Shield, he feels maybe his team deserves a bit more of a reward.

"The challenges for all the teams left in the competition now are fatigue, injuries, suspensions--I don’t think there is any suspension for the conference finals for any of the teams, but it's difficult," Arena said on Friday in a call with national media.

The Galaxy got a bye in the first round of the playoffs, thanks to MLS adding a wild card round, but then they had to play in New York on Sunday and then back in LA against the Red Bulls on Thursday.

"It’s a lot of games in a short period of time and obviously a lot of travel. I think MLS has to address that. I am sure when they set the schedule up, it was with the understanding that the international calendar was coming into effect in the playoffs. They felt this the best way to do it. We weren't involved in any of that, so I am not quite sure, but I think they fully understood some of the issues surrounding the schedule of the MLS Cup this year. And certainly with World Cup qualifiers and European qualification next week, it took precedence over our league schedule."

Arena was referring to a full slate of international games coming up this weekend and early next week. The Galaxy's Landon Donovan has been called into the U.S. team for a pair of friendlies in Europe, as has Real Salt Lake's Kyle Beckerman. One or the other will return early from U.S. duty, depending on which team advances to MLS Cup. The Galaxy's Robbie Keane will have a pair of European Cup Qualifiers, then fly back to LA if the Galaxy advance to the final.

"Robbie left in the last call-up and it was difficult and he was injured," said Arena. "Ireland's going to play Estonia on Friday and then play the second leg of that competition on Tuesday. If we are in the MLS Cup final, that means Robbie then travels back to Los Angeles on Wednesday for a game on Sunday. It's very demanding, not a whole lot different than what Kyle Beckerman will experience, have to depart and go to France for the friendly on Saturday. The travel is difficult for these players. It’s long travel. It's trying to get your body adjusted to the different time zones, so it's going to be very challenging on any of the MLS players that are successful and get through the conference finals and are going to be participating in the MLS Cup Final."

While it might not make the Galaxy's job any easier because of international call-ups, Arena said he'd like to see the Supporter's Shield winner rewarded for being the best team over the entire course of the season.

"I might advance the Supporters Shield winner into a final or a semi-final," said Arena. "Really give them a reward that way. It's possible you can have the regular season competition and then have the MLS Cup and have the Supporters’ Shield winner be in the final and have the playoff in such a manner that those teams are playing off to meet the Supporters’ Shield champion in the MLS Cup final."

Women's Professional Soccer, which has never had more than seven teams, has used a similar set-up in its first three seasons, with the regular season champ playing in and hosting the championship game. The fourth place team visits the third place team in the first round, then second place team hosts the winner in the semi-final.

One argument against that system is that the regular season winner has had to sit idle for two weeks. With more teams in the playoffs in MLS, that wait might be even longer.

"They’d have to schedule games, they'd have to find a way to fill that void, but I think it could be done," said Arena. "That's not something I've spent a whole lot of time thinking about, but I do believe there needs to be more reward on the teams that did well during the 34 games or whatever the regular season is going to be. And maybe not only the Supporters’ Shield winner. Maybe the first two teams, the first four teams, whatever."

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