New Playoff Format Cements Role of Conferences in MLS


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 Responses to New Playoff Format Cements Role of Conferences in MLS

  1. Rabble Rouser says:

    If you were a single-table proponent, simply paying attention showed that MLS didn’t plan on deviating from conferences. I liked this place better when Kartik was making stuff up to try and advance his agenda instead of people like you simply not having a basic grasp of what goes on in the world of American soccer spouting idiocy.

  2. AdamEdg says:

    This is a huge improvement over last year for sure. Conference play should definitely matter come playoff time, otherwise what is the point of having conferences?
    I’m not sold on the wild card spots being wide open, but at least the top three in each conference are given a playoff spot. The revised opening round makes more sense, as does having those games as one-and-done. I agree that having home and home for the semis is kind of dumb. Considering that the MLS Cup game is a one-and-done, why not make all of the playoffs follow suit? If the league is going to emulate the NFL and standard Cup competitions, then make them all one-and-done.

    • Charles says:

      Or go the other way and make them all best of three series.
      The way most of soccer does this makes ZERO sense to me.

      • me says:

        That’s because you’re looking at this with the prejudices of a typical American sports fan. What makes any sense about a best of three (or best of five or best of seven) series in soccer? You still are giving someone a home game advantage, and multiplying chances of tied matches.

        With a best of three series, you have to have tie breakers at the end of any tied matches; soccer has a much higher percentage of tied matches than other sports; having a best of three series means you are greatly increasing the number of tie breakers; and tie breaker (ie, OT and penalty kicks) SUCK especially in soccer. This isn’t baseball where you can simply add another inning, or basketball where an OT period is very unlikely to still end in a tie.

        With a best of two series using aggregate score you greatly reduce the chances of having a tie breaker OT and/or penaty kicks. Either have a one and done, or a two legged series. Anything more than that in soccer simply does not make any sense; I would expect anyone who has any familiarity with soccer at all to be able to understand that.

        Soccer ain’t baseball. Soccer ain’t basketball. Soccer ain’t ice hockey. What works for other sports does not work for soccer. There’s a reason the way most of soccer does things makes ZERO sense to you: you don’t understand the sport of soccer, its history and evolution and its essential spirit. You’re literally clueless on this point.

        • Charles says:

          1. because they deserve to have a home field advantage
          2. I am an American sports fan. I am watching MSL, what are you talking about ?
          3. Having a two game series GREATLY reduces the chance of a tie versus three games ? What by one game ?
          I don’t ahve a problem with ties, if all three games are tied, then we will deal with the tiebreaker. Now THAT GREATLY reduces tiebreakers and doesn’t add anything over the one game series.

          4. Dont appreciate the name calling.

          You forgot the ultimate BAD tie breaker when you said tie breakers stink. Away goals. Must have just been an oversight on your part, because you are so soccer savvy !

      • Sancho says:


        BRAZIL had a three-game series playoff for its national league (1998/1999). Huge success. But, as everything that makes huge success down here, it was thrown out like garbage.

        In the Brazilian example, it was a first-to-five-points series. The first game was played at the team-with-worst-regular-season-record home, the other two (the third, if necessary), at the best’s. If the series finished tied, the team with best goal differential in the series would go through. If it was still tied, the best regular season record.

        In the US, I would suggest to keep the 1-2 order for the games, but it would be a first-to-two-wins, with OT and PK to break a tie on every single game.

        Keep the WC round and the MLS Cup with one-game knockout format, but all the remaining rounds as three-game series.


        • Charles says:


          Thanks for the great info.
          Funny how some don’ t look to Brazil to see how “the rest of the world does it” Brazil needs to win the World Cup first I guess, then they will.

          Funny also, those that are clamouring for the regular season to matter more didn’t suggest having ties go to best regular season record.

          • Sancho says:

            Don’t look here, Charles. Eurocentrics have won! Since 2003, we have a 20-team-38-game league.

            Amazingly, after 8 years, we don’t have a league like the EPL.

          • Sancho says:


            I you want to understand Brazilian Football, I would suggest this website: “Os Campeões do Brasil” (The Champions of Brazil). Since the original is in Portuguese, the link is already translated by Google to English (not perfect, but still).


    • dcudiplomat96 says:

      Agreed MLS need to just stay away from the euro style philosophy anyway. Focus on developing of its own footing

    • bullsear says:

      @ AdamEdg said “This is a huge improvement over last year for sure. Conference play should definitely matter come playoff time, otherwise what is the point of having conferences?”
      I think the final clause in your statement is the most poignant: “What is the point of having conferences?”
      Despite what many on here will say, in MLS, there is no point, and there hasn’t been for a long time. Now that the league has moved to a balanced schedule, there’s absolutely no need for conferences at all, and in fact, they open the distinct possibilities that the best teams will not be in the playoffs.

      In other leagues, in other sports, conferences matter because teams don’t play a balanced schedule. In the case of MLB and NBA, they also help decide home field advantage (via the All Star game). But MLS doesn’t even have a traditional All Star game anymore–a fact for which I’m very thankful.

      This conference/playoff structure are nonsensical. They don’t even adhere to the standards of the American sports market.

