Landon Donovan compared, in a taped interview yesterday on one of the local radio stations, MLS regular season to the national team friendly season. That the MLS Cup playoffs were like the World Cup qualifying. In a way he has a point.
In both the MLS regular season and the International Friendlies preceding World Cup qualifying, your goal is to improve your seeding. The higher your seed, the easier time you have in the tournament. Being a top seed is a reward for your good play and gives the team an advantage, but it doesn't guarantee going through.
My problem with his analogy is that in World Cup qualifying, the point of the tournament isn't to win, it's the qualify for the World Cup. Perhaps the analogy does still stand, because although there's a tournament winner, MLS Cup isn't the end for those clubs. The prize just for being in the game, is a berth in CONCACAF Champions League.
Is a Champions League berth more relevant than an MLS Cup win? Champions League games are seen by a smaller audience (Fox Soccer vs. ESPN) and in the Galaxy's case, the games are on weekdays where by agreement they cannot sell out the stadium. However, it's through Champions League that international respect is gained. Sort of, since there are always those naysayers who believe the Mexican league doesn't take it seriously enough.
I think Donovan was likely trying to explain to an audience that really knows him mostly from the national team (I mean Petros Papadakis was one of the hosts, you know he's not watching MLS religiously) why the Supporters' Shield isn't enough. He said today after practice to a group of reporters that the reason the Galaxy are so hungry for this cup is they're been the best team in MLS the last three years and have no Cup to show for it. No new star on the crest.
While Real Salt Lake might have something to say about that claim, I think his second statement rings truer than his first. The Galaxy have proven their ability to win consistently over the last three years, but they haven't yet shown the ability to finish off a cup run. Because that's MLS' big moment and because it's that team that goes down in the record books as champion, that's why the Galaxy have to win the cup this year.
The MLS Cup tournament isn't World Cup qualifying, it's the Gold Cup. It's a flash in the pan tournament to see who is best in MLS at this moment, and a chance for MLS to balance it's books. Cause, to use an analogy, the US might have the higher FIFA ranking in March of 2011, but Mexico has bragging rights as of June.