As expected, Major League Soccer altered its competition format for next season, with the league announcing those changes hours prior to the 2011 MLS Cup — the last one to be held at a predetermined site.
The 2012 MLS Cup will be held at the home of the finalist with the most regular-season points, and the road to getting to the final has changed as well.
The top five teams in each conference will make the playoffs, with the fourth and fifth seeds in the respective conferences playing a one-off elimination game to determine who advances to the conference semifinals. From there, the conference semifinals and finals will both be two-leg, home-and-home series as opposed to the past in which the conference final was just a one-game round.
The new format eliminates the possibility of a team from the Western Conference crossing over into the Eastern Conference playoff bracket and vice versa.
Here are the other changes on tap for the 2012 MLS season:
UNBALANCED 34-GAME SCHEDULE
As MLS commissioner Don Garber announced a couple of weeks ago, there will be an unbalanced schedule with the addition of the Montreal Impact to the Eastern Conference.
Teams in the 10-team East will play seven conference opponents three times each, and two other opponents two times each. They'll play each Western Conference team once, and those that they play at home in 2012 they will face on the road in 2013.
Teams in the nine-team West will play each conference foe three times apiece and each Eastern Conference team one time each. The teams they play at home in 2012 they will face on the road in 2013.
"We have established a fair and compelling format for the 2012 season," MLS Executive Vice President Nelson Rodriguez said in a league statement. "This regular season will include more games between regional rivals and less total travel than we have seen in recent years. Because of the wide geographic distribution of MLS clubs, this structure should improve the quality of play, while continuing to give every club an equal chance of qualifying for the MLS Cup playoffs."
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