  3. GI Joe says:

    I don’t know if you know, but UEFA Champions League or UEFA Europa League have the system of Home-and-Home on the Semi-Finals and just a single Final, so where is it dumb? Semis aren’t memorable, Finals are, so at least give a fair shot for both teams on the stage of the competition…

    • Joe says:

      I think home-and-home works for continental tournaments, but for domestic playoffs the problem is identifying what exactly the advantage is to the higher seed. If I can rest my top players as the season winds down and finish 4th or 5th instead of 2nd or 3rd in my conference, knowing that the series will be home-and-home without any real advantage to the higher seed anyway, I’m gonna do that!

    • Charles says:

      “so where is it dumb?”

      I know that UEFA has it that way….and I still think it is dumb.
      They can’t do anything dumb ?

      This is MLS Cup, I would rather see a 3 game series to determine who is the best.

      • me says:

        Three game series is idiotic. It takes longer than a home and away, without eliminating any of the disadvantages of the one and done.

        You aren’t going to get a three game series, so stop asking for it.

      • dcudiplomat96 says:

        MLS started the playoffs as series in the first couple yrs…. they need to go back to that

    • dcudiplomat96 says:

      I never see the since having a series during the rounds of the playoffs and a single game to decide all makes no sense, keep it in europe, I think MLS should do either one and done or three game series.

  4. Kevin Sutton says:

    If you’re wedded to ten in the playoffs then this isn’t bad. (Though its not like you couldn’t have byes and seeding with less than half of the teams in the playoffs)

    I don’t get the strange one-game/two-game/one-game setup though. If you’re worried about gate revenues then you’re going to be inclined towards huge playoffs, but I don’t think its a good idea to be nickel and diming the setup for your championship. It just eliminates too many good ideas. More teams with less playoff games diminishes the regular season, even if the new setup rewards higher finishing.

  5. Alan Higgins says:

    I like the fact that conferences actually mean something. Having Colorado win the Eastern Conference is just stupid. I just think that there are too many teams. 8 is more than enough IMHO.

  6. montana lucky says:

    I am a fan of the playoff concept. That being said, I agree it is really odd to go from one game to two and back. I also think 10 team is too many. More than anything I wish they would figure out how the playoff system is going to work and stick with it. That being said. I think if you have been following the league, it was completely obvious the conference setup was not going away. As the league grows, the conferences will become critical.

  7. No Longer A Fan says:

    The guys up top have no idea how to run a league. This format is confusing and if MLS is so focused on attracting the casual fan they made things a lot more harder to understand on what matters most.

    I for one will no longer be watching MLS regular season because it is now pointless. A team can virtually lock up a playoff spot in mid-July, if not earlier. MLS I am sad for what you have done to our domestic league. I will no longer spend my time watching this league and will now spend my leisure time watching other leagues with a simplistic approach of crowning a champion and higher quality of play. Good Bye MLS.

    • Riazor says:

      No Longer a Fan, I’m with you on that. MLS has absolutely NO idea how to further the sport in the US. They’re looking for the casual fan and completely overlooking the hardcore supporters of all ethnicities who’ve experienced/embraced the game elsewhere. With this move, there’s no doubt MLS is absolutely clueless about how to move forward.
      This means that 10 years from now, there will be the same discussions about the league’s stupid moves and neither the fan base nor the TV viewership will have grown at all in that time.

    • Tom says:

      Good…see ya later buddy. If playoffs are enough to get you to not watch a league then i guess you were never a fan from the start.

      • bandeeto says:

        So go fly to Europe to watch your beloved EPL, La Liga, etc… MLS is still the best soccer I can watch, in person, in the US (and Canada). I watch the other leagues, grew up watching them actually, and I care too much about what happens on the field to be put off by MLS league rules.
        I’m a soccer fan. I like to watch soccer, even when the game doesn’t have life or death consequences. I’ve talked to so many American soccer (futbol) fans that turn their noses up at MLS because it’s just a minor league. After talking to them it’s not uncommon that they are surprised I watch, and appreciate, top level soccer from Europe and, get this, that I actually watch the ENTIRE GAME! Many don’t even take the time to watch an entire game of the leagues they love some much, just the highlights!
        I’m not saying anyone here is like that, but i hope that we all remember that soccer is what happens on the field. That’s what we love. In comparison everything else is inconsequential, and i would hate for anyone (even a Eurosnob) to miss out on some good soccer beause some beancounter doesn’t know what he’s doing.

  8. Charles says:

    I like this format because it is adaptable to where MLS is going, a league that has many teams, with conferences being a must. It can very easily be changed for unbalanced schedules that will happen.

    I don’t like that they have too many playoff teams, if you want to make the playoffs, play better in the regular season.
    Then it compounds the letting in of teams that underperformed by having 1 game to determine who advances.
    I am a big proponent of having a best of 3 series for at least the later rounds.

    This is to determine our Champion, why does MLS only play 1 game for the biggest three match ups of the year ? Makes no sense.

    • No Longer A Fan says:


      I understand you liking the playoffs and where the league is headed but with 10 teams and still the possibility of cross conference match ups I’m afraid that MLS will turn into another Zombie League [See: MLB, NBA, ] with franchises at the bottom with nothing to play for and teams at the top go into cruise control until the playoffs. Our players will only get better if there is a constant fire underneath them to succeed and play hard. However, MLS continues to reward mediocrity and wants everyone to be a winner.

