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Report: MLS to Drastically Change Playoff and Regular Season Schedule

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Say goodbye to the two week international break right in the middle of the playoffs.

MLS: Sporting KC at Colorado Rapids Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve been complaining about the playoff structure in Major League Soccer for years. It’s good to hear that MLS Commissioner Don Garber and other high level members of the league read The Blue Testament.

According to Miki Turner of The Athletic, major changes are on their way to the MLS Cup Playoffs and by extension the regular season schedule. According to sources that spoke with Turner, starting in 2019, the league will look to ensure the playoffs end by the FIFA International Break that lands in early or mid-November. The one we are currently suffering through.

By moving the MLS Cup Final up to early/mid November, the league would avoid the two week lull that currently breaks the rhythm of the playoffs and forces the playoffs to run into early December. As it stands now the league finishes its regular season, scrambles into four mid-week knockout round games, then does about a month of home and away two-legged playoff matches before a winner take all final. Shortening the postseason would mean the entire playoffs are single elimination and home field advantage would truly matter as the entire playoffs would be played in four weeks.

To make that happen, the MLS season will also need to end earlier. In this case, by early October. That would make Decision Day fall before the FIFA break. The plan is currently to still have the season start in March. That means there would need to be more schedule congestion, meaning more midweek games. Currently teams play approximately four midweek games (not counting US Open Cup or other competitions). That number would grow to six, removing two weekend games.

Additional midweek games would mean fatigue and injuries could have a greater impact on the season. One proposal to fix the midweek glut would be to start the MLS season earlier, in February. According to Turner’s sources that’s not on the table for 2019 but it could be in the years that follow. The downfall of that is trading a potentially cold MLS Cup Final with a likely cold first few weeks of the season. One would expect that would bump forward the MLS SuperDraft and combine as well.

One bizarre change that is also tied to this proposal is the expansion of the playoff field. If nothing changed, 2019 would have had 12 of the 24 teams make the playoffs, a borderline reasonable number. Instead, per the Athletic:

“The league is also planning to expand the playoff field from six teams per conference to seven, a move anticipating MLS’s [sic] eventual total of 28 teams. If enacted, this would mean that 14 of 24 teams would make the playoffs in 2019; 14 of 26 in 2020; and 14 of 28 once the league adds the last two teams in its final round of announced expansion.”

That seems like an odd proposal. It would mean only one team would get a bye and for 2019 would put an astounding 58.3% of the teams into the playoffs. Lets hope they keep it at six at least until 2020 when Nashville SC and Inter Miami join the league. Preferably they just wait until the league reaches 28 to further expand the playoffs.

Each of the 23 (soon to be 24) MLS teams, including Sporting Kansas City, send a representative to vote on these changes. SKC’s rep could very well be Manager and Technical Direction Peter Vermes. The next meeting is set for December, after the season ends.

TL;DR

  • The MLS Cup Playoffs would end by early to mid-November
  • The MLS regular season would end about a month before that
  • Two more mid-week games would likely be added
  • 2019 will start in March, but future seasons could start in February
  • The playoff field will expand to 14 teams, seven per conference
What do you think? Should the league leave it all alone? Are you 100% down with the changes? Would you make changes, but do them differently? Let us know in the comments.