Major League Soccer has (FINALLY) released the playoff format for the 2011 MLS Cup Playoffs. Full format description courtesy of a press release sent out today and my thoughts after the break.
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.
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.
The 2011 MLS regular season concludes Oct. 23. The dates for the MLS Cup Playoffs and MLS Cup will be announced at a later date.
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.
I think it was a mistake to go with 10 teams but if you are going to have more than 50% of the league enter the playoffs, this is the way to do it. Seeds 7-10 will have a 'play-in' for the 'right' to play the Supporter's Shield winner and the No. 1 seed in the non-SS winner's conference. If MLS really does this right, they will have the 7 vs. 10 game and 8 vs. 9 games two or three days before the teams advance to play the higher seeds. The top teams will be gunning for the No. 1 spot in either conference spot now if it means playing a team on short rest.
The setup would allow the potentially embarrassing result of having a team from the Eastern Conference in the Western Conference playoffs while also having a team from the Western Conference in the Eastern Conference playoffs but the odds of West-East vs. East-West final are significantly low. The chances that this even exists begs the question why have conferences at all, but that is a big question for another day.