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MLS makes major changes to playoff format and scheduling starting in 2012


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:


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."


What do you make of the competition changes? 

Share your thoughts below.


  1. With more then half the teams in the league making the playoffs the regular season continues to be a lot more meaningless then every other league in the world. There should be 8 teams max in the playoffs and even that is generous. The more importance that every MLS match has on it, the more the fans will come out. It’s like we have 34 exhibition matches and then the season comes down to a few crucial games. Silly.

  2. I’m with you. My ideal would actually be six — 2 v 3 for each conference’s semi-final, then the winner of that against the 1-seed…both home-and-home.

    That’ll never happen, though. I could live with 8. And I like the idea of doing a group stage — one game against each team; higher seed gets home-field advantage. Top two teams from each group play in the conference final (home-and-home), then the one-off final.

  3. Last night’s game was precisely why the MLS Cup should not automatically be staged at the higher ranked finalist. You’ll see one-sided games with the visitors holding on for a break away or penalties. It’s also unfair on the visiting supporters who, with the new play-off structure, will inevitably traveling to a city in the other conference.

  4. This info is just what i was looking for. It would be excellent to see more of your writing on this topic…I earned good knowledge from reading this one.. Its helpful to us..

  5. There is no chance at all that the NFL is going to get rid of it’s conferences or neutral site Super Bowls any time soon. Like as in decades. The Super Bowl is at a neutral site because it’s about a lot more than just the game. It’s a showcase for the advertisers and the sponsors. Those people want (indeed need) to know ahead of time where the game is going to be played. You can’t have 50,000 people all looking to make last minute travel plans to get to a place like Green Bay, Wisconsin.

    A home site game for the MLS will work because the vast majority of the fans at the game will be the home team fans. At the Super Bowl the two participating teams get something like 17.5% of the tickets each. That means that 82.5% of the 70,000-ish fans at the game are coming in from somewhere else. It’s not realistic to expect that to happen in less than two weeks.

  6. I like that the Supporters Shield winner gets to host the Final, its only fair, being the best all year, should mean more than it does in MLS.-Wicked1


    If your gonna be snarky, at least get your facts straight. Like me.

  7. I’ll have to think some more about the other details, but I’m happy without reservation that the Cup will be at the home of the team with the most points.


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