The MLS Cup Playoffs structure is getting an overhaul. Again.
According to a report by SI’s Brian Straus, the playoff field will expand by two teams in 2015, much like the league itself. No longer will 10 teams qualify for the postseason, but 12 will qualify and compete for MLS Cup. The two additional teams — one in each conference — will enter into the knockout round preceding the conference semifinals.
Under the current system, the fourth- and fifth-place finishers in each conference meet in a one-game playoff that sends the winner to face the top seed. Starting next season, the third-place team in each conference will host the sixth seed in one single-elimination game while No. 4 hosts No. 5 in the other. The four conference semifinalists then will be reseeded to ensure the first-place finisher faces off against the lowest-ranked knockout round survivor. The bracket will look like the one used in the NFL since 1990.
The Eastern and Western conference semifinals and finals will remain as two-game series featuring the away-goals tiebreaker. The MLS Cup final will remain a single match.
While the new structure allows more teams — 60 percent of the league in 2015 — into the playoffs, it also gives a greater advantage to teams finishing in the top two of each conference as they’ll not only avoid the knockout round games altogether, but face an advancing team on shorter rest after playing the additional game — almost identical to the NFL’s Wild Card round.
On the surface, it’s easy to complain about the playoff structure changing again and the sheer amount of teams qualifying for the playoffs being so great, but in terms of giving teams a greater reward for finishing as high as possible during the regular season, it lifts the value of the 34 games from March to October a little bit as well.