On the afternoon prior to the big 2011 MLS Cup Final, Major League Soccer released the 2012 schedule format. The full release is after the break but here are the highlights.
- Montreal Impact joins the Eastern Conference to no one's surprise. Houston Dynamo remains in the East after moving in from the West for the 2011 season.
- The schedule will be an unbalanced 34 games. West teams will play each conference opponent 3 times (24 games) and play each East team one time (10 games).
- Eastern Conference teams will play 7 conference opponents three times (21 games), 2 conference opponents twice (4 games) and play each West team one time (9 games).
- While this was billed as the 2012 schedule format, a couple of notes for 2013 were included. It seems likely that 2013 will feature the same 19 teams and the same conference format.
- 2012 MLS Cup Playoffs will see the top 5 teams in points from each conference advance instead of this year's format that had wild cards open to the entire league. 4th and 5th place teams will play single knockout match to play the 1st place team in their conference in the next round.
- The next round will stay a two game, aggregate-goal format while the conference championships will now also be a two game, aggregate-goal format. In a complete change from recent years, the MLS Cup will be hosted by the finalist that finished the regular season with the most points in the standings.
MLS Announces Competition Format for 2012
Revised Format Provides Greater Reward for Regular Season Performance
LOS ANGELES (Sunday, Nov. 20, 2011) – Major League Soccer today announced that the competition format for the 2012 regular season and MLS Cup Playoffs. Included in the revised competition format is a change with MLS Cup. Beginning in 2012, the League’s championship will be hosted by the finalist that finished the regular season with the most points in the standings. Complete details are below.
· The Montreal Impact begins its inaugural MLS season as the League’s 19th team and will be the 10th team in the Eastern Conference. The Western Conference will consist of the same nine clubs as in 2011.
· Each of the 19 MLS clubs will play 34 games, 17 at home and 17 away.
o All clubs will play an equal schedule within their respective conference.
Western Conference – 24 in-conference + 10 out-of-conference games:
· Western Conference clubs will play each West opponent 3 times (24 games):
o West clubs will play 4 conference opponents twice at home and once away
o They will play the other 4 conference opponents once at home and twice away.
o The home and away games will be reversed in 2013.
· Western Conference clubs will play each East opponent once each (10 games):
o 5 of these will be at home and 5 will be away.
o The East opponents each team faces at home and away will be reversed in 2013.
Eastern Conference – 25 in-conference + 9 out-of-conference games:
· Eastern Conference clubs will play 25 games against other East clubs:
o East teams will play 7 conference opponents three times each (21 games) and
o 2 conference opponents twice each (4 games).
· Eastern Conference clubs will play each West opponent once each (9 games):
o Some will play 4 at home and 5 away while others will play 5 at home and 4 away.
o The West opponents each team faces at home and away will be reversed in 2013.
"We have established a fair and compelling format for the 2012 season," said MLS Executive Vice President Nelson Rodriguez. "This regular season will include more games between regional rivals and less total travel than we have seen in recent years. Because of the wide geographic distribution of MLS clubs, this structure should improve the quality of play, while continuing to give every club an equal chance of qualifying for the MLS Cup Playoffs."
MLS CUP PLAYOFFS:
· 10 clubs will qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs – the top five in points from each conference at the end of the regular season.
o The 4th- and 5th- place teams will play a single knockout game, the winner of which will advance to the Conference Semifinals and face the 1st-place team in the conference.
o The Conference Semifinals will be decided by a two-game, aggregate-goal format (same as 2011).
o The Conference Championships will be decided by a two-game, aggregate-goal format (change from recent years).
o MLS Cup will be hosted by the finalist that finished the regular season with the most points in the standings.
· The 2012 MLS regular season will begin in March and end in October; specific dates to be announced at a later date.
· The 2012 MLS regular season schedule will be announced prior to early February, when it has been announced in recent years.
"The MLS Cup Playoff format in 2012 gives increased reward to clubs that fare well in the regular season and removes the possibility of clubs winning the opposite conference championship," Rodriguez said. "Having a competitively-determined site for MLS Cup is one of the most exciting improvements our Board of Governors has adopted. We believe this provides every club a tremendous incentive during our regular season and ensures a festive and boisterous setting for our championship game."