MLS announces more balanced playoff schedule

[DATEBOOK] Major League Soccer has announced the dates for the 2014 MLS Cup playoffs that will culminate with MLS Cup on Dec. 7. Once again, MLS will be off the weekend of the November FIFA fixture window, but for the first time it will play on Thanksgiving weekend.

There is not much MLS can do get around the November fixtures, which will be played Nov. 10-18. While the USA only has one friendly scheduled for Nov. 18 against Ireland in Dublin and U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann can presumably pick a squad of European-based players or a squad supplemented by players from MLS teams already eliminated from the playoffs, the four MLS clubs still in the playoffs can do nothing to stop their foreign players from being called up.

The good news:

-- All four legs of the conference semifinals and finals will take place on weekends. The single-game knockout round between the fourth and fifth seeds will again open the playoffs during midweek, but the second set of midweek games for the second legs of the conference semifinals has been dropped.

-- Unlike last season when the first four rounds of the playoffs took place over a week and a half and the last two rounds took place over a month, this year's schedule is more balanced.

-- Unlike last season when there was a break between the two legs of the conferences finals, this year's break takes place between the conference semifinals and finals.

-- By playing each weekend for the last three rounds of the playoffs, MLS will keep up interest in the playoffs.

The bad news:

-- For the first time since the team with the highest point total in the regular season gets to host, there will be one week instead of two between the end of the conference finals and MLS Cup, which will leave visiting fans and attendees traveling in for MLS Cup having to scramble to get flights.

2014 MLS Cup Playoffs:
Conference Knockout Round

Wed-Thurs, Oct. 29-30
 
Conference Semifinals
Leg 1, Sat-Sun, Nov. 1-2
Leg 2, Sat-Sun, Nov. 8-9
 
Conference Championships
Leg 1, Sat-Sun, Nov. 22-23
Leg 2, Sat-Sun., Nov. 29-30
 
MLS Cup Final
Sun., Dec. 7, 3pm ET
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