Major League Soccer’s season is going to look different, but how much so?
The league announced Tuesday that it’s “extremely unlikely” to return in mid-May, and that the season may not be played in full.
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After suspending play, Major League Soccer announced on March 19 that the plan was to shut down for eight weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic and the plan was to resume the 2020 MLS season on May 10.
So, what are some of the scenarios the league could pursue with a calendar that may not start until June or July, and likely begin behind closed doors.
Our Joe Prince-Wright speculated that the league could cut the MLS Cup Playoffs altogether in a bid to squeeze what would normally be a 7-month schedule into a much shorter time frame.
That’s certainly a simple fix, but it would cut out what’s been a very exciting chase for teams in a league where more than half of the league makes the postseason.
So what are some other ideas that don’t involve mixing the MLS Cup Playoffs?
1) MLS Cup Playoffs in a European Cup setting: The league could move the MLS Cup Playoffs in-season at midweek. Yes, every club would have to make it, but what if the playoffs started a few weeks into the season with midweek matches?
The travel could make this idea a non-starter, so the draw would have to be conducted beforehand, but the bigger issue would be the fact that MLS teams already treat the U.S. Open Cup and the CONCACAF Cup like a burden. Why even have the competition if teams roll out all of their kids and cross their fingers until the semifinals? We’d hate this because it would give MLS another chance to ignore/skip/exploit a great tournament like the USOC, but such is life.
2) 25-game season plus minimally shortened playoffs: Here’s one I really like due to the fact that the league’s massive expansion had already removed fairness from the Supporters’ Shield race by unbalancing the schedule: Have every team play each other once, that’s it. Single-table but chop the playoff teams from 14 to 13 with the Supporters’ Shield-winner getting a two-round bye, then continue as such. A season beginning on July 1 would give you 18 weeks to early-November, then a furious finish.
3) Regular season in-conference only, shortened playoffs: It’s only one fewer game. While the Western Conference markets wouldn’t get to see their sides meet the big names of the Eastern Conference, and vice versa, this would beef up the regular season with rivalries. We’d build in even more drama by cutting the playoff spots back to six.
4) Divisional redraw to drastically shorten regular season: If the league wanted to keep the MLS Cup Playoffs as is, mostly, it could divide its 26 teams into four or more divisions. There would be an uneven distribution, which would cause some Players Union grievances, but the league could be down to under 20 regular season dates in a heartbeat with 2x/division and a sprinkling of crossover games.
Now I’ve tried several times to divide the teams and the stupid geography of this country always leaves one or two teams in an impossible bind, but just for the sake of the visual.
Div 1 (6): Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Jose, LAFC, LA Galaxy
Div 2 (7): Real Salt Lake, Colorado, Sporting KC, Minnesota United, Chicago, Columbus, Cincinnati
Div 3 (6): Inter Miami, Atlanta, Orlando City, Nashville SC, FC Dallas, Houston
Div 4 (7): Montreal, New England, NY Red Bulls, NYCFC, Philadelphia Union, DC United
5) The shortest season: The shortest this could go would be keeping the conferences the same, chopping it down to one game versus each conference opponent, then regrouping with an expanded playoff. Twelve games plus a maximum of five more.
Weird times. Weird ideas. What would you choose? Also, it’s the end of my shift so forgive me if I’ve missed something that disqualifies one of the above ideas.