After the eight-month regular season that served the purpose of eliminating less than half the league's clubs from MLS Cup contention, the MLS playoffs are here to narrow the remaining majority down to one winner. To advertise this dramatic conclusion to the season and the television coverage of the match between defending champions LA Galaxy and the Vancouver Whitecaps, the league is using an image of a group of fans engulfed in a vibrant haze of red smoke and bright flares at a match.
It's a striking image, but it's not of LA or Vancouver fans -- it's of Portland Timbers supporters. In Salt Lake City. During the regular season. On top of that, it's also an incident that got Portland's supporters group, the Timbers Army, punished by the league.
In a letter to Houston Dynamo's supporters groups earlier this year regarding separate incidents, MLS specified "a prohibited smoke bomb that was brought into the stadium and ignited" as a violation of the MLS Fan Code of Conduct that was partial grounds for their own punishments. And yet, here's what the league's official website looks like on Thursday, November 1...
The Timbers Army's website sums up their feelings on the conflicting messages:
If the league is going to insist on bans for people who light flares, smoke, and is so inept they can't get a universal flag/tifo policy in place that works league wide the least they could do would be to talk to the marketing department and tell them not to use pictures of supporters doing things that will get them banned by the league. It's a gigantic double standard that for some reason the suits at the league just don't understand. On one hand the marketing folks think it looks awesome and really shows how edgy the league is. On the other hand they've hired outside consultants from all over the world to tell them how to discipline supporters groups for lighting flares/smoke and actively discourage it.
So remember: Don't light flares and smoke bombs at MLS playoff matches, but if you do it would totally be a great advertisement for the league.
UPDATE: Less than an hour after this post was published MLS removed the smoke ad from their website and Facebook page and replaced them with a slightly less exhilarating grass background. Call them what you want, but you can't call them slow.