All four lower-seeded teams in the first leg of Major League Soccer’s 2016 Conference semifinals playoffs won.
All four were also at home.
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That last fact has led to some MLS fans to ask for change to the current postseason format put forward in MLS Cup playoffs, as many believe the top seed should host first legs going forward.
Is it really that big of an advantage to host the first leg? In MLS, it might be.
We all know MLS is its own beast, especially when it comes to travel which could be one of the reasons we saw zero goals for the away teams and seven combined for the home teams.
The fact that FC Dallas had to travel up to Seattle, a four-hour flight, at the end of an exhausting push for the Supporters’ Shield doesn’t seem like much of a reward for being the number one overall seed, does it?
Elsewhere, the Colorado Rapids had a two-and-a-half-hour flight to LA and lost to the Galaxy as the Western Conferences top two seeds have plenty of work to do in the second leg. Both New York teams went up to Canada and lost but you can hardly blame that on travel with a quick one hour or so flight up to Ontario and Quebec, but still, there seems to be a real push for a change to the current MLS playoff format.
After grueling campaigns, the last thing teams want to do right now is go on the road. Yet, that is exactly what the current format forces the higher seed to do off the bat and now all four are under immense pressure to overturn first leg deficits in front of their home fans. Look at the Conference finals last season which saw both FC Dallas and the New York Red Bulls lose out despite being top seeds.
The same format exists in the UEFA Champions League, with the top seed hosting the second leg of games. Take, for example, the UCL’s Round of 16 last season. Only two of the top eight seeds lost over the two legs despite hosting the second leg. This small sample size suggests this issue could be an MLS phenomena and one that may need fixing. I stress the modal auxiliary verb “could” when stating this point, because from season to season it fluctuates.
However, given the trend this season so far, why not give the top seed a choice on if they’d rather host the first leg or go on the road in the first leg? Depending on what style of team they are, they may prefer to defend on the road first and then go for it at home. And vice versa.
Apart from switching the first and second leg designation, what other changes would you like to see to the MLS Cup format?
Some suggestions include a round robin tournament including the top four teams in each conference and then the winner of each mini tournament goes through to do battle in a one-off final. Another suggestion is to make the MLS Cup final a two-legged occasion to even things up and not have one team with home-field advantage. Other, more drastic suggestions, ask for the playoff format to be completely scrapped and for the regular season champ to be the overall champ, just like it is in most leagues across the world.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below on all of this and how you would change the MLS Cup playoffs format.