      • Nate says:

        Conferences, playoff format, and seeding are all irrelevant. The MLS champion is the team with the most points at the end of the season. Sadly, the goal for MLS is to design a league to recruit new fans instead of making existing fans happy. Here is what they should have done…

        The top 6 teams regardless of conference make the playoffs.
        The next best 4 play a one-off to make the playoff.
        The End.

        For God’s sake, they had to make a video to explain the new format. Too complicated.

      • Charles says:

        You missed where I said there are too many playoff teams.

        I am NOT in favor of having 10 teams. I say stick with 8, even when they go up to 24 teams.

        • Nate says:

          I understand why you would want 8 teams. Here’s why I prefer 10.

          Fans of teams with zero chance of making the playoffs will tune out, which hurts league growth. Providing these teams with a “lifeline” to the playoffs will keep them interested. This is only a one off game, and has no negative effect on the higher seeds who have already qualified.

          • Charles says:

            yeah, I can see that Nate.

            The problem you get, and probably not in MLS as it stands now, is if the league gets spread out and the 10th place team just absolutely sucks.
            Like this years Seahawks qualifying for the playoffs type sucks….well that would never happen….but you know what I mean. 😉

    • me says:

      Stop asking for three game series; ain’t gonna happen. No one wants to watch endless penalty kick shootouts to determine “winners” after tied games in three game series when a simple home and away aggregate score can eliminate the need for OT or penalty kicks. It’s either going to be one and done, or a two legged series. This ain’t baseball or basketball. Better get used to this fact.

      • Charles says:

        I think we will, did it before, and it is the only thing that makes sense.

        MLS will never have a final where the team that loses wins the two game series…not gonna happen. And I don’t WANT it to happen, for obvious reasons.

      • Sancho says:


        Again, you could go for a first-to-five-points series. A tie game awards one point for each team, and the series goes on. You don’t need to break the tie for every game (although, for Americans, I would think it makes more sense), just at the end of the series, if no team has more POINTS than the other.

        I’ve shown the Brazilian example above. Let me add some actual results, just to show clearly how it worked:

        1998 Quarterfinals
        Corinthians (1) x (8) Grêmio (Corinthians won 6:3)
        Corinthians 1-0 Grêmio; Grêmio 2-0 Corinthians; Grêmio 0-1 Corinthians
        Coritiba (3) x (6) Portuguesa (Portuguesa won 5:2)
        Coritiba 1-3 Portuguesa; Portuguesa 0-0 Coritiba; Portuguesa 2-2 Coritiba

        1998 Semifinals
        Corinthians (1) x (4) Santos (Corinthians won 4:4; GD +1)
        Corinthians 1-2 Santos; Santos 0-2 Corinthians; Santos 1-1 Corinthians

        1999 Quarterfinals
        Cruzeiro (2) x (7) Atlético Mineiro (Atlético won 6:0)
        Cruzeiro 2-4 Atlético; Atlético 3-2 Cruzeiro


  9. Riazor says:

    So far, no MLS bloggers have said anything against the “new” playoffs with the exception of one tweet from Grant Wahl stating the playoff expansion is “depressing”. I never agree with Wahl on anything, but I do agree on that. This makes the regular season even more meaningless. Especially when 56% of the league is in the playoffs! What the f*ck is the point of the regular season?! MLS, taking 1 step forward and 2 steps… Uh, no. Just taking 3 steps back. They just flat out don’t get it.

    • Nate says:

      What is the point of the regular season?

      The team with the most points at the end of the season is the true MLS champion.

      • Riazor says:

        Yes. The team with the most points at the end of the season IS the Champion. It should always be that way and that’s the end of it, there should be no playoffs. My question on the “point” of the regular season was a rhetorical one. It’s obvious that a bigger playoffs makes the regular season less relevant. NO ONE will remember who won the *title* especially with a massively convoluted playoffs. This is now very confusing and dissapointing.

        • Nate says:

          Don’t give up the fight! People will remember what you make them remember. I guarantee if Seattle wins the league we will be obnoxious and vocal about being the true champions. We’ll make signs and chant songs. Most people will hate us even more, but people who actually understand the game will anonymously thank us.

          • Charles says:

            Is this DomiNate ?

            Sorry Nate, I probably sit right behind you, but I will be glad when the Sounders win both and the third straight USOC.

            But I will be most glad about the title that will last through the ages. MLS Cup.

            Supporters Shield will be a footnote in 5-10 years.

    • Robert Hay says:


      This site has been critical of the 10 team playoff, look back in our archives. I refrained from going through that debate in this post in order to focus on what is, not what we wish it would be. Sign me up for the anti-10 team playoff.

      • Charles says:

        There is not ONE person, playoff lover, playoff hater, neutral
        That wants 10 teams out of 18 to make the playoffs.

        NOT ONE.

        • DomiNate says:

          Haha! Yes it is. I got lazy with the name today. With our squad we have a realistic chance at the treble, we just disagree on which trophy is most important.

          I posted this earlier, but I might be the only ONE who likes allowing 10 teams. It gives crap teams a lifeline in to the playoffs so their fans don’t abandon them, and the results have no bearing on the top 6 seeds who already qualified.

          • Charles says:

            You might very well be the only one. I don’t mind it, but I just like to keep it closer to under 50% instead of over.

            With MLS parity, you are talking about three games off of the SS winner two years ago.

