by Craig Elsten

Welcome back inside Craig’s Corner. Come for the shredded bits of tire embedded in the turf, stay for the MASL talk!

Seven Things We Now Know About the Playoffs

The Grand Experiment known as the 2021 MASL season is almost over, and thanks to the release of a playoff format (better late than never!) we now have some semblance of an understanding as to what is coming. There’s a lot left to sort out with the final batch of games. Still, thanks to the compressed schedule, standings calculated by winning percentage, and a calculator, we can figure some things out. In honor of our seven participating teams, here are seven revelations.

Thing #1: First place is not settled. Wednesday’s Ontario/Florida match seems really important, but won’t decide anything!

Let me explain: The Tropics have the narrowest window, in terms of the possible fluctuation of their winning percentage. Currently, Florida stands at 8-3 (.727 win percentage), with two games left to play in Ontario: Wednesday against the Fury, and Thursday against Tacoma. Two wins puts Florida at 10-3 (.769, a .042 gain); a split puts the Tropics at 9-4 (.692, a drop of .035), and two losses would drop them to 8-5 (.615, a .112 loss).

Nonetheless, the Tropics are guaranteed a top-two finish, no matter what (Thing #2). Their lowest-possible finish (.615) is guaranteed to be ahead of Kansas City (best possible final record is 7-5, .583), San Diego (best possible is 6-4, .600), St. Louis (best possible is 8-7, .533) Tacoma (best possible is 5-5, .500) and Dallas (best possible is 4-7, .364).

By contrast, the Fury—in the midst of playing five matches in eight days—will be swapping about 100 percentage points per match played, in terms of their final resting place in the standings. Ontario is at .714, but they will finish in the standings percentage on a 100s plank between .500 and .800 by the end of Saturday night.

SO! If Florida wins on Wednesday, but then loses on Thursday to Tacoma (a perfectly reasonable set of results), the Fury could beat Tacoma Friday and San Diego Saturday, and finish ahead of the Tropics in the standings (.700 to .692). By contrast, if Ontario wins on Wednesday, they will still need at least one more win in their final two matches to take the regular season crown, while Florida would have to beat Tacoma to have a chance at #1.

Thing #3: For Florida, if it’s not First Place, it doesn’t matter. The Tropics won’t be playing home matches in the games that matter most, the semis and the finals. Florida’s only benefit derived from the standings can come with a first round bye. Once we get to the second round, the Tropics suddenly are in the same boat as the West Coast wanderers.

Thing #4: Last place is not settled (yet). Okay, it seems crazy to think the Sidekicks, who haven’t posted a competitive result outside of Allen Event Center, will finish anywhere but seventh place. They would have to win at St. Louis on Friday and Kansas City on Sunday, and then polish off the Sockers the following week at home…all for a .364 winning percentage.

But! Odds are, that *could* be good enough. Tacoma (3-5) finishes with games in Ontario this week, vs Florida on Thursday, and against San Diego on Sunday. Two losses would put the Stars at 3-7, a .300 winning percentage. By contrast, the Sockers (3-4) play Ontario on Saturday, and Tacoma on Sunday. If San Diego got swept, with Dallas winning twice in Missouri, it would be a 3-6 Sockers team against a 3-7 Sidekicks side the following week, with sixth place on the line.

Thing #5: The middle is pretty much settled (and it’s in Missouri). Shocking, right? We knew Missouri was in the middle already. But it’s a lock that the Comets will finish either .583 or .500, and the Ambush will finish either .533 or .467. These clubs will have at least two above them, and two below them, regardless of their results.

Thing #6: We know who CAN’T win the regular season. You have probably figured this out yourself, but the Sockers (.600 max), KC, St. Louis, Tacoma, and Dallas can’t finish the regular season ahead of Florida, so they cannot finish in the #1 seed regardless of results. Only Ontario or Florida will finish #1. A fully collapsed Fury at 5-5 would finish as low as T-fifth, and the Sockers could finish between 2nd and 7th.

Thing #7: The Comets Hold the Cards. Kansas City won’t finish higher than 3rd in the standings, but they will be in the catbird seat. Based on the MASL’s format, Kansas City is a guaranteed host for the semi-finals, and would have a chance to play both games of a home-away format in front of their home fans. And by right, if KC makes the final that means two West Coast teams didn’t, and it returns the Ron Newman Cup finals to St. Louis, a short trip away.

And there we are, seven things we now know about the playoffs. A week of furious action in Ontario will set the standings (for the most part), and by next week, we should have a much better idea of who will be playing where in the opening round. Enjoy the action, everyone!

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Craig’s Corner is a weekly opinion column in which Craig Elsten looks at the good, the bad, and the funny in the world of arena soccer.