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MLS releases new playoff format


Major League Soccer has released its new playoff format, which includes 10 teams and a minimum of three from each conference.

The top three teams in each conference automatically qualify, and the top four teams after that — regardless of conference affiliation — qualify as wildcards.

The four wildcards play a single-elimination playoff round to narrow the field to eight, with the lowest remaining seed playing the Supporters' Shield winner, and second-lowest playing the other conference winner. The format remains the same as past years after that point, with two-legged, aggregate conference semifinals followed by a single-match conference championship.

The conference championship games are guaranteed to be hosted by teams actually in their respective conferences, avoiding a scenario like last season when Colorado and San Jose played for the Eastern Conference title; however, an Eastern Conference championship can still be won by a team in the Western Conference, and vice versa.

What do you think of the new format?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. The best 5 in each conference makes sense…especially when the league hit 20 teams in just a few years.

    They need to seriously consider giving the team with the best record a home game in MLS Cup. More teams will go for the Supporters Shield and more teams will work to get in that top 3 that has a BYE in the 1st Round.

  2. See my long reply (too long? sorry) to Chuck above. I would like to see a single table too and playoff. Also, because soccer doesn’t take any commercial breaks, except at half-time, it’s unlikely broadcast TV channels will ever have much incentive… at least for regular season games. This means cable/Internet is the likely future for MLS and cable is always rated much lower. But that doesn’t mean they can’t put on a good show and grow their cable/Internet following.

  3. MLS is always on cable and cable TV always rates lower than broadcast TV, especially in this economy where a lot of people just have basic cable packages to save money or do away with cable entirely. The highest rated cable shows get maybe a 3 or so. A lot of people just watch stuff on the Internet now.

    So expecting broadcast TV type ratings for MLS is immaterial and unrealistic because it’s a cable/Internet show. You don’t expect “Sons of Anarchy” on FX to be up there in ratings with “CSI”, and it’s not. But it’s still a good show.

    This from…

    “So MLS struggles in TV ratings continues with 62 telecasts shown in 2009 and all of them on cable the average number of viewers was 172,000 per match. The 24 matches broadcast on Spanish Language TV had an average of 229,000 per match. The most watched regular season matchup was June 17th when 550,000 watched the DC United match against the Seattle Sounders FC.”

    Yes, obviously a lot of work to do. But again, it’s a cable show for a league in only 16 cities last year. However, let’s look at MLS Cup playoff cable TV numbers, again from RSL Soap Box…

    “The numbers are better for MLS when you look at the playoffs the average for MLS playoff matches on cable were 404,000. The MLS Cup despite a bad time slot still was able to pull in 1.141 million viewers.”

    So despite the MLS Cup (expanded) playoff haters, Cable TV ratings do improve for the playoffs.

  4. Both of those statements are false based on both attendance figures and revenue.
    Both the NFL and MLB are doing better than ever, they’re pretty much the two best examples of successful professional sports leagues in the world.

  5. Oh the irony…American soccer fans want a single table, and the Supporters Shield winner to be league champion. European fans want their leagues to feature playoffs.

    Problem is if these playoffs determine league champions, it therefore determines Champions League qualifiers. Imagine if a club like Everton or Blackburn Rovers performed in the CL this season. They might have made it out of their groups, but I doubt they’d have a shot at a CL title.

  6. A single table is likely wanted mainly due to the fact MLS now plays on a balanced schedule, and because of the number of clubs in the league. If you’re playing every team in the league the same number of times, it makes conferences absolutely meaningless, but if you’re rewarding a tournament to crown your league champion based on conferences, it could result in what we saw last year. Consequently, Colorado is not even acknowledged as true MLS Cup winners, apart from Rapids fans.

    Plus for the playoffs, you’d be rewarding the postseason tournament to the clubs that truly have the best season records. Also, USOC and SuperLiga qualification is based completely off a single table. It’s a matter of complicating things are not necessary.

  7. Some European leagues do have playoffs, but these playoffs are for only the top 4-6 clubs, and they don’t determine league champions, but rather, who qualifies for the Champs League or Europa League. It’s done in Greece and Belgium. Belgium’s system is intrguing. The tournament deducts half of your regular season points and you play the other three times twice, for a total of six matches (home and away).

    Not big though of rewarding teams based on geographical location, especially on a balanced schedule.

  8. I bet a 10th place club will win by crossing conferences and defeat a 3rd place club that did not deserve to qualify for the playoffs. NY and LA make it to the semi-er-I mean “conference finals”, and lose.

  9. That’s true. NFL started out with a single table and the team with the best regular season were champions.

    It would be intriguing to see MLS try a more international and less American approach, such idiosyncrasy could help give the league a namesake.

    Nothing to lose trying a different system like that, especially when every previous system has failed.

  10. Do what Seattle did, thanks to their interest, the 2011 U.S. Open Cup (31,000) final drew a larger crowd than the 2011 MLS Cup (MLS claims it was 22,000; but lets be real, it had to be at 14,000 MAX).

    The USOC is the only American soccer competition with a rich history.

  11. The problem with MLS is not that there aren’t enough playoff games, or that there’s not enough playoff revenue for teams. The biggest problem facing MLS is that there’s already little enough reason for teams to try hard in the first 2/3 of the season. As a season ticket holder for the Fire, I’m sick as hell of paying for match tickets only to watch teams go through the motions knowing that the results really don’t matter until September. Last May I watched the Fire tank a Thursday league match against Dallas and go balls to the wall 3 days later in a friendly against Milan. It’s crap, and if I wanted to watch the NBA or the NHL which devalued their regular seasons decades ago, I would do that. Please give us a regular season that means something and the playoffs will take care of themselves.

