Single match cup finals make sense.
The spectacle. The event. The drama of the must win. The ability of fans to put all their efforts into catching the big game. The UEFA Champion’s League, the World Cup, and Major League Soccer finals are all better off for being a single match.
But I’d make the argument that the USL PRO Title game should be a two-legged series for a few reasons. The lack of a neutral site does give the higher seed and advantage and it’s one they’ve definitely earned. In a playoff system, home field is the incentive to care about the regular season beyond just making it. MLS runs a similar system and I have no problems with it. The difference here being that the MLS playoffs leading up to the final are two-legged, in the same way the UCL is during the knockout stages. USL PRO isn’t which leads to a very unfortunate possibility.
A team in the title match could have never had a home playoff match. That’s what the Charlotte Eagles are looking at this year.
I understand that the USL PRO isn’t a wealthy league, and the single elimination format probably saves them a fair chunk of money. It makes sense but it does deny some fans and the team the reward of a home playoff game. Even in MLS a lower seeded side enjoys at least a single home match (save for the wild card, which I’m mostly against.) Going to MLS Cup, and going on the road for 2 straight years as Houston has done isn’t exactly a travesty. They’ve had their chance to at least celebrate the regular season success at BBVA once or twice before.
The Charlotte Eagles won’t have that privilege. Not one playoff match for their fans to host. They didn’t even finish dead last or anything. They finished 5th out of 13. They deserve something. USL PRO would probably benefit as well from the increased high drama playoff game in terms of financially and media attention. And Charlotte is missing out on what would probably be their biggest payday of their franchise history.
I suppose the chance to win a title is enough but the fans who have been their all season deserve a playoff atmosphere. In a league that will make most of its money from connecting with its fans and getting its fans to bring friends, they miss a huge opportunity here to grow the brand in some of the smaller markets. Bringing a friend to a ‘championship’ game seems more likely to be enticing, and even draw them in as a repeat customer through the atmosphere that will surely be there on that match day.
The higher seed could get leg two at home, and in most cases will have had a game or two in the earlier rounds as price for their season success. Orlando City has gotten this. It also neglects the opportunity to force Orlando to hit the road for at least one playoff game, proving their the best even through difficult decisions. Not traveling for the month and having your supporters behind you is certainly a huge advantage. Not that they haven’t deserved it, but their challenge for winning the title is very diminished.
I’d like to see the Charlotte atmosphere for the championship. Given they’ve beaten two higher seeds to get to this place, it’s hard to justify any argument saying that they haven’t earned it.