Insider: Should MLS Re-Format Playoffs?

On December 1, LA Galaxy will face Houston Dynamo for MLS Cup [4:30 ET on ESPN].  In other words, the 8th and 9th best teams in the league, will play for its highest honor. 

In 2-leg aggregate series this postseason, the team that played at home second went 0-6.*  Houston was the worst team in the playoffs, in terms of regular season points.  LA wasn’t far behind after they started the year with 3 wins in their first 13 games, a beginning which would have ruled out a team from receiving hardware in any other league in the world.

So we get to the question.  Should MLS re-format?  And if so, what should that look like?

It depends on what Major League Soccer wants to accomplish.  But the thought around the league is they would like to make the regular season important, especially in a league where over half your teams make the playoffs (10 of 19).  Just making the playoffs (in most fans eyes) isn’t a real accomplishment yet and won’t be until the league either expands its team base or lessens postseason participants.

Expanding the league is at least a couple more years away.  So first, they could shorten the postseason.  Wildcard games are fun but they weren’t established in any other American sports league until the league was large enough to support that many participants.  At first you either had to win your division or your conference (in baseball, your league) in order to play on.  Therefore, it might be good for MLS to take away those wildcard games until it grows a little bit more as its American cousins did.

This leads me to my personal solution:

The regular season could be a single table format and a balanced schedule.  The top two teams qualify for CONCACAF Champions League, taking away the previous qualification spot for the MLS Cup runner-up.  This would give a little more incentive to great regular season performance.

Eight teams make the postseason, which is just under half the total teams, eliminating those that performed badly in the regular season.  The eight teams play each other in 2-leg aggregate series still, but the higher seed gets to choose which leg it plays at home, letting them decide their fate.

The 8 seed plays the 1 seed, 7 plays 2, etc.  Aligning it this way ensures the 8 seed has the toughest possible road and the 1 seed has the easiest possible road, once again putting incentive on regular season performance.  The only Champions League spot awarded is to the Cup winner, which puts a massive incentive on not only getting to the Final, but winning it.

The last Champions League spot is still awarded to the winner of the US Open Cup, and they seemed to get that tournament right this year with a handful of NASL and USL Pro League upsets.

The one thing lacking with this format would be MLS wouldn’t be putting as much of an importance on regional rivalries.  But to that I say rivalries can’t be created on purpose.  If two areas dislike each other (Philadelphia and New York) there will be a natural rivalry twice a year and it will be an event rather than getting overkill 4 or 5 times a year.  All other rivalries will be made where they belong, in the postseason.

What do you think?  Comment below and tweet me.

*Format for MLS Playoffs is the higher seeded team plays on the road first and at home second, but this season DC United, the higher seed, played at home against New York, the lower seed, first and went on the road second after Hurricane Sandy prevented the game from taking place as scheduled.