With a scant three weeks until the season starts, Major League Soccer has announced its 2011 MLS Cup Playoff format. And, despite the fact that there are too many teams (10 out of 18) qualifying, it really makes sense. It provides an advantage to the winner of the Supporter's Shieldand
it makes the playoffs harder as they progress (as opposed to last few years when it was harder at the beginning). It's not quite the plan I proposed on our podcast (Stoppage Time, episode one,check it
), wherein I proposed an automatic pass to the conference finals for the top two teams. But this is a good start. Hopefully, it won't change again in 2012.
There are six automatic berths: The top three finishers in each conference, based on regular season point. There are four wild cards: The next highest point totals regardless of conference.
The wild card teams will meet for a single-elimination game against each other (higher seeds hosting; 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3). The two winners progress to the semifinals and the lower-seeded team from the play-in game will face the Supporter's Shield winner; the higher-seeded team will play the other conference winner.
The four semifinal games will be decided by a two-game aggregate series, with each club hosting one game. The Conference Championships will be decided by a single game, with the higher seed hosting. The MLS Cup will remain a single game at a predetermined site to be announced later this year.
Here's a visual representation from MLSsoccer.com:
The wild-card idea is a winner. Giving the Supporter's Shield (and, thusly, the best teams in the regular season) a bye is a winner. The two-leg aggregate for the semi-finals is a good start (I'd like to see the Champions League format with the semifinals and championship round two-leg series and the MLS Cup a single game). Progress is progress.
Thoughts? Think they could've done anything better? Where do you think Sporting KC will finish this year?