  10. Noah says:

    I’m not sure why everyone is upset about the number of teams in the new setup. The MLS Cup playoffs are not about crowning the MLS champion its about crowning the team that wins the MLS Cup playoff tournament. I view at as a seperate thing than the regular season. To me, winning the Supporters Shield is the thing teams should be aiming for. For teams that are more middle of the pack and probably not Supporters Shield contenders the chance to make the end of season tournament, where it has been proven anything can happen, is an enticing prospect. If MLS just promoted winning the Supporters Shield as being equally important as MLS Cup I don’t think as many people would be upset about the playoffs.

    • No Longer A Fan says:


      MLS recgonizes the Cup winner as the LEAGUE CHAMPION! SS Shield was a bone for the traditionalist but in reality MLS sees MLS CUP AS THE PREMIER TITLE TO WIN! it’s a joke now.

      • Clampdown says:

        I am in total agreement.

        And 10 teams? What a joke.

        Don’t be surprised when fewer people tune in to MLS on TV during the season or even certain matches. They can just wait for the playoffs.

    • Nate says:

      Thank you! Make your voice heard my friend, I wish more people could grasp this concept.

    • Riazor says:

      Noah, the point is fans aren’t going to care about the regular season if the playoffs are all that matters. The quality of play on the field isn’t good enough to maintain fans going to or seeing the regular season games if only the playoffs matter and now they matter even more than they did before. You might believe the Supporters Shield matters more but most probably wont. The casual viewer certainly wont and likely won’t be back to watch the playoffs if they can’t understand them. MLS wants to set up a playoff system as if it were a league which had evolved naturally into such a thing after many, many years of existence and history. MLS has none of those things and wants force a “history” through a playoff system in an unnatural and irrational way, trying to force a revisionist view into what they claim is a legacy of the sport. They’re forcefully shoe-horning the sport into the US sports model and under no scenario do I see that happening. They don’t have the history, legacy and, certainly not, the right people to make that happen.

      • Charles says:


        I have been watching US soccer longer than most on this site have lived.
        There is a history of playoffs, trust me.

        MLS is forcing nothing.

  11. Alan says:

    The spirit of soccer is what takes place on the field. The playoff format would be better with 8 teams or less I think. To say that teams don’t care how they do during the regular season is far fetched. Is there any proof of this? When the Galaxy was leading the league last year they cared about keeping that league. They have also stated that they are aiming for the supporter’s shield again. The cup gives teams a chance that had a slow start to have a chance to win it by beating teams that did better overall in the regular season. To say that teams don’t care how they do in the regular season is ridiculous. Obviously you didn’t follow the tables last year at all.

  12. Alan says:

    The playoffs aren’t going away. So, again, you have choices. You can not watch (which makes posting here pointless). You can pitch ideas to make the playoff system better. You can also pitch ideas to make the SS even more important in an MLS Cup world that isn’t going away. The actual soccer on the field is the important thing overall, which is improving.

    • Riazor says:

      Pitch your ideas here: Go right ahead and see if they listen to any of your recommendations. Once you’ve been doing it for a decade without a single indication they’ve been listening to any of your ideas, feel free to come back here and tell us your thoughts. Go ahead.

  13. Alan says:

    Let me pose a question to everyone. We all know that Milan, Barca, and Man U will win their leagues this year. We know that Bayern will not win their league. If Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, Inter, or Bayern win UEFA Champions League, and since playoffs don’t crown a real champion, how can a team that doesn’t even win their league be crowned the champion of Europe using a playoff system? Also, how can the third place team in nPower not be automatically promoted to EPL? Why do they need a playoff? Doesn’t this promote mediocricy by giving teams that do worse throughout the season a chance to win it all? Man, Europe needs to get on board with the spirit of soccer. A team that can’t even win their domestic league being crowned the champion of a continent? Way to reward poor performance.

    • Robert says:

      This comment is more confusing than the 2011 MLS Cup Format! What the hell are you talking about?!

      • Alan says:

        It’s not hard. I reread it and it makes perfect sense. If a team like Chelsea win the UEFA CL but don’t win EPL, how can they be considered the champions of Europe, especially using playoffs to determine the champion?

        • Earl Reed says:

          Champions Leagues are different in that the clubs participating come from leagues which differ greatly in terms of strength. They also face the reality of the participants needing to place their primary focus on their domestic leagues. So you can’t run a suitable single table in a Champions League, much like the World Cup (except in the WC’s case, it’s the timing that’s the prohibitive factor).

    • Clampdown says:

      Alan, it’s really not hard to discern the winner of a tournament versus a winner of a domestic league. I get where you’re going, but I don’t think it’s a good comparison. You could compare whether it’s more meaningful for an MLS team to win the Concacaf CL versus the MLS Cup, I suppose … But the expansion of the playoffs to 10 teams can’t be construed as anything but rewarding mediocrity (and a play for revenue).

      • Alan says:

        I agree. Expanding to 10 teams sucks. I am arguing against those that criticize playoffs. The concept is good enough to choose a champion of Europe. Why is it not good enough to choose a champion of MLS? The point is that while Chelsea has had a rocky season (yeah, they are 4th or 5th in the league that only 5 teams have a shot at winning) but they could win the Champions League and nobody would question it. It is a good comparison. I make the comparison to show the closed-mindedness of people towards playoffs in choosing a champion. An 8th ranked team probably isn’t a worthy champion, but a 4th or 5th place team might be, like Chelsea. I think people are missing the point. It’s just a different system to the beautiful game. What matters is not playoffs or single table. What matters is what happens on the field. Playoffs are here to stay. The debate should be about how to make it a better system, not crying about how it’s not like that in other leagues.

