In the winter MLS announced yet another template for the playoffs for the 2011 season. Despite the widespread complaints over the fact that qualifiers could end up in the other conference, the league maintained that system this season. Essentially, the top three teams in each conference is guaranteed a slot in their conference, and the last four spots are open to the remaining four best teams as wild cards, regardless of conference. It is entirely possible that two Western Conference teams could end up playing for the Eastern Conference title or vice versa. In case you forgot, the last three MLS Cup match-ups have come from two teams of the same conference. In the case of Chivas this season, the playoff format may ultimately help them qualify for the playoffs.Currently, Chivas sit near the bottom of the Western Conference, in 8th place, with only Vancouver below them. Chivas have 17 points, only half of what the Galaxy has at the top of the Conference and the league. However, if Chivas were in the Eastern Conference they would sit in 5th place, as the Eastern Conference clearly seems to be the weaker conference overall to this point in the season. Normally, if the playoff system was set where teams could not jump across conferences, Chivas would look very much to be on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoffs.
But because of the 2011 format and the fact that the playoffs have been expanded this year to 10 teams, Chivas have a strong chance. In the overall table, the Goats currently sit in 12th place overall, so they are still outside of the playoff picture at the moment, but they are only a point out of it, and so they remain in the hunt. Despite the fact that the playoff format seems somewhat wacky, it drives interest from teams that would be out of the chase if there was a rigid format. It also rewards teams that play well in the stronger conference, which makes sense, right? The best teams should get in the playoffs, shouldn't they?
Of course, all this talk of playoffs is predicated on the fact that Chivas actually can remain in the hunt. Although they have sputtered a bit the last few weeks, they do not look like they are going to drop off at this point. Better form and really establishing themselves as a qualifier will go a long way to ensuring Chivas will have a successful season. And once a team is in, they have a shot at the title, as we have witnessed in years past, so who knows what they might be capable of?