  12. Supporters Shield is everything. This is a league not a tournament. Everyone play each other once at each others home field. Who had the best record? Good you’ve won then.

  13. You shouldn’t speak for all American’s, because if you read through this post, not everyone agrees with you. And to say 98% of Americans do, is just ridiculous. I don’t know where you are getting your data from. So just because “The Rest of the World” is going it, we should too?

    I would like to here your thoughts on why a single table is better. Instead of just saying we should do it because everyone is going it, come up with some valid points.

  14. Interesting. Personally I support anything that increases the value of the USOC.

    Last week I took a ton of crap for ranking USOC above MLS Cup. For me, it is the trophy with history and will stand the test of time better.

  15. No interest ?

    One person has interest…

    I was there with 36,000 other people who had interested the last two years of the MLS playoffs. IF the Sounders had made the MLS Cup Finals, two seasons ago, there would have been 67,000+ with interest.

    These things turn on a dime. Both ways. I was there when the Sounders were drawing close to 30k and could get almost twice that for a playoff game.

    I was there when NASL folded a few years later.

    IF you don’t like the playoffs that is cool.

    But I do, many others do, and MLS thinks it is the best way to have soccer make money in this country.

  16. ABSURD! overly complicated … in fact, a nearly indecipherable format. horrible, horrible, horrible!

    if MLS insists on persisting with conferences instead of a single table (for geographic reasons?) and post-season playoffs instead of a league-wide knock out tournament (to be ‘american’?), then why not just have the top 4 teams from each conference in the playoffs?

  17. Just curious, do you look at other soccer leagues who don’t exactly follow how European sports league model, as bastardizing soccer? Do you think fans in Mexico or Brazil always complain that their soccer league doesn’t exactly follow Europe general recipe? Is it bastardizing the sport if basketball or hockey leagues in Europe use promotion-relegation, since that’s not how it’s done in the country(ies) that started those sports?

    I’m not a huge fan of these changes, mostly because I’m not big on expanding playoffs, but that’s true for me for all American sports. I accept that we’re in the US, and American sports leagues have playoffs, it’s what the general sports fan is used to and expects.

    Promotion-Relegation and words like pitch are not intrinsic to soccer, or unique to soccer, yet so many people here insist it is. As long as they don’t change the rules of the game on the field, it’s the same game. Seriously.

  18. It’s just sad that I can no longer make fun of the NBA and NHL for letting over half of their teams in the playoffs condeming MLS for it as well….

    Having said that, playoff soccer might be the most intriguing part of MLS to many Americans, so if it helps ratings then I guess it could be considered a good thing.

  19. And please can we get a new MLS logo. That foot kicking a ball looks like a preschooler won a ‘pick the MLS logo’ challenge. Good lord.

  20. Yuck. 8 teams was already too many. Now it’s 10. And the mix of home and away leg going to simply 1 game is simply goofy as hell. What a confusing and dumb format.

  21. Exactly. I like the playoffs, but they should be more exclusive. 6 teams max, in my opinion. Last year Colorado had a mediocre year but got hot for one month and now they are “champions.” Sorry. They didn’t deserve it.

  22. 1. European countries are tiny, there is no need for conferences because the maximum is 20 teams, there is a balanced schedule, and travel distances are much smaller (even in Russia).

    2. Not having playoffs makes certain European leagues extremely predictable (England) to downright DULL (Scotland, Spain, etc.) in terms of who will win.

    3. What about other non-American soccer institutions that essentially have a playoff structure? UEFA Champions League? World Cup?

  23. i don’t know if anyone has said this but i think the reason they have more teams enter the playoffs is so that more games count at the end of the year. everyone talks about pro/rel and how intense that makes the end of other leagues season. i don’t see anyway that we will know the final order of the 10 teams or even the 10 teams until the last day of the season. i don’t want sporting kc in the wild card, but if they are its better than watching someone else, its like the end of dumb and dumber, so you’re saying there’s a chance.

  24. Okay but pretty soon the league will be too big for a balanced schedule.

    Once there is no balanced schedule, we need conferences because the US is an enormous country with teams all over (except the southeast but presumably that will change soon), it is not England where you can drive to any major city in a couple hours.

  25. Low salary cap?? Low coaches pay?
    Are you a multi-millionaire willing to foot the bill?

    Is it better to have a mediocre league that EXISTS and improves over time, or an unsustainable league that eventually collapses under a mountain of debt?

  26. You know what ruined the NFL? When the Seahawks and their losing record beat the Saints last year.

    You know what ruined baseball? When the 83 win cardinals won the world series in 2006.

    Wait, those sports are still doing great? Never mind.

  27. Eurosnobbery of some of these posts is kind of funny…Single Table is outrageously boring. This why Europeans are so fascinated with Champions League. Americans came up with a good innovation here.

  28. No, RBNY Vs SSFC doesn’t make sense. MLS needs to go with full blown conferences. There are more playoff spots, so if you don’t make it, don’t blame it on the conference. This puts even more emphasis on conference games and strengthens integrity.

  29. If you’re going to seed, go all the way. Everyone plays the same schedule, the records are all comparable.

    Last year #2 played #3, then #3 played #1, all before the finals.

    That’s goofy.

    This is Garber reacting to the West’s bottom seeds blowing the Eastern bracket up for two years running.

    Just go all the way – as long as schedules are equivalent – seed from a single seeding criteria – points – and reward a #2 finisher over the king of the also ran conference.


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