    • Charles says:

      That is a good question. Why ARE they rewarding a team that didn’t win their league !?!?!

      We need to write UEFA about this ?!?!
      Take back our league !

      People. They are doing everything for one reason. It is the reason that everyone makes most of their decisions. Money.

      FIFA made $3.2 billion from the WCup. I am sure the NFL playoffs and SuperBowl are similar. UEFA playoffs are too.
      MLS doesn’t look at playoffs and think don’t do it because some fans don’t want it. They look at UEFA playoffs and say, wow, that would be nice.

      It seems on the money issue I am the only one that admits the truth/realizes the truth/whatever.
      It is about the money !

      (Then we talk about EPL standing and some EPL guy tries to convince me that the money difference for 10th place finish is better than 11th and it makes the season more exciting….now he suddenly cares about the money )

    • DomiNate says:

      That’ s EASY. They are Euro Champs because that is a different LEAGUE, and the most important league they play in. Domestic titles come second. No shiny star on the jersey for a domestic cup (unless you are a confused MLS team).

      Besides, Champions League is a carry over from the season prior. Domestic champs last year.

      Do you think only the champions of each league should join the CL? Only one team from England, Spain, etc? After all, Arsenal are champions of nothing.

      • Alan says:

        No, I think the system is fine. I was trying to demonstrate absurdity by being absurd myself. I team like Arsenal could win Europe and be third in their league, just like a lower placed team in MLS can have a chance in winning the championship. Heck, what if Arsenal do win? They didn’t even win their group. Does that make the group stages mean nothing too? Inter didn’t win their group last year, but won Europe. This argument against playoffs is ridiculous. The MLS Cup winner will be no less the MLS Champion than the winner of CL is the champion of Europe.

  14. Alan says:

    I do understand your confusion though. Saying that the winner of the champions league is not the chsmpion of Europe makes as much sense as saying that the MLS Cup winner can’t be the champion of MLS. That doesn’t make any sense either.

    • Joe says:

      What you’re describing is partially why there’s the idea out there for a European Super League, taking the top teams from every country and putting them into a single table. European teams will do anything to avoid the possibility of being eliminated from a tournament and not making all the money they can for playing games. The Super League would guarantee a number of big-money games against Europe’s best, AND would say goodbye to UEFA’s new fair play rules since they wouldn’t be involved. Epic win for out of control capitalism.

  15. CTBlues says:

    I think the MLS should try and get sponceres for the Supporters Shield and MLS Cup similar to NASCAR and Golf and have those sponceres put up x amount of dollars to the winners, but the way the MLS us run they would probably just do it for the MLS Cup of make the payout better for the MLS Cup.

  16. Tom says:

    While I agree that 10 teams is a bit much there still is noting we can do and it is what it is. I feel like all the people complaining on here about the format will be singing a different tune if there team comes in that 10th spot and makes a run to MLS cup. Even though the traditional eurosnob soccer fan will tell you that finishing the regular season at the top is the ture champion it still is not in MLS no matter how you view it.

    I love the playoffs and MLS and at the end of the day some people can bitch all they want about MLS and the playoffs but the fact of the matter is that we have a league and its very stable and not going anywhere. Thats some not many of us could say about 7 years ago.

    If you dont like then dont watch and throw on your Man-U jersey every weekend morning and go nuts!

    • Alan says:

      …or you could do what I do. I throw on my Arsenal or Roma kit and watch them play. Then when the San Jose Earthquakes come on I throw on their jersey and enjoy. It is possible to do this. Single table works for EPL and Serie A. Playoffs work for MLS. I win for not being a snob and I get to enjoy foreign and domestic soccer. 🙂

  17. Tom says:

    The reason MLS went with the 1-2-1 structure is that otherwise the 7 and 8 seeds would get home play-off games (in the first round) but the 6 and 7 seeds would not (they are “away” to the 4 and 5 seeds in the second round).

    The reason 2 games series work well in the UEFA Champion’s league is that they are played between teams that otherwise never play each other. Some of the dullest Champions League games in recent memory were 2 leg ties between English teams. When games are played between teams from different countries, the home advantage is more significant and thus the 2 legged series is fair and compelling.

    For the MLS, I actually would have gone with a 12 team play-off. Seeds 9, 10, 11, and 12 away at 5, 6, 7, and 8 in the fist round. Then the four winners away at 1, 2, 3, 4 in the second, then semi-finals and finals. Preferable do this without fixed brackets so if the 12 seed did pull an upset they’d have to play the 1 seed in the second round. This would reward the regular season as much as possible. While people would complain that a poor 12 seed is in the play-offs, at least they would definately not get a home game.

    As a nod to the fans who show up all season, I do think the SS should be honored as much as possible. Different color ball and patch the next season- different from those that the MLS Cup champions get. CONCACAF Champions league spots should go to the regular season top finishers except for 1 to the MLS Cup winner. I like having both competitions- they are different kinds of tests and both fun to watch in their own way. For example, in England; the EPL, the FA cup, and the Champions League test clubs in different ways, and they are all compelling (and occassionally dull) to watch.

    • Gazza says:

      Tom said: “The reason MLS went with the 1-2-1 structure is that otherwise the 7 and 8 seeds would get home play-off games (in the first round) but the 6 and 7 seeds would not (they are “away” to the 4 and 5 seeds in the second round).”

