BY Stanley Holmes 04:25PM 02/23/2011

MLS releases new playoff format for 2011

Few of the soccer purists appear happy with new format but few dispute that it is at least better than last year’s convoluted mess.

The Sounders and Galaxy hope to make it to the playoffs again this year. If they do, it will be under a new though still convoluted system. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

First things first.

The reshaped, reconfigured, redesigned Major League Soccer playoff format for 2011 is better than last year’s abomination.

For that, we should be grateful.

We can also tip our scarves to Sounders uber boss Joe Roth. After all, he told hundreds of season-ticket holders earlier that he had thrust himself onto the MLS committee that deals with these things.

Roth had indicated he was not a fan of last season’s playoff format and told fans he had vowed to fix it for this year — or at least indicated he would wield his Darth Vader lightsaber if things weren’t going in the right direction.

But is it the final answer to a persistent age-old problem? No. It’s like an irritating zit that never really goes away. No amount of creme will smooth over this sore.

Today, the MLS announced the format for the 2011 MLS Cup Playoffs and let’s hope this is really just a work in progress. One piece of advice for MLS deep thinkers: less is more.

But here’s the skinny as outlined by the MLS:

  • Ten clubs will qualify for the 2011 MLS Cup Playoffs.
  • The top three finishers in each conference, based on regular season points (six automatic berths).
  • The next best four clubs based on regular season points, irrespective of conference (four wild cards).
  • The four wild cards will play single elimination games against each other, with higher seeds hosting (1 vs. 4; 2 vs. 3). These play-in games are part of the MLS Cup Playoffs.
  • After the two play-in games conclude, the lowest remaining seed will face the Supporters’ Shield winner in the conference semifinals; the other will face the No. 1 seed in the opposite conference from the Supporters’ Shield winner.
  • The four conference semifinals will be decided by two-game aggregate series, with each club hosting one game.
  • The two conference championships will be single games hosted by the higher seed. MLS Cup will again be a single championship match hosted at a predetermined site to be announced at a later date.

Got that?

Here are some of the early reactions from the soccer purists:

  • “The new MLS Playoff system is a bloated mess,” says FC Ginge.
  • “Either have conferences or don’t MLS. Trying to have it both ways is just weak, and leaves open chance of weird conference champions,” huffs Church of Soccer, feeling particularly pious over this matter.

My thoughts: the MLS is diluting the competition by giving 10 out of 18 teams a shot at winning the MLS Cup. The number of teams qualifying for the playoffs should be fewer — not greater.

    If the league is so hung up on a playoff format, then it should be the top four teams from each conference that qualifies for the post-season. Or it should be single table and the champion the league winner. Then elevate the importance of the U.S. Open Cup as the headlining knockout competition open to all teams much like the FA Cup. After all, the U.S. Open Cup and FA Cup are season-long playoff formats.

    But that won’t happen because the soccer minds here think we need an American-style playoff format. And though I understand that playoffs create additional revenue and excitement, it still dilutes the regular season and penalizes teams that are consistently good.

    The MLS allows the highest number of U.S. sports teams to make the playoffs at 56 percent of the total number of teams. The NBA and the NHL are next at 53 percent of teams making post-season play. Only 38 percent of NFL teams qualify and just 27 percent of MLB teams.

    Those lower post-season percentages don’t seem to diminish attendance for football and baseball games. The higher NBA and NHL percentages haven’t helped to bolster attendance figures or TV ratings.

    Here’s hoping to continued dialogue on this subject and to Darth Vader’s lightsaber ultimately pointing the league in the right direction.


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  • Scott

    What a joke!

  • Golstriker

    The geniuses at MLS, and I do use that word lightly, along with their ex-NFL guy at the top, still think that doing it like the NFL is the way to do it. This new system shows a little bit of thought, with emphasis on the little. It’s especially weird that one round is a two-game series based on aggregate, and then they go to single games. How odd is that?

    Part of the ongoing strangeness of this are the amateurs who cover soccer for the Times and other sports outfits like Sportspress. Referring to those who want a meaningful playoff series as “purists” continues to depict you baseball-foootball-basketball guys on the outside.

    Do yourself a favor and educate yourselves as to how soccer works and why — because it’s a 90-minute game with no timeouts — it rarely makes sense to play two games or even to play many playoff games. The game is different from other sports and while I don’t have time to explain that to you, I’d recommend that you watch more on TV, follow the big games in Europe (and their playoff systems) so you’ll have a grip on it when you sit down and write about it.

    • Stanley Holmes


      The reference to “soccer purists” refers to the hardcore supporters of soccer who actually dislike the new and the old MLS playoff formats. In fact, they dislike everything about soccer playoffs. And, in fact, there are purists in every sport.

      But relax, Golstriker, we are definitely up to speed on our soccer. Here at Sportspress we know that “pitch” doesn’t mean you throw a small ball at a batter, or that “football” is to be played with pads and a pigskin.

      You can be assured, amigo, everyone here at Sporspress have all read “Soccer for Dummies”– at least once.

  • PnwHockeyFan

    So did they get rid of that crap where you can lose the playoff series even if you won the last game because it was decided on points scored? (I think thats what it was2 years ago when we lost the playoff series)