Major League Soccer’s new Playoff Format Removes the charm of the Postseason.

More matches is not always the answer

Jason Ashcraft – Opinion

Three things remain constant in life; death, taxes, and MLS messing around with the playoff format. Major League Soccer recently announced a new change to the 2023 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs which will now see nine teams from each conference earn a spot in the postseason. Seeds 8 and 9 from each conference will play a wild card match to open the playoffs with the winner heading to the playoffs to meet the No. 1 seed. The biggest change though is the addition of a best-of-three series in the first round of the playoffs.

Much has been written about the format of the playoffs with coaches and media giving the league much-deserved grief over the lateness of the release of the playoff format. We’ve seen takes on the risk of injuries to players, the quick turnaround between games, and much more. That being said, my take is a little different. While I’m not a fan of the new format on paper, I’m not willing to preemptively call it a failure. I do, however, mourn the loss of what made MLS a rarity among major league sports in the United States…single elimination.

The single-table people won’t like this, but I’m a fan of playoffs. I think every league needs playoffs even if they have a balanced schedule. A post-season tournament adds a level of excitement leaves you wanting more and builds excitement for the next season. MLS seemed to have found the best formula when the league moved to a single-elimination format a few years ago. Gone were the days of a team playing for a draw on the road as was common during the days of two-legged playoffs. Instead, we had fast-paced, exciting, balls-to-the-wall games. MLS is eliminating some of the drawbacks of multi-legged playoffs by eliminating draws but the slog of more games still remains.

Multi-legged playoffs are common in most major league sports in the US and Canada with the NFL and, until now, MLS the only outliers. The NBA, MLB, and NHL all have months-long multi-game series that take up huge chunks of the calendar year. One can argue that the expansion of playoffs in American sports has made the regular season less important and they’d have a point. With the new MLS playoff format, 62 percent of the league’s teams will make the postseason.

By adding more games, MLS has taken away some of the charms of the playoffs. Neither team can be wiped out in match one. Now we will surely see away teams holding back for a draw away as they will have an opportunity to rebound a couple of days later at home. Instead of a few weekends of joyous action, we’ll see just another major-league playoff. A months-long trek to finally crown a champion.

While MLS’s playoff format isn’t as drawn out as the NBA or MLB, the fact that we’re losing the key factor that made MLS playoffs great (single-elimination) is going to make them a little less exciting.

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