MLS considering significant overhaul of playoff format: Sources

Major League Soccer is considering major changes for 2023, club and league sources said. The athletics on Tuesday. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the ongoing discussions.

With the addition of the league’s expansion club, St. Louis City SC, the league will grow to 29 teams next season from the current 13 total playoffs to about 30 next year, the sources said. The idea of ​​moving to 30 postseason games was also discussed in a document distributed to clubs this summer by MLS. The athletics on Tuesday.

Sources said the league is considering expanding its winning streak in part to increase its inventory of postseason games in the first year of a new media rights deal with Apple. The league and Apple announced a $2.5 billion distribution deal in June.

MLS’s current playoff format consists of seven teams from each conference. All playoff matches are eliminated at once, giving the league a total of 13 postseason matches, including the MLS Cup.

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That format would have to change to accommodate 30 regular season tournaments. According to the sources, one outcome would be a move to a World Cup-style knockout tournament. Details of what this tournament might look like were not fully known by the sources, but it was speculated that a format might look something like this.

  • The top eight teams from each conference qualify for the postseason
  • Each of these groups is divided into four groups of four
  • Teams are separated by conference; Western Conference teams are drawn only with other Western Conference teams and Eastern Conference teams are drawn only with other Eastern Conference teams.
  • As seen in the World Cup, each team will play three group games.
  • The top two seeds in each group will host two group-stage games; The bottom two seeds will host a group-stage game
  • The two best teams from each division will advance to eight teams in one division
  • According to the group level, the playoff level is also divided into conferences
  • The top seeds host playoff-level matches, with the Western Conference champion advancing to the MLS Cup against the Eastern Conference champion.
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The same source that outlined this potential new format suggested that MLS would set up such a tournament and hold several group-level matches each night for two weeks. The current MLS game format makes it difficult for the league to create narratives. Blink and the entire post-chapter is over. Expanding the playoffs and holding games on consecutive nights for two weeks would theoretically allow the league to catch up with the majors. Conversely, the switch to a playoff format unique to both soccer and the North American landscape of sports may confuse casual fans or newcomers to the league.

Again, the changes aren’t final yet. The sources said a committee of senior MLS owners and officials had discussed a World Cup-style format this summer and that the proposed change was well received. Approval for such a change must be given by the MLS Board of Governors, which is scheduled to meet in Brooklyn next mid-November.

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The league could consider other formats that would offer up to 30 postseason games — simply revising the current format to a two-legged system with one championship game would result in a 25-game postseason schedule.

The league’s playoff format has changed several times in its 27-year history. In its first years, eight of the league’s 10 teams qualified for postseason play, and the league used a best-of-three format for the conference semifinals and finals. They improved that system in 2000 and divided the league into three groups. Although the league remained in this format for some time, it eventually moved to two-legged matches, overcoming the number of teams out of each conference and the best-of-three system. In the year In 2019, the league introduced its current, streamlined, single-elimination format.

(Top photo: Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)


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