These are divisive and troubling times, no doubt. Our nation seems to be crumbling around us, while our soccer league is threatening to lock out its players. There’s plenty to read on both topics, but I’m not going to go into any of it here. Instead, like most weeks, I’ll offer you a short break from the current state of our world. This time, it’s an idea my friend Chris suggested the other day and which I’ve been fleshing out ever since. It’s basically the World Cup, only for MLS.
1) The Idea
A couple weeks ago I pointed out all the possible problems with MLS’s Orlando Plan. This week, let’s come up with a different, but equally flawed plan. I’m calling it the DeMann Cup. Because why not? It’s never gonna happen anyway.
One big problem with the Orlando Plan was that it kept the players away from their families for a full two months. Two months is excessive, but what about two weeks? Because that’s about how long the FIFA World Cup group stages last.
The World Cup starts with eight groups of four. That’s a total of 32 teams, which is a problem, since MLS only has 26 teams. But since this is imaginary and fun, I’m just gonna grab the six best teams from USL. Will anyone agree to this? Of course not. Is it fun to imagine anyway? Yes.
Here are the Supporter’s Shield results from last year. I’ve split them up into three pots of eight (I’m calling them “pots” because that what FIFA always calls them).
Our fourth pot of eight will include MLS newcomers Nashville and Inter Miami, plus the top six teams from USL last year. (Oh, wait... Nashville was one of those top six USL teams? Okay, top seven, then.) Those would be, in their order of finish:
- Phoenix Rising
- Pittsburgh Riverhounds
- Indy Eleven
- Louisville City FC
- Reno 1868
- Tampa Bay Rowdies
2) The Teams
So, that gives us four pots of eight.
Of course, the Shield results from last year don’t perfectly capture how good a team is right now. For example, are the Galaxy really the eighth best team? They got that 8th spot on the back of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He’s gone now, and in this year’s first two games, the Galaxy kinda looked like shit. If the Timbers get put in the Galaxy’s group, I’m gonna be feeling hella optimistic.
On the other hand, some teams here are a little underrated. For example, no way are Columbus and SKC gonna stay as bad as they were last year. They’re much more talented than 20th and 21st. Let’s hope neither of them end up in the Timbers’ group.
But even though these rankings aren’t perfect, I’m not re-seeding the teams. Too much trouble. So we’ll just roll with last year’s final standings, while keeping in mind that they’re not perfect.
I’ll now use a random number generator to select one team from each pot until we have our eight groups of four. Here we go...
3) The Groups
...and here they are. Your eight groups for the 2020 DeMann Cup.
Fuckin’ shit. We just had to end up in the Group of Death, didn’t we?
4) The Host Cities
Just like in the the real World Cup, there will be group stage games. Portland will play NYCFC once, Columbus once, and Pittsburgh once. Where will these group stage games be played? I’m not sure. I’ve been vacillating back and forth between options.
My instinct is to put each group in its own city, so there won’t be a ton of travel. Teams will just go to that group’s city and stay for as long as it takes to play their three games. Based on past World Cups, this is about two weeks.
Next issue: what cities should host the groups? At first, I was like, let’s pick eight cities that have good stadiums and good soccer culture. Portland, for example. Seattle, Atlanta, Kansas City. Places where we know the fans will show up.
And then I was like, no, dumbtit, nobody’s going to the games. This is 2020. All these games will be played in empty stadiums, so we can put them anywhere. Just choose cities with at least one good field and a lot of hotels, then send all four teams there.
But why make all four teams travel? Instead, we’ll let one city host. That way at least one of the four teams could be with their families, sleeping in their own beds. We’ll just let the top seed host. For our group, Group H, that would be NYCFC.
Except, no. This is my imaginary tournament, and I’m not giving the top teams another advantage. They’re already good on the field, should they also get to stay home? No. We’re letting the group’s worst team host. The Timbers are going to Pittsburgh!
Congratulations Miami, Nashville, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Louisville, Reno, and Tampa, you’re the eight hosts for the eight group stages.
5) The Schedule
How about we start on Saturday, July 4th? We can have fireworks and everything. It’ll be a blast.
Too soon? Then how about the start of August? Or September? It doesn’t matter too much, since the whole tourney will only take about a month.
Here’s our schedule, which I’ve basically copied from FIFA World Cups of the past. If you find yourself thinking, These games are too close together, nope, they do it like this at the World Cup every four years.
July 4, Group A and B’s first games
July 5, Group C and D’s first games
July 6, Group E and F’s first games
July 7, Group G and H’s first games
July 8, back to Groups A and B
...and so on until all the teams have played three games, which, by my calculations, should finish on Friday, July 17th. At that point, the top two teams in each group move on to the Round of 16.
