MLS considering significant overhaul of playoff format: Sources

Football League and club sources said that Major League Soccer is considering a massive change to the format of the 2023 play-off the athlete Tuesday. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the discussions that are still ongoing.

Sources said the league, which will grow to 29 teams next season with the arrival of St. Louis City’s expansion, could increase the total number of playoff games from the current 13 to nearly 30 next year. The idea of ​​switching to a 30-match post-season was also outlined by MLS in a document distributed to clubs over the summer and obtained by MLS. the athlete Tuesday.

Sources said the league is considering partially expanding its format so it can increase its overall stock of post-season games in the first year of a new media rights agreement with Apple. The league and Apple announced a 10-year, $2.5 billion streaming deal in June that will see the tech giant showcase each MLS regular season and playoff game on its Apple TV streaming service starting in 2023.

The current MLS playoff format includes seven teams from each conference. All play-offs are individual eliminations, giving the league a total of 13 post-season games, including the MLS Cup.

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This format would have to be changed to accommodate 30 postseason contests. According to the sources, one of the possible outcomes will be a switch to the FIFA World Cup. The details of what that potential tournament would look like were not fully known by the sources, but someone posited that the format could look something like this:

  • The top eight teams from each conference will advance to the post-season
  • These teams will be divided into four groups of four teams each
  • Groups will be separated by conference; Western Conference teams will only be grouped with Western Conference teams and Eastern Conference teams will only be grouped with fellow Eastern Conference teams
  • As in the World Cup, each team plays three matches in the group stage, one against the other three teams in the group
  • The top two seeds in each group will host two group stage matches; The two seeds at the bottom of the list will host one match in the group stage
  • The best two teams from each group will advance to the eight-team knockout stage
  • Like the group stage, the knockout stage will also be divided by the conference
  • The top seed will host playoff matches, with the Western Conference champion advancing to the MLS Cup against the Eastern Conference champion
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The same source that identified this potential new format also indicated that the Major League Soccer could organize such a tournament in which several group stage matches would be played every night for about two weeks. The current MLS match format makes it difficult for the league to create a narrative; Blink and the entire postseason is over. Expanding playoffs and holding matches on consecutive nights for two weeks could theoretically allow the league to gain a major foothold. Conversely, switching to a split format that is unique to both the football and North American sports scene can confuse regular fans or newcomers to the league.

Again, the changes are not final yet. Sources said a panel of senior MLS owners and officials discussed what the World Cup could look like this summer and that the proposed change was viewed positively. Approval for such a change must be given by the MLS full board of governors, which is scheduled to meet in mid-November in Brooklyn.

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The league could also consider other formats that would bring it closer to its goal of 30 post-season games – simply revising the current format to a two-player system with a single championship game would lead to the 25-game post-season schedule.

The league’s playoff format has changed several times over its 27-year history. In its early years, eight of the league’s 10 teams qualified for post-season play, and the league used a best-of-three format for the semi-finals and conference finals. They modified this system in 2000 when they divided the league into three divisions, with the league’s top eight teams, regardless of division, advancing to the playoffs. The league stuck to this format for some time, but eventually equalized the number of teams from each conference that qualified, got rid of the best-of-three system, and moved on to the doubles matches. In 2019, the league introduced its current, simplified, single-elimination format.

(Top photo: Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports)


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