Major League Soccer is expanding its playoffs to include the nine top finishers from each of its two conferences, 62 per cent of the league’s teams.
An opening “wild-card” round will feature matches between the eighth and ninth-seeded teams in the Eastern and Western conferences at the stadium of the higher seed.
The first round will be a best-of-three series, with the top finisher in each conference facing the winner of the wild-card match. The second seed will play the seventh, Number three will play Number six and Number four will play Number five. The higher seed will host first, with the series moving to the lower seed for the second game, and then back to the higher seed’s home, if necessary.
If the first round matches are tied at the end of regulation, the game will go directly to a penalty shootout.
The conference semifinals, finals and MLS Cup championship will all be single games, hosted by the higher seed. For the final three rounds, tied matches will go to extra time before penalties.
Seattle Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said Tuesday he hadn’t looked closely at the playoff changes so he couldn’t comment in detail but understood that Apple TV+, the league’s new broadcaster, wanted more postseason games.
However, Schmetzer was clear about wanting playoff games to be single elimination: “I like one and done. I am a one-and-done type of guy.”
LA Galaxy coach Greg Vanney said with the new playoff format, as well as the expanded Leagues Cup competition that included all the MLS and Liga MX teams for the first time, clubs will have a heavier load this season.
“In any of the tournaments, whether it’s Open Cup, or Leagues Cup or you go relatively deep in the playoffs, you’re certainly going to be (at) 50-plus games and that type of scenario,” Vanney said. “And that’s significantly more than what teams, I think, have generally endured. You’ve seen more from teams that are in Champions League -- and we have teams in Champions League as well -- so it’s a heavy lift.”
Philadelphia Union coach Jim Curtin was asked about the possibility of an expanded playoff earlier this month when reports surfaced that more teams would make the cut. Philadelphia played in the MLS Cup final last season, falling to LAFC on penalties after a 3-3 draw.
“I can say from the last two years, I think they’ve been two of the most exciting playoff series we’ve had as a league, and that’s the one difficult thing to move away from now,” Curtin said. “But this is pro sports, and it’s certainly bigger than any team or any silly coach’s idea, so whatever happens we’ll be prepared.”
In the previous format, only the top seven teams from each conference made the playoffs. The top seeds each had a first-round bye to the conference semifinals.
Decision Day, the final day of the regular season, is set for October 21, with the wild-card round scheduled for October 25-26. The MLS Cup final will be played on December 9.
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