New Playoff Format Cements Role of Conferences in MLS

MLS Timbers Real Salt Lake Soccer.JPEG-0ddce

Just weeks before the beginning of the season, MLS yesterday finally released its playoff format for the 2011 season.  As dreaded, it will include 10 of the 18 MLS teams, and officials acknowledged the number could change as more teams join MLS.  As for the current structure, the playoffs will go as such:

  • The top three finishers in each conference will qualify for the playoffs.
  • The four teams outside the top three in each conference who have the best records will qualify for the playoffs as wild cards.  This is regardless of conference affiliation.
  • In the first round, the wild card with the best record will take on the wild card with the worst, and the other two will face off in the second first round matchup.  The format is single game at the higher seed’s home field.
  • The conference semifinals will pit the remaining wild card team with the lowest record with the Supporter’s Shield winner.  The other wild card will face the top seed in the other conference, while the second and third seeds in each conference will play.  The semifinals will be a home-and-home series.
  • The winners of the semifinals will face each other in a game at the highest remaining seed’s home field.  The winners of each conference final will face off in the MLS Cup.
  • No dates have been anounced for the playoffs.

So if the current playoff structure were in place last season, Seattle would have hosted Chicago and Colorado would have hosted San Jose in the wild card round.  Assuming the top seeds would have won (for the sake of the example), Seattle would have faced Los Angeles in the Western Conference semifinals (while Real Salt Lake and Dallas would have faced off) and Colorado would have played New York in the Eastern Conference semifinals (while Columbus would have played Kansas City).

My initial thought upon seeing the bracket is that this is the best MLS could have done if wedded to the idea of a 10 team playoff. The structure rewards success in the regular season by having the teams with the best records face opponents who had played more recently.  I think having the conference semifinals as home-and-home with the other rounds are single games is very odd, and I think MLS should just go to single matches for the playoffs, although that would hurt some teams’ gates.

The big winner in this format however are the conferences.  If you were a single-table proponent the format shows that at least for the near future MLS has no plans to deviate from the conference structure.  In fact, playing well within your conference is a reward, as it allows you to compare yourself just with the other nine teams in your conference for the playoff race, instead of last season when you had to do well not only in-conference but in a combined table to qualify for the playoffs.

The other big winner in the short term is the Eastern Conference.  This playoff structure allows a pretty good team a good chance to make a run at the MLS Cup.  It is universally acknowledged that New York is the heavy favorite to win the East, but take a team like Philadelphia.  The Union have good enough talent to be one of the better teams in the East this season, but still have enough glaring holes that, if they were in the West, they would probably finish outside the top four.  In this playoff structure, they have a good shot at the two seed in the East, where they can play another pretty good Eastern Conference team.  If they win, they move on to face New York most likely, not an easy task.  But New York could be facing a team like Seattle in the semifinals and have a better chance of being upset.  If Philadelphia wins the conference final, they are one more win away from an MLS Cup.  Can’t happen?  How is that path different than Colorado’s last year?

But what do you think about the playoff structure, and is it as big an advantage to Eastern Conference teams as I think?

119 Comments

  1. Rabble Rouser February 24, 2011
    • me February 24, 2011
  2. AdamEdg February 24, 2011
    • Charles February 24, 2011
      • me February 24, 2011
        • Charles February 24, 2011
      • Sancho February 26, 2011
        • Charles February 27, 2011
          • Sancho March 4, 2011
          • Sancho March 7, 2011
    • dcudiplomat96 February 24, 2011
    • bullsear February 26, 2011
  3. GI Joe February 24, 2011
    • Joe February 24, 2011
    • Charles February 24, 2011
      • me February 24, 2011
      • dcudiplomat96 February 24, 2011
    • dcudiplomat96 February 24, 2011
  4. Kevin Sutton February 24, 2011
  5. Alan Higgins February 24, 2011
  6. montana lucky February 24, 2011
  7. No Longer A Fan February 24, 2011
    • Charles February 24, 2011
    • Riazor February 24, 2011
    • Tom February 24, 2011
      • bandeeto February 25, 2011
  8. Charles February 24, 2011
    • No Longer A Fan February 24, 2011
      • Nate February 24, 2011
      • Charles February 24, 2011
        • Nate February 24, 2011
          • Charles February 24, 2011
    • me February 24, 2011
      • Charles February 24, 2011
      • Sancho February 26, 2011
  9. Riazor February 24, 2011
    • Nate February 24, 2011
      • Riazor February 24, 2011
        • Nate February 24, 2011
          • Charles February 24, 2011
    • Robert Hay February 24, 2011
      • Charles February 24, 2011
        • DomiNate February 24, 2011
          • Charles February 24, 2011
  10. Noah February 24, 2011
    • No Longer A Fan February 24, 2011
      • Clampdown February 24, 2011
    • Nate February 24, 2011
      • Nate February 24, 2011
    • Riazor February 24, 2011
      • Charles February 24, 2011
  11. Alan February 24, 2011
  12. Alan February 24, 2011
    • Riazor February 24, 2011
      • Alan February 24, 2011
  13. Alan February 24, 2011
    • Robert February 24, 2011
      • Alan February 24, 2011
        • Earl Reed February 24, 2011
    • Clampdown February 24, 2011
      • Alan February 24, 2011
    • Charles February 24, 2011
    • DomiNate February 24, 2011
      • Alan February 24, 2011
  14. Alan February 24, 2011
    • Joe February 25, 2011
  15. CTBlues February 24, 2011
  16. Tom February 24, 2011
    • Alan February 24, 2011
  17. Tom February 24, 2011
    • Gazza February 24, 2011
    • dan February 24, 2011
  18. IAMKHOVA February 24, 2011
  19. dan February 24, 2011
    • (other)Tom February 24, 2011
  20. QUENTEZ February 24, 2011
  21. StellaWasAlwaysDown February 24, 2011
  22. dcudiplomat96 February 24, 2011
    • Sancho February 26, 2011
      • Sancho February 26, 2011
  23. dcudiplomat96 February 24, 2011
    • dan February 24, 2011
      • Robert February 24, 2011
        • Gazza February 24, 2011
        • Alan February 24, 2011
          • Robert February 24, 2011
        • dan February 25, 2011
          • Alan February 25, 2011
          • Wow February 25, 2011
  24. Evan K. February 24, 2011
    • (the 12-team play-off) Tom February 25, 2011
      • CoconutMonkey February 28, 2011
  25. someone thinking past this year February 24, 2011
    • Alan February 25, 2011
    • Alan February 25, 2011
  26. Bolacuadrada February 25, 2011
    • (the 12-team play-off) Tom February 25, 2011
      • Alan February 25, 2011
      • Sancho February 26, 2011
  27. This league sucks February 25, 2011
    • Alan February 25, 2011
    • dan February 25, 2011
  28. Wow February 25, 2011
    • montana lucky February 25, 2011
      • Robert February 25, 2011
        • dcudiplomat96 February 25, 2011
  29. Alan February 25, 2011
    • Wow February 25, 2011
      • Sancho February 26, 2011
    • Charles February 27, 2011
  30. montana lucky February 25, 2011
    • nick February 26, 2011
      • CoconutMonkey February 28, 2011
  31. Chris Riordan February 25, 2011
  32. Tim February 28, 2011
    • dcudiplomat96 March 4, 2011
  33. Sancho February 28, 2011
    • dcudiplomat96 March 4, 2011
      • Sancho March 4, 2011

Leave a Reply