Quick question: how should we do hosting for the knockout rounds? All the teams are going home after their last Group Stage game. Should we have every knockout game hosted by one of the teams playing? Or should we pick one city for all the games? Like, oh, I don’t know, Orlando. Let me know what you think down in the comments.
Anyway, the Round of 16 will start on Sunday, July 18th, when the champion of Group A plays the runner-up of Group B in a single-elimination game.
More games on the 19th, the 20th, and the 21st, at which point we’ve finished that round. On to the quarterfinals, which start just three days later on Wednesday, July 24th.
And if right now you’re thinking, Damn, the World Cup moves fast, I agree. Lots of games in a short amount of time. But if it works for FIFA, I imagine it can work for us, too.
Two games on the 24th, two more on the 25th, and the quarters are done.
The semifinals happen on Wednesday the 28th and Thursday the 29th.
The final is on Sunday, August 2nd.
We’ll start on July 4th and finish on August 2nd. It’ll be fast, efficient, and a hell of a lotta fun. Also, it has absolutely no chance of actually happening.
6) The Predictions
But let’s say a miracle does occur and my goofy DeMann Cup does happen. Who will win?
Alright, let’s start with the group stage. I’ve got Seattle and Toronto coming out of Group A, because both teams are built for the playoffs.
I’ve got LAFC and San Jose coming out of Group B, because Vancouver sucks and Inter Miami’s an unknown.
Our first big surprises come from Group C, where top seed Philly shits the bed and bottom seed Phoenix Rising looks great, so it’s Colorado and Phoenix moving on.
In Group D, Atlanta United and Bruce Arena’s Revolution advance. Bruce has won five MLS Cups. He knows how to win games like this.
Group E’s a tough one, as I’ve got no faith in either the Galaxy or Montreal, so how about another Cinderella? I see NYRB going unbeaten in the group, while Reno 1868 moves on with a win and a draw.
We’ll go with the favorites in Group F, with Minnesota and Dallas moving on.
It’s alphabet time in Group G, with RSL and SKC moving on.
And in our group, Group H, the Group of Death, I’ve got NYCFC shitting the bed, Columbus winning the group, and Portland coming in second. Dairon Asprilla leads the group with three goals, scoring one in each game.
Now, on to the Round of 16.
On the first day of games, San Jose upsets Seattle, while LAFC beats Toronto (though I could see Toronto taking this. They’re built for the playoffs).
On the second day of games, New England beats Colorado, while Atlanta beats Phoenix Rising. Everyone’s sad to see the young upstarts go.
On the third day of games, NYRB destroys Dallas, while Minnesota squeaks past Reno 1868.
And on the fourth day, Columbus beats SKC, while Portland beats RSL on a Dairon Asprilla goal in extra time.
In the quarterfinals, we’ll start with Atlanta beating San Jose, then New England upsetting LAFC. After the game, Bob Bradley refuses to shake Bruce Arena’s hand.
The next day, the Red Bulls beat Minnesota, then Portland beats Columbus, 3-2. Fanendo Adi scores both Columbus goals, with Darlington Nagbe getting both assists, but it’s not enough to overcome Dairon Asprilla’s hat trick. #StatMan Mike Donovan’s not sure if this qualifies as Portland’s first hat trick, since it happened in this weird-ass tourney some freak decided to call the DeMann Cup.
In the semifinals, New England continues to surprise, beating Atlanta 1-0, while Portland and the Red Bulls get into a shootout. Portland ends up winning 4-3, with Dairon Asprilla getting a goal, an assist, a yellow card, and then a straight red. After the game, MLS Commissioner Don Garber rescinds the red card, saying “In these troubling times, the world needs Dairon Asprilla in that championship game.”
In the final, the Timbers go up 1-0 in the 21st minute on a Dairon Asprilla header. In the 35th minute, things go downhill. New England gets a breakaway, Steve Clark comes way out of goal, gets rounded, then just tackles the guy from behind, earning a straight red card. Backup keeper Jeff Attinella saves the ensuing penalty, but the Timbers are down to 10 men. Things get worse in the 2nd half, when Attinella injuries himself and has to be stretchered off. Surprising no one, Dairon Asprilla volunteers to finish the game between the sticks. With a man advantage, New England peppers the Portland goal, but Dairon makes 12 saves over the game’s final 25 minutes, leading the shorthanded Timbers to a 1-0 victory. Afterwards, Asprilla is awarded the tournament’s Golden Ball (top overall player), the Golden Boot (top scorer), and the Golden Glove (top goalkeeper). In a press conference the next day, it’s announced that he’s being sold to Manchester United for $25 million.
So what do you think? Would the DeMann Cup be awesome? Would it be better than the Orlando Plan? What tweaks would you make? I want to hear your ideas. Let work out the details down in the comments.