Lose and Advance

Somehow, the Los Angeles Galaxy lost its playoff game against the Seattle Sounders, but is still advancing to the MLS Cup. I don’t rightly understand how this works. Seems to me if you lose a playoff game, you should get knocked out of the playoffs. Oh, I’m sure that the rule was announced in advance and everyone knew if L.A. got at least one goal that would be enough under the system.

And, hey, I’m glad my home-town team gets a shot at the championship and all, and it’s kind of cool to think that David Beckham’s last game will be played here in L.A. for a championship even if it is the U.S. professional league (sort of a step down from the European leagues, but come on, the guy’s 37, a venerable old age for a soccer player). I guess. I don’t watch MLS on TV or anything. I catch an Italian Serie A game or a matchup between the USMNT and some other national team now and again.

But a playoff seeding system that lets a team lose but still advance — or that sees a team win but nevertheless get knocked out of advancement — just doesn’t seem right to me.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. The two teams play home-and-away, and the scores are aggregated. LA won the first game 3-0 and lost the second game 2-1, so LA wins overall 4-2. It’s no sillier than when a team that runs up a big score in the first half and is slightly outscored in the second half wins the game overall.

      • I think a lot of the World Cup qualifying works this way.

        In some ways, it is a better system, as most advanced analytics point to overall point differential as a better measure than won-loss record. Of course, with a sample size of two games, it’s all a crapshoot.

        • This is also how most football…er…soccer competitions work elsewhere: Champion’s League, FA Cup, Carling Cup, etc. Only the final match is “winner take all.”

          • The NHL used to do that, but they dropped that system years ago in favor of having series with an odd number of games and a requirement that you must win a majority of them. It’s a good system, Some might even say a better system.

          • If soccer resolved ties the same way the NHL does in playoff games, I’d agree. What MLS has is better than fishing penalty kicks.

          • Penalty kicks/shots as a resolution of a game are the worst invention in the history of sport.

          • I’m pretty sure the in-field fly rule is worse.

            As are pass-interference calls and whatever the hell they call it that protects Tom Brady when you so much as sneeze on him.

          • Pass intereference? Dude, without the PI rule, football is purely a ground game.

          • The infield fly rule is logical (it prevents cheap double plays), it just gets called way too often.

          • Mike,

            Can you explain that (preventing cheap double plays) to me?

      • …how could you not be aware that this is how it works? It’s how it works in ALL football competitions that are played by two ties. It’s why they come up with the concept of away goal differentials and such in things like the Champions League and World Cup…

        I mean I know Juventus supporters have trouble with the rules of the game (just like their parent club! “Oh but we didn’t know it was against the rules to bribe refs or fix matches”) but c’mon!

    • Interesting. But then that makes watching a “game” more like watching one half of a football game, or one period of a hockey game, etc. I assume when you buy a ticket you only get to go to one of the “games,” no? And is the aggregate score shown up on the board?

      • Considering that the games are in different cities, I expect they’re ticketed separately 🙂

        Another way to look at it is that it’s a two-game series where the total score is used as a tiebreaker, but it’s such a limiting case that that’s pretty silly, even though it is literally true. I’m not sure about the scoreboard, but the news report I figured this out from only reported the aggregate score. I had to read the description carefully to figure out the score of the second game and then subtract to find the score of the first.

        This being soccer, playing an odd number of games wouldn’t solve the problem. It’s quite possible that the result would be 1-1-1 with the team that won the match overall losing the last game.

        • One of the more dramatic outcomes from a system like this is when the clear underdog manages to score a draw or a win on the favored team’s pitch. Then you get a situation where the favored club has to score a big win away from home, and often they must not just win, but win by a certain margin.

          • The problem is that this system encourages running up the score by making two or even three goals.

          • Mr. Schilling, this was a comment my boss (who makes a spectacle of lampooning soccer and its sometimes lack of score) would have made and would certainly approve of. I, however, am offended and issue a comment-equivalent yellow card for the sarcasm.

          • Yeah, it tends to make it so second ties reward risk taking. I love that part about these home and away ties.

  2. This year they also scrapped their old wild-card system, which could place teams from one conference into the playoffs in the other conference. This meant that the system could — and did — result in league championships played between teams from the same conference. I have to admit that there have been times when I wished the NBA or NFL did that in years when one conference or the other was much better top-to-bottom than the other.

  3. A couple of years ago I took the family to a Portland Timbers playoff game against (I think?) Vancouver. The Timbers wine the game by one goal, and as a consequence Vancouver advanced. To this day I do not understand how that worked.

    • I expect it’s the same thing: Vancouver had been leading by two or more.

  4. A long time ago, my college roommate had a simulation baseball league using a computer game. The game had the option of three leagues. It had a similar lose-and-advance thing. They had to do something because there were three leagues, but it seemed to me that having a fourth “wildcard league” might have been a better way to go, or simply giving one of the teams a by.

  5. The other goofy aspect to the whole thing is that, if you score goals away from home, they are weighted heavier. For instance, if my team beats you 3-0 at my place, and then you beat me 4-1 at your place, I advance even though the aggregate is 4-4 because my team scored the only away goal. When I got interested in soccer again 4 years ago, it took me forever to figure that out.

    • I believe this is not the case in MLS; they have not yet adopted the away-goal rule.

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