MLS considering significant overhaul of playoff format: Sources

Major League Soccer is considering a major change to the playoff format for 2023, club and league sources say. The Athletic on Tuesday. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the ongoing discussions.

Sources say the league, which will grow to 29 teams next season with the arrival of the St. Louis City SC, could bring the total number of playoffs from the current 13 to about 30 next year. The idea of ​​switching to 30 games post-season was also mooted by MLS in a document that was distributed to clubs over the summer and collected by The Athletic on Tuesday.

Sources say the league is considering expanding the playoff format partially so it can increase its overall inventory of post-season games in the first year of its new media rights deal with Apple. The League and Apple announced a 10-year, $2.5 billion broadcast deal in June that will see the tech giant show each regular MLS season and playoff match on their Apple TV streaming service starting in 2023.

The MLS’ current playoff format consists of seven teams from each convention. All playoff games are played in a knockout fashion, giving the league a total of 13 post-season games, including the MLS Cup.

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That format would have to change to accommodate the 30 post-season competitions. According to sources, one possible outcome is a move to a World Cup-style playoff tournament. Sources don’t quite know the specifics of that potential tournament, but one person theorized that a format might look something like this:

  • The top eight teams from each congress will qualify for the post-season
  • Those teams will be divided into four groups of four teams each
  • Groups will be segregated by conference; West Conference groups will only be grouped with fellow West Conference groups and East Conference groups will only be grouped with the same East Conference groups
  • As is the case with the World Cup, each team will play three group stage matches, each against the other three teams in the group.
  • The top two seeds in each group will host two group stage matches; the last two seeds will hold a group stage match
  • The top two teams in each group will advance to the eight-team knockout round, knockout
  • Like the group stage, the knockout stage will also be divided by groups
  • The higher seeds will host the knockouts, with the Western Conference champions advancing to the MLS Cup meeting the Oriental Conference champions
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The same source who suggested this potential new format also noted that MLS could structure such a tournament so that it featured multiple group stage matches per night for nearly two weeks. The current MLS knockout format makes it difficult for the league to generate narratives; flashes and the whole post-production ends. Extending the knockouts and holding matches on consecutive nights for several weeks could theoretically allow the league to gain more mainstream foothold. Conversely, the move to a knockout format that would be unique to both North American football and sports could be confusing for casual fans or newcomers to the tournament.

Again, the changes aren’t final yet. Sources said that a committee made up of senior MLS owners and officials discussed this summer’s World Cup-style format and that the proposed change was seen as a major change. helpful. Approval for such a change would have to be authorized by the full MLS board of governors, scheduled to meet mid-November in Brooklyn.

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The league could also consider other formats that would bring them closer to their goal of 30 games post-season – simply modifying the current format to a two-legged system with a single championship game would result 25-match schedule after the season.

The league’s playoff format has changed several times throughout its 27-year history. In its first years, eight of the league’s 10 teams qualified to compete after the season, and the league used a best-of-three format for the semi-finals and conference finals. They tweaked that system in 2000 when they split the league into three divisions, with the top eight teams of the league, regardless of category, advancing to the knockout stages. The league stuck with this format for a while but eventually allocated the number of teams from each qualifying tournament and scrapped the best of the three system, moving to two-leg matches. In 2019, the league introduced its current, streamlined, knockout format.

(Pictured above: Kirby Lee / USA Today Sports)



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