WASHINGTON, D.C. — February 23 —For the umpteenth time, Major League Soccer has redesigned its playoff format. This year, ten teams—two more than last season— will earn the right to play in the post-season.
The top three finishers in each conference at the end of regular season will claim the six automatic playoff berths. The next best four clubs, irrespective of conference, will play single elimination games against each other for the two wild card berths, with the higher seed hosting the match.
Following the two play-in games, the lowest remaining seed will face the Supporters’ Shield winner in the conference semifinals, while the other wild card club will play the top team in the other conference.
The four conference semifinals will be decided by two-game aggregate series, with each club hosting one game. The conference championships will be single games hosted by the higher seed. The MLS Cup will again be a single championship match hosted at a predetermined site to be announced at a later date.
This season, the league increased to 18 teams with the addition of the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps.
With this new system, there is the possibility of a team finishing seventh in its nine-team conference and going on to win the MLS Cup. That could only happen if all four wild card teams came from the same conference, something that happened last season, when all four wild card teams came from the Western Conference. The fifth-seeded Colorado Rapids went on to win the title in 2010.
The MLS regular season starts on March 15 when the LA Galaxy travel to face the Seattle Sounders and concludes on Oct. 23. The dates for the playoffs will be determined.
See other articles by John Haydon at Haydon’s Soccer Pitch
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