      Good points however I think you mean seeds 5 and 6 would not get a home game (they are away to the 3rd and 4th seeds in the second round).

    • dan says:

      I like your thoughts Tom…. though most purist would hate 12 teams in the MLS playoffs, seeds 1-4 really do get home field advantage (and a tired opponent!

  18. IAMKHOVA says:

    My two cents.. let the Supporter’s Shield be the defining moment for the MLS season. Then let’s just relable the the playoffs to the Cup of Champions, and throw in two teams from Mexico to make it interleagua.

  19. dan says:

    Just wondering for all of those complaining about the playoffs… It sounds like you are not a fan of March-Madness, NFL playoffs, Champions L, etc…. I realize this may sound terrifying for the purist and this is only a dream, but could you imagine an EPL playoff?!?! talk about some great games between the top 8 teams!! that would generate an incredible amount of fan interest and revenue I might add… ask the NCAA how much revenue they generate during March-Madness.

  20. QUENTEZ says:


  21. StellaWasAlwaysDown says:

    Like you mentioned, this is the best way for MLS to do the playoffs if they are married to the idea of conferences. If you don’t have a playoff of sorts, then the conferences have no value or meaning. Unfortunately for soccer/football fans who are used to the single table format, I don’t see this going away. MLS has to sell soccer to America, and all of our major sports have them.

  22. dcudiplomat96 says:

    One idea I always favored was a two plus one. Meaning play a aggregate 2 game series no away goal rules, if agg is still tied, have a third and deciding game three. Do not count the previous aggreg score, and start the series at the home of the higher seed the game 2 at the lower side then that game three goes back to the home of the higher seed

    • Sancho says:

      Intercontinental Cup (from 1960 to 1979) Copa Libertadores and Taça Brasil (Brazil’s Champion Cup, held from 1959 to 1968) were all like this. No goal differential. After two matches, if the series were tied, the tiebraker was another match.

  23. dcudiplomat96 says:

    I also think there is a way for promotion relegation for MLS but it should just for div 1 and Div 2 and it needs to be intergrated where it compliments the playoff format. Maybe , possibly add the division 2 regular season conference champions as the wildcards. Would be interesting I say. Having what europe does is very boring and pointless they don’t have post season playoff to decide their league champions and their champions league is nearly worthless too because they start playing that the next season instead of that current season.

    • dan says:

      dcudiplomat96: would you invest 30-50 million knowing your team may end up in the 2nd div AND knowing that you will not make any money for nearly a decade? US owners will not invest in a relegation system… it works in the rest of the world because that is all they know. That is not how money works here in the US and I would say it never will.

      • Robert says:

        Actually Dan, U.S. owners will invest in this system. Liverpool (just sold to another American), Man United, Arsenal, Ashton Villa, Sunderland,

        Derby County, Millwall

        Americans own 3 of the largest most successful clubs in the world. You’re telling me investors won’t invest due to promotion relegation? Please go back to watching NFL and leave soccer for the rest of us.

        • Gazza says:

          ‘… and leave soccer for the rest of us….’ Gimme a friggin break! You pro/rel nuts are over the top. The “3 of the most successful clubs in the world” are not in a system where everyone in the league spends the same amount of money on transfers and salaries and you bloody well know that. Man U spends 100 times more than Blackpool. So there IS NOT pro/rel for Man U, City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Real Madrid, and Barcelona etc.

          Pro/Rel is never going to happen in MLS. It’s a stupid idea and if you don’t like that go back to watching Serie A or the EPL and leave the building of a real soccer league to the rest of us.

        • Alan says:

          None of those clubs are facing relegation, and probably weren’t when they were invested in. Where are the American investors that are lining up to invest in Wigan?

          Yeah, that’s all we need is a league where 4 clubs own the league. I can’t wait to start my season off right with my favorite MLS club losing to the top 3 teams by 6-0 like this year. The only thing that EPL proves is that you can buy your way to good standings in the league and make it a 2 or 3 club race.

        • dan says:

          Robert… US investors will invest in what will bring a profit…. you said it: they invested their money with teams in ENGLAND where the relegation and promotion is well established! Just the fact that they put their monies in ENGLAND says something about their astute investment! Not sure how much money the US owners of teams in England have invested in teams here in the US… any idea?

          • Alan says:

            Galaxy and Red Bulls are higher because of DP spots, and it hasn’t helped them win an MLS Cup yet. When other teams start filling DP spots if they choose to do so, then they would be the same. Again, when a US Company finds value in investing in Wigan, come talk to me.

          • Wow says:

            You’re a complete idiot. Please never come back

  24. Evan K. says:

    8 team playoffs. 4 from each conference. Single game rounds where the higher seeded team is home. Easy. That took me 5 seconds to type.

    Two variations that would also work:

    If there must be 10 teams. 5 from each conference. Play in game against the 4th and 5th seeded teams. The winner plays the first seeded team and so on.

    Make a single table. Top 8 teams make the playoffs, seeded 1-8.

    • (the 12-team play-off) Tom says:

      I hate seperate brackets. I like that any two teams could meet in the final- even two regional rivals. I think the NHL and the NBA would be better off if they abandoned their system- people still talk about the Rangers – Islanders finals. Look how much attention the Mets – Yankees and the Oakland – San Francisco world series brought to baseball. I’m OK with conferences, as long their not actually that important.

