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Format unveiled for 10-team playoff
by Ridge Mahoney, February 23rd, 2011 11:51PM

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[MLS] More teams and more games in the 2011 MLS season will also produce more matches and teams in the playoffs. The league announced in the lead-up to MLS Cup 2010 last November that the playoff field would be expanded from eight to 10 teams, and on Wednesday the format was confirmed. Along with the three top finishers in the nine-team conferences, four additional teams will qualify based on overall points.

Those four teams will enter an additional playoff round from which two winners will emerge to round out a field of eight that will contest the two-leg conference semifinals. The four wild cards will be seeded by points and the higher seeds will host knockout games: No. 4 at No. 1 and No. 3 at No. 2, with the winners advancing.

In the conference semifinals, which are again two-game series, the lowest-seeded surviving team will meet the overall points leader (Supporters’ Shield winner) with the other survivor playing the first-place finisher in the conference that doesn’t produce the Shield winner. In the other two conference semifinals the No. 2 and No. 3 finishers square off within the conference.

By not finishing in the top three in their conferences, the wild-card teams must play an extra playoff game. Under the current format, MLS Cup matches the survivors of three games (two in the conference finals and one conference final). The league has also minimized the chances of a team “crossing over” to win the championship of the other conference, as has occurred in each of the past three seasons.

Not yet announced are dates for playoff games, including that for MLS Cup 2011. Last November, Commissioner Don Garber said the feasibility of staging MLS Cup at the venue of the highest surviving seed was under discussion, but on Wednesday came word it will be played at a predetermined site.

MLS could stage the wild-card games midweek, just a few days after the conclusion of the regular season, or wait until the following weekend. The latter scenario could push the date of MLS Cup back a week, unless the league plays the two conference semifinal matches in one week (midweek/weekend), which would give the higher-seeded team the weekend leg. This would also allow the league to retain its current playoff scheduling, with three weeks of games leading up to MLS Cup on the fourth weekend.
 
The 2011 MLS Playoff Format, round by round:
Wild-card round (single game): Based on overall points, No. 4 at No. 1; No. 3 at No. 2.

Conference semifinals (two games): Lower-seeded wild-card winner vs. Supporters’ Shield winner, higher-seeded wild-card survivor vs. other conference champion; Western Conference No. 3 vs. No. 2, Eastern Conference No. 3 vs. No. 2.

Conference finals (single game): Semifinal winners, higher seed hosts.

MLS Cup (single game):
Conference winners, site and date TBA.



0 comments
  1. Frank Cooney
    commented on: February 24, 2011 at 7:24 a.m.
    what?

  1. Phil Love
    commented on: February 24, 2011 at 8:47 a.m.
    This is exactly what MLS needs to win new fans and excite current fans: make the regular season less meaningful by having more than half the teams make the playoffs!

  1. Keith Wendel
    commented on: February 24, 2011 at 9:01 a.m.
    I thought 8 was too many. Bad decision.

  1. Jay Dieterich
    commented on: February 24, 2011 at 9:25 a.m.
    get rid of divisions, take top 8. 10 is more than half the league right now, that's much too many.

  1. Tom Jedrzejewicz
    commented on: February 24, 2011 at 11 a.m.
    RIDICULOUS. The schedule is home and away against everybody. This is fine, and the cream will rise to the top. I think the playoffs should be the TOP 4 only. Do away with divisions, and have a "Final 4" weekend at a neutral site. Two semis on Friday (1v4 and 2v3), winners play Sunday for the trophy.

  1. I w Nowozeniuk
    commented on: February 24, 2011 at 2:24 p.m.
    Another boneheaded playoff format...it should be the top two teams in each division and than, four wild cards based on total points...eight is more than enough, although four teams would be ideal to make the season worhtwhile and thus, encouraging a will to win.

  1. Albert Harris
    commented on: February 25, 2011 at 8:55 a.m.
    I have to agree that 8 teams were plenty. Also why the two legged conference semifinals? If you want to make the regular season more meaningful, all the playoff games should be single match knockouts at the home field of the team that did better in the regular season. That would give the teams that performed best in the regular season some real reward for their effort. I would extend that even to the final which would mean the Supports Shield winner would play nothing but home matches unless beaten on their own field. That would be worth more than the trophy they get now!


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