Major League Soccer changes playoff format, increases number of teams

Will 2019 format changes improve MLS Cup Playoffs? (1:55)

The FC crew weigh the pros and cons of the changes to the MLS playoff format, including single-elimination, more teams and no international break. (1:55)

Major League Soccer announced its new playoff structure on Monday, introducing a new single-elimination format to be used in the 2019 season.

The format's implementation will see the number of playoff qualifiers increase from 12 to 14 teams, and will also see the playoffs take place entirely between the October and November FIFA international windows. The playoffs will begin on Oct. 19, while MLS Cup will be held on Nov. 10.

The changes address several criticisms of the format that has been used for the last several seasons. The most recent format was comprised of an initial, single-elimination knockout round followed by conference semifinals and finals that were contested over two legs. The MLS Cup final was then held at the home field of whichever team had the better regular season record.

But there had been complaints that the format didn't do enough to reward teams for regular season excellence. In single-elimination games the higher seed advanced 67.3 percent of the time, while in 78 examples of two-game series over the years, the higher seed advanced just 55.1 percent of the time. Now the higher seed will host every match, with the top seed in each conference receiving a first-round bye.

The schedule also reduces the impact that the two FIFA windows had on the competition. The November window was especially problematic given that the playoffs essentially went on hiatus for two weeks, disrupting the rhythm of the postseason. Now that break has been eliminated, while the October window can be used by teams as a recovery period ahead of the playoffs.

The earlier finish to the season will increase the odds of better weather for the season's most important games. The calendar will also allow for more compatibility with the 2022 World Cup, which is set to begin on Nov. 21 of that year.

The upcoming MLS season begins on March 2 and will consist of 34 matches. The regular season will end on Oct. 6.