North American Soccer League (NASL) is once again changing its playoff format.
The 2014 NASL season will debut the new-look postseason format as four clubs will qualify to play in “The Championship” that will decide the NASL Soccer Bowl Championship.
The league will still have a Spring and Fall Champion. However, now the two season champions will be joined in a semifinals of The Championship by the two clubs with the next best overall record from both Spring and Fall Seasons combined. The winner will then move on to The Championship Final, the Soccer Bowl.
The new format, which was approved by the NASL Board of Governors meeting this week in Jacksonville, will debut in the 2014 NASL Season that begins April 12.
Both the semifinals and final will be one match and not two legs. The semifinals will be played the weekend of November 8-9 and the Championship match will be the following weekend.
The NASL Spring Season and Fall Season champions will each host a semi-final match. In regards to seeding, the number one seed will be awarded to whichever of the Spring or Fall champions posts the better combined regular season record.
If the same club wins both the Spring and Fall seasons, the clubs with the second, third and fourth best overall records from both seasons combined will qualify for The Championship.
“We have a vision for how we want to be structured when we reach 18 clubs,” said NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson. “The Championship is an integral part of that vision and the fan feedback we received overwhelmingly supported the decision. The already fierce competition in NASL just got tougher.”
It will be interesting to see how this format will work in the long run. Nevertheless, The Championship is already much better than the previous format in place last season, which saw the Carolina Railhawks, the team with the best oeverall record, not make the Soccer Bowl, and the New York Cosmos, a team who only played half a season, ended up winning it all.
The previous format gave no motivation to the Spring Champions to play in the second half of the season. We saw that with the Silverbacks, who were Spring Champions. In the second half of the season, Atlanta rested its starters, and did not play aggressively, and even let a less superior Fort Lauderdale Strikers squad beat them 6-2 only two weeks prior to the Soccer Bowl.
However, with The Championship, it looks to be different. Owners and coaches alike seem to agree with the new playoff format. Atlanta Silverbacks Technical Director Eric Wynalda had this to say in regards to the new format, “[The Championship] is going to ensure that teams continue to play at the highest level possible throughout the entire season, I think it is the optimal way to crown a NASL champion.”
Below is how The Championship will work:
The Championship Semi Finals (home team listed first)
Seed #1 vs. Seed #4
Seed #2 vs. Seed #3
The Championship Final (home team listed first)
Highest remaining seed vs. other Semi Final winner