A modest MLS playoff proposal

Complaints about the MLS playoff format are as much a part of the American soccer landscape as chants about pies are a part of the English scene. Beneath the hysteria over New York or Salt Lake winning a geographically imprecise conference title, some of the complaints are legit:

– Hosting the second leg of a two-leg series is a middling advantage after a long season.

– Colorado finished seventh in the league and yet will host a conference final.

The league likes to give everyone a home game and put an emphasis on elimination games rather than extended series. Great, but another method works just as well. That method is borrowed from football.

Not that football. The Aussie kind.

Australian Rules Football uses an eight-team version of the Page playoff system that is popular in a few offbeat sports such as softball, curling and yachting.

The principles are these:

– The top four teams must be beaten twice to be eliminated. The bottom four only get one loss.

– The No. 1 and No. 2 seeds are guaranteed two home games. No. 3 through No. 6 get at least one.

So if MLS had put this system in place this year, the schedule would’ve been as follows (home teams listed first):

First round

– No. 1 Los Angeles vs. No. 4 Dallas
– No. 2 Salt Lake vs. No. 3 New York
– No. 5 Columbus vs. No. 8 San Jose (loser out)
– No. 6 Seattle vs. No. 7 Columbus (loser out)

Second round (both losers out)

– LA-Dallas loser vs. Columbus-SJ winner
– RSL-NY loser vs. Seattle-Clb winner

Semifinals (both losers out)

RSL-NY winner vs. first 2nd round winner
– LA-Dallas winner vs. second 2nd round winner

MLS Cup: Semifinal winners at highest remaining seed

The system is relatively simple, and it rewards regular-season play. The top teams get an advantage without being idle so long that they might get cold. What else could you want?

(MLS fans will surely think of something, of course!)

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5 Responses to A modest MLS playoff proposal

  1. KT says:

    I like the Australian soccer format as well.

    #1 plays #2 – winner automatically hosts final
    #3 plays #4 – winner advances to play loser of first game

    Top seed has to win a tough game to earn home field for final, but can survive an upset and fight back. #2 can prove they should be in the final by beating #1 straightaway. #3 and #4 can both make it to the final if they win twice.

    But no matter what format you use, fans are going to kvetch. That’s all they do. Either they can’t emotionally handle their team not winning, or they want a guarantee of no upsets (or the tournament is “flawed”) or they throw out some geographical canard.

  2. Sirk says:


    You doubled up Columbus throughout when you meant Colorado as #7.

    If MLS is keeping the conferences, which they are, and considering that as MLS grows, we will be entering unbalanced scheduling territory soon and forevermore, I would like KT’s Aussie soccer format on a strict conference for conference level. Basically, once the schedule unbalances in year or two or three, I would like two of those; one in each conference. (No crossovers.)

    And if we have a balanced schedule for another year or two, the Aussie football thing sounds good.

  3. CACuzcatlan says:

    Thanks so much! I’ve been suggesting this scenario for years, since I first heard about it. Seems to solve the issues the league is concerned about (each team having a home game) and gives a real advantage to the higher seeds. It still only takes 3 games to get to the MLS Cup, so we wont have to expand the length of the playoffs. I don’t see anything bad with this system.

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