      • CoconutMonkey says:

        I’m with you man. I’d like the playoffs to be as “national” as possible. I’m not a fan of the best in the west versus the best in the east setup in the NHL/NBA either.

        However, that doesn’t mean we have completely ignore the conferences. I think the return to an unbalanced schedule is pretty much inevitable, thereby extremely devaluing the shield. So, assuming there’s a balanced intra-conference schedule, why not just declare the points leader conference champions and give them both CCL berths? *MLS Cup runner-up only gets a pat on the back in my fantasy land

        This way, the unbalanced schedule necessitates a playoff for the league championship, and single table supporters get some traditional single table (albeit smaller) action.

  25. someone thinking past this year says:

    Seriously guys? In about three years 10 teams will only be 50% of the league again and after that it will go down. 10 is a good number for the league when it has 20- 24 teams. I was hoping for a group stage, but this format is not that bad.

    The we need to be like Europe crowd needs to understand the size of the countries involved. Europe is 3,930,000 sq mi and American is 3,794,101 sq mi. With Canada our league spans an area twice the size of UEFA champions league. The domestic leagues in Europe practically function as conferences and the champions league is their playoff. The World Cup is the same thing. the CCL could work if the whole thing was held in a month like a proper tournament, but the way it is now it lacks the excitement of a playoff system. Our country also has much more cities able to support a first division team so we can have a 30 team league without putting every other team in a city like London. declaring a winner after the regular season is dumb because it values wins against bad teams as much as wins against good teams. Even with a balance schedule I don’t like it because the champion is the team that can win against the good teams when it counts.

    • Alan says:

      California alone is bigger than Europe in terms of area. Population has England a little over 50,000 and California at 37,000. Travel time is MUCH harder for US fans and teams. It would be like an EPL team traveling around half of Europe for the whole season.

    • Alan says:

      Actually, the farthest a fan would have to travel to see an away game would be a 5 hour car drive? Heck, that’s easier than watching San Jose play Los Angeles or Columbus to Chicago. Conferences and Divisions are starting to make more sense now.

  26. Bolacuadrada says:

    I may be the second MLS fan here to say that I like the 10 team playoff system. I do not want a promotion relegation system for MLS. Above all, I do not want a league of two (Spain, Scotland), of three (Italy, Portugal, Turkey, Greece), or a league of four (England). MLS needs to be different than those leagues that with a third of the season played the champion is already known.

    • (the 12-team play-off) Tom says:

      In your 4 team English league do you include Tottenham or Man City- or both and not include Chelsea. Or do you still include Liverpool somehow? In your 3 team Italian league are including Napoli, Juventus, or Roma with the Milano teams?

      I am a MLS (Colorado Rapids) fan and fan of the world wide game- they can be different and both can get better.

      • Alan says:

        It really depends on who’s spending the money. The important thing is that you’ll NEVER see Wigan, West Ham, Wolverhampton, Everton, Fulham, or any of the other 14 or 15 teams in EPL have a chance at the title. That is a flaw in the system. I would include Man U, Chelsea, Man City, and Arsenal because those are the 4 teams that have any shot at winning. While Tottenham has improved and flip-flopped with Liverpool, they will not win the league anytime soon. Just because a team or 2 are doing better and a team or 2 are doing worse doesn’t mean that it isn’t a 4 team race. It always has been a 3 or 4 team race and always will be. 75 percent of the league will probably never be a threat for the title. By saying that this or that team managed to win it once or that they are doing better than before doesn’t change the facts. La Liga is the same way, but worse.

        I would say that Serie A and Bundesliga are diversifying a bit. I happen to be a Serie A fan as well as an MLS fan and am liking the race this year. Why? Because the top half of the table has been exciting. Milan might win it but they are not shoe-ins.

        Regardless of all that, I love MLS just as much. Most people in soccer-loving nations tend to watch European soccer to some extent, great or small, but also love their domestic leagues. The problem is that all of these pro/rel trolls talk about how this is the way TRUE soccer fans like it, but they never talk about how TRUE soccer fans love their domestic league even if they don’t have any teams as good as Barcelona. I’m willing to bet that they don’t base their love of the sport in their own country on a league system. Its a silly discussion. The playoff system is fine. It just needs a little fixing. The league is still growing, and will be for a while. We are still growing as a soccer nation.

      • Sancho says:


        England: Liverpool, Arsenal, ManU and Chelsea (aka the Big-4);
        Italy: Juventus, Inter, Milan.

  27. This league sucks says:

    I, also, will no longer be a fan of this league. Ever again. This league is garbage in so many ways. Pure Euro and Latin football for me from now on.

    • Alan says:

      Pure? What is pure? Did they have this “pure” format when the game was first played? What does “pure” even mean? Formats have changed for all competitions over the years. Even the world cup has. Heck, with as many people that have flounced on this post (flounce means to announce your departure to get attention), maybe this 10 team thing is just a way to weed out Eurosnobs?

      Newsflash. Neither format is wrong. They are just different. You can enjoy both if you let yourself, even if it isn’t “pure”.

    • dan says:

      Thank you for leaving the league… news flash…. you were never a fan to begin with!!! you simply watched some MLS games which doesn’t make you a fan. Enjoy euro and latin games, because they have some great games. to each his own!

