MLS shortens its season, goes to all-knockout playoffs

Next year’s MLS Cup will be played on Nov. 10, the league’s earliest finish since 2002

By Anne M. Peterson

AP Sports Writer

Major League Soccer is shortening its season by a month, going to single-elimination playoffs and scheduling the 2019 MLS Cup final for Nov. 10 in its earliest finish since 2002.

The league announced the changes Monday and will have an all-knockout postseason in place of a two-leg format for the conference semifinals and finals. MLS had started using a two-leg, total-goals format in 2003.

After then-U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann criticized the league’s season as being too short, MLS stretched its schedule into December each year starting in 2012. Klinsmann was fired in November 2016.

“The big challenge is for MLS overall, how can they stretch that season into a format that is kind of competitive with the rest of the world?” Klinsmann said in 2011. “Right now it’s not competitive. If you have a seven-, eight-month season, that’s not competitive with the rest of the world.”

MLS says the new format will reward teams with top regular seasons with greater home-field advantage.

The league expands to 24 teams with the addition of Cincinnati next year, and 14 teams will make the playoffs. Each of the two conference winners will get first-round byes and be joined in the conference semifinals by the winners of the three first-round series.

The league will finish before the November international break — and before the start of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar that Nov. 21. The October break will be between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs.

Opening day will be March 2 next year, and the regular season ends Oct. 6.

The league said the changes resulted from discussions throughout the year with team owners, general managers, television partners and other officials. The changes were ratified last week.

“The idea here is to continually work on making the regular season become more and more important, so winning in March is as important as winning in September or October,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said this month. “Our playoff format, the one that we’re evaluating, I think is really going to place a very, very high emphasis, strong emphasis, on the regular season.”

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