As USL Regular Season Champions, New York has clinched home-field advantage throughout the 2016 USL Playoffs.
Home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. What does that mean exactly? Well, back in March, mlssoccer.com's primer on USL made it very clear:
The top eight teams from each conference will advance to the 2016 USL Playoffs, with four weeks of postseason action set to crown the league’s next champion. The fixed-seed format concludes with the USL Championship, which is held at the venue of the conference champion with the best regular-season record.
And that's the way the USL official rules for the 2016 season describe it too:
Yes, every year since 2011, the USL Championship game has been played at the venue of the team with the better regular-season record of the two finalists. And, as it happens, the Championship game has been won by the home team every year since USL rebranded and re-launched itself in 2011.
Perhaps this year will provide an exception to that home-team-always-wins rule of the USL Championship game. This year is already set to provide a possible exception to the best-regular-season-record-always-hosts rule.
Somewhere between the publication of its official rules for 2016 and the finale of its 2016 regular season, USL changed its mind about its Championship game. As the official announcement of NYRB II's potential playoff calendar stated:
Each round of the 2016 USL Playoffs are win or go home, and will all be hosted at Red Bull Arena, provided the team continues to win. The site of the USL Championship game is determined by a bid process, in which each teams submit requests to the USL league office.
Wait, what? What happened to "home advantage throughout the playoffs"? The Championship game isn't the playoffs any longer? What happened to "held at the venue of the conference champion with the best regular season record"?
Well, NYRB II may be the best team in ULS this season, playing an irrepressible, aggressive style that has seen the club set new USL regular-season records for points, wins, and goals. But NYRB II also consistently draws one of the lowest crowds in the league. Embarrassingly low: less than 1,000 - less than 500, very often - for most games. And those crowds have been persistently low regardless of the II-team's form, opponent, the presence of better-known players in either lineup: nothing, it seems, can get RBNY fans out in force for NYRB II.
Perhaps USL has decided to spare itself the possible humiliation of having its showpiece game (set to be broadcast on ESPN U) hosted in a near-empty stadium.
Can you blame the league for that? All it appears to have done is gone back on its word, contradicted its published rules of competition, devalued its regular season title, and potentially sold its Championship title to the highest bidder. Small price to pay for some fans in the stands on October 23.