MLS: New playoff system in 2003

For 2003, MLS is lengthening its regular season and revamping its playoff system.

The regular season kicks off April 5 (as opposed to March 23 in 2002) and MLS Cup 2003 on Nov. 23 takes place a month later than in 2002.

Also, for the first time league history, MLS will use an aggregate-goal system in the postseason.

HereÆs a summary of the changes:

* 30-game regular season adds two games to regular-season slate and maximizes weekend dates.

* 2003 campaign kicks off on April 5 live on ABC Sports, with the defending MLS champion Los Angeles meeting Columbus.

* Regular season ends on the weekend of Oct. 26. Playoffs begin on the weekend of Nov. 1.

* Eight of the 10 teams advance to the playoffs (top four teams from each conference).

+The quarterfinals (or conference semifinals) will be home-and-home, aggregate-goal series. If the teams have scored the same number of goals after 180 minutes, a 30-minute golden-goal overtime will be played, followed by a penalty kick shootout, if necessary. (In other words, away goals will not serve as a tiebreaker.)

* The semifinals (or conference championship) will use a one-game format. (30-minute golden-goal overtime and penalty kicks, if necessary.)

* The final, MLS Cup 2003, will be Nov. 23 at the National Training Center in Carson, Calif.

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