If there were 10 teams allowed into the playoffs Jimmy Nielson and the Kansas City Wizards would have been in. (Photo by G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images)

Major League Soccer Playoffs: Two More Teams Added For Next Year

Two additional teams will make MLS playoffs next season, but exact details will be revealed at halftime.

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New MLS Playoff Setup Slowly Taking Shape, And What We'd Like To See

MLS Commissioner Don Garber was slim on details when he announced the expansion of the playoffs to 10 teams.

Those details are still not finalized — and won't be until around Christmas — but we do now know that those two additional teams will participate in some sort of play-in round.

I still believe the ideal setup for the playoffs would involve fewer teams, not more, and would eliminate conferences, whose championship could be awarded at the end of the regular season like the Supporters' Shield. Unfortunately, Garber really likes the spectacle of awarding multiple trophies during the playoffs, so my idea does not seem at all likely. Given those restrictions, these are the setups I envision and how they could work.

Three from each conference

The most obvious — and would most closely resemble the current setup — would feature the top three teams from each conference earning automatic spots in the playoffs with the next four teams participating in the play-in round.

Proposed setup: Those four teams could then be seeded according to record with the seventh-best team playing the 10th-best team and the eighth-best playing the ninth-best, preferably in a single-game hosted by the higher seed in the middle of the week immediately following the regular season. The lowest-seeded team to advance could then play the Supporters' Shield winner and the highest-seeded team to advance would play the other conference winner. The first-round proper of the playoffs would then take place over the weekend.

Advantage: The one-game playoff, the holding of the play-in round during the middle of the week, forcing the winner to play another game the following weekend and reseeding after the play-in round are all moves that put teams lower in the table at a decided disadvantage. It also ensures the season is not extended. You could even argue this setup places more value in the regular season than the current setup does, which essentially treats all eight playoffs team equally in the first round.

Disadvantages: Although two teams from the "wrong" conference could not meet in the conference finals in this setup, there's nothing to stop a "wrong" conference team from making it to the MLS Cup. In fact, there's nothing to stop both conferences being represented by teams from the "wrong" conference. I don't think this is a particularly big problem, but Garber might and his opinion probably counts more than mine.

Four from each conference

This might be the most likely scenario, as it would guarantee that no more than one team from the "wrong" conference could end up in the MLS Cup. In this setup, you'd put the top four teams from each conference in the playoffs with two wildcards filling out the field.

Proposed setup: The No. 4 seed from each conference would be kicked down into the play-in round. The No. 4 seed with the better record would host the wildcard with the worst record in a midweek playoff game. The lowest seeded team to emerge from the play-in would then play the Supporters' Shield winner the following weekend. The highest-seeded team to emerge would do the same thing with the other conference winner.

Advantages: The regular season retains a fair amount of value in the same way the three-and-three setup does. It also eliminates the possibility of two "wrong" conference teams playing in the MLS Cup.

Disadvantage: With four teams from each conference, there's a very real possibility that one conference will be much weaker than the other. This year, for instance, the three teams that would have gone straight into the main Eastern Conference draw would have had an average point total of 46 points. The top three teams in the West would have averaged 55 points. Even if the top 10 teams by points made the playoffs, there is obviously lots of room for unfairness.

Five from each conference

Pretty straight forward: The top five teams from each conference make the playoffs.

Proposed setup: Since the only reason to do this is to keep the purity of the conferences, you'd have to imagine the two lowest seeded teams from each conference would participate in the play-in round. Again, I think a midweek game maximizes the importance of the regular season so we'd continue that trend here. The winner of the play-in round would get a date with their respective conference's regular season winner.

Advantage: We'd be guaranteed to have one team from each conference in the final, for whatever that's worth. "Geology" teachers would never be able to make fun of MLS.

Disadvantage: There's a very good chance some really bad teams are going to make the playoffs and some pretty decent ones will miss them. This does very little to solve the issue of how best to make the regular season more valuable, and probably devalues it the most. Whatever the league does to quiet those snarky teachers, it will embolden just about every other critic of the league and probably do a fair amount of damage to the brand as a whole. As long as there is a balanced schedule, there is no compelling reason to go to this setup.


MLS Cup Playoffs: Don Garber Says He Needs 30 More Days

We were promised news at halftime. What we got were more questions.

It had already been learned that MLS plans to include two additional teams in next year's playoffs. At halftime it was learned that the mechanism for making that is still not decided.

"We gotta find ways to have the regular season have more incentive," MLS Commissioner Don Garber said.

He mentioned that there will be some kind of play-in, but the final decision is still another 30 days away. The most obvious scenario would involve the final four seeds squaring off in two play-in games and then facing the conference champions in the first round of the playoffs, but Garber's comments seem to imply other possibilities.

Garber also said that the league would continue with a balanced schedule.

The most intriguing thing he said was that the league is exploring a promotion and relegation "simulation." What that means is entirely speculation.

"You'll see us put things like that in place either next year or the year after," Garber said.

The other change Garber hinted at was splitting the MLS schedule so that the league would fall closer in line with the international schedule. That is widely to believed to be a nod to FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who mentioned he would like to see MLS move that way during a White House meeting.


Major League Soccer Playoffs: Two More Teams Added For Next Year

Next year's MLS playoffs will include two additional teams and there will be conferences, that much we know for certain. What is less clear, but should be clarified at halftime of the MLS Cup, is how many teams from each conference will make the playoffs.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber has spoken repeatedly at his frustration over two teams from the Western Conference playing for the Eastern Conference championship and has not hidden his desire to make sure that doesn't happen again.

With 10 teams in the playoffs, the expectation is that the bottom four seeds would play in the first round and the winners would face the top seeds in either conference. Such a format would allow for the top three teams from each conference to qualify for the playoffs with the bottom four playoff spots possibly being reserved for wild cards. This format would also eliminate the possibility of two "wrong" conference teams meeting in the conference finals.

It seems that a balanced schedule will remain for next season, but that will change in 2012 when the league admits its 19th team. How the conferences will be aligned is also likely to be revealed at halftime, but with balanced schedules the most likely scenario would seem to be no changes. Since Montreal obviously makes more sense in the East and the conferences will have to be unbalanced in 2012, there seems to be little reason not to put Portland and Vancouver in the West and live with 10-team and eight-team conferences next season.

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