  28. Wow says:

    First…Please stop with the pro/reg talk..It will NEVER happen in MLS and i dont want it to. Teams will fold when they are relegated becuase most of MLS isnt making any money or did most people miss garber say that the only two teams to turn a profit last year was Seattle and Toronto? But like most eurolovers they want to see it becasue they think thats how the game should be.

    If you dont like it then dont support it like “this league sucks” guy and you can all join up to support teams in other countries that will do nothing to grow the domestic league here.

    • montana lucky says:

      Exactly. If you prefer the way they do things in Europe, great! Go sit on your butt in front of your TV and pretend you are a Man U supporter because you don’t miss a game from your mothers basement.

  29. Alan says:

    Once again, a thread hijacked by single table, pro/rel trolls. Shock.

    Maybe on the next thread we can stick to the topic. Maybe we need a separate thread where we can “have it out” about why single table, pro/rel will not be in the United States anytime soon in hopes that when there is a post about the playoff system going to 10 teams instead of 8 (and whether that is bad or not) that we actually discuss that instead of the usual “I’m done with MLS because they have single table, pro/rel in Europe” comments. Hopefully having this discussion in its own thread will allow for some realistic discussion about the topic at hand. Just my 2 cents.

    • Wow says:

      I agree…But at the same time i just cant help it. Everytime MLS does something people go nuts because it is not exactly the wasy its done in the EPL. Which leads to Eursnobs hating on MLS playoffs(the original topic of these boards) that leads to pro/reg and single table talk and it drives me nuts because we are not them(Europe) and never will be.

      It’s just sickining to read so much negativity on playoffs and overall MLS

      • Sancho says:

        Please, let’s put it straight:

        MLS = UCL

        EPL = sort of Texas State Soccer League

        Just imagine ManU traveling to Kiev on regular basis. That’s the kind of difficulty MLS faces.

    • Charles says:

      I am done arguing with the Euridiots, you should do the same Alan.

      I would guess that before Portland and Vancouver joined, Seattle travelled futher than the longest EPL journey….FOR EVERY GAME THEY PLAYED AWAY FROM QWEST.

      ps. I am thinking of putting, I LOVE MLS at the beginning of every post.
      If everyone worth reading did the same we could sort through the riff raff trollls.
      Writing about soccer does the same, but when you have articles like this, they creep in like cockroaches.

  30. montana lucky says:

    What about taking the top 3 teams from each conference and giving them a seed 1-3. The 4 and 5 teams in each conference play in a home and home play in game for the 4th spot. Then have a round of group play where the 1 seed has all home games and the 4 seed is on the road. the top two teams advance. the 1 out of group play from the east plays the 2 from the west and visa verse in a one and done. the final goes to the team with the higher regular season point total.
    Every team is guaranteed a minimum 3 games.
    Every team is guaranteed at least 1 home game.
    Gives more home games to teams who fair better in the regular season.
    Kinda mimics the WC setup which average American sports fans are starting to understand.
    Having group play makes it harder for a lousy team to advance, especially since they need to play all the games on the road.
    Puts some emphasis on the conferences yet allows the opportunity for the best teams regardless of conferences a chance to make the final.

    • nick says:

      This is exactly what I was hoping for. The only thing MLS might not like is that it doesn’t necessarily have a conference champion, because the team that wins the group stage might not make the final. They could always have the semifinal be the 1 and 2 teams from the same group to solve that though.

      • CoconutMonkey says:

        I like it!

        As for how crown a conference champion, sorry for repeating myself, but I like the idea of giving the championship to the team with the best regular season record.

        Basically, I wish our post season was more Champions League-ish, and less NBA/NFL hybrid-ish.

  31. Chris Riordan says:

    I kind of like the idea of a 3 game series before the playoffs. Both teams would benefit from the revenue of a home playoff match, while still keeping an advantage for the higher seed, who gets 2 home games. This also adds weight to the regular season. Games 1 and 2 would automatically go a shootout if tied. Game 3 would go to extra time and then a shootout if tied.

    Or a running agg. without away goals, as that would be a disadvantage for the higher seed.

  32. Tim says:

    Here’s my 2 cents
    Play-offs to decide the champions of leagues exist in several countries aside from ours. These countries are in Central and South America. So the excuse of the world does it this way flies out the window

    Supporters Shield importance; last time I checked in terms of getting into the group stage of the Champions League, SS=MLS Cup. Both will get you there, there is just more prestige in winning the play-off.

    10 team play-off: gives a slight advantage to the conferences, which I like. Teams 7-10 have to play an extra game on top of the 34+ game schedule. 1 extra game can do a lot to some teams. Additionally it keeps conference finals hosted by a conference member and thus cuts down their likely travel.
    Also, it prepares the league for further expansion. We know there will be 19 teams next year and the hopes of 20 teams in 2013.

    • dcudiplomat96 says:

      I don’t think any team is anything worthy if they just have the best regular season record, the playoffs proves you the best, you against the better teams in the league.

  33. Sancho says:

    I would push forward some influence from Latin America (specially Mexico) to suggest:

    a) two different tournaments (one from February to May, the other from August to November) per season;

    b) both tournaments would have a 16-game regular season;

    c) the playoffs would have only single-game knockouts;

    d) postseason would have four games (miminum 8, maximum 16 teams);

    e) the MLS CUP in May would be played at Northern stadiums; in November, at Southern’s.


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