|The Red Bulls celebrate a goal in this year's playoffs. Photo by Jason Schott.|
Major League Soccer today announced it will adopt a new single-elimination playoff structure beginning in 2019. Starting next season, the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs will consist of a straight-bracket format that will further reward regular season performance with a greater homefield advantage.
In addition, the new MLS postseason will see all playoff action positioned between the October and November FIFA windows as a three-week, uninterrupted sprint to MLS Cup.
As part of the new single-elimination structure, higher-seeded clubs will host all matches throughout the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, providing a greater reward for regular season success.
In addition, just the No. 1 team in each conference will receive a first-round bye. In the prior system, two teams in each conference received, first-round byes in the playoffs.
The 2019 MLS regular season will consist of 34 matches, beginning March 2 and concluding October 6. The Audi MLS Cup Playoffs will take place without disruption between the October and November FIFA breaks as the first postseason matches will be played on October 19 and MLS Cup will be held on November 10. That is one month earlier than this season, when the MLS Cup was held on December 8.
The Audi MLS Cup Playoffs will consist of 13 single-elimination matches, following a straight bracket format. Higher-seeded teams will enjoy home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, hosting every match in front of a home crowd.
Throughout the years, the MLS postseason has featured some single-elimination matches, and the home team has advanced at a considerably higher rate than two-game playoff series. Historically, higher seeded teams have advanced or won 67.3 percent of the 49 single-game elimination playoff matches, including MLS Cup matches for which the higher seed earned the right to host.
Through the 78 examples of two-game series throughout the years, the higher seed advanced just 55.1 percent of the time.
With an eye to expansion, the number of clubs qualifying for the playoffs will increase from 12 to 14. The top seven Eastern Conference and top seven Western Conference teams will comprise the 14-team playoff field. With the addition of new teams, MLS will have a similar percentage of playoff-qualifying teams as the other major men's North American professional sports leagues.
Following the regular season, playoff teams will have the October FIFA break to prepare for the playoffs, providing clubs with time to promote the postseason and sell tickets. Once playoffs begin, teams will have a minimum of three days of rest between matches in each of the first three rounds and a week break before MLS Cup.
One benefit of the new structure is that, with playoff matches occurring during the month of October and early November, the weather will be more temperate compared to the previous format. An analysis of the league's cold-weather markets showed that there is a 10- to 17-degree (°F) difference in temperature with the new timeframe compared to playing matches in late November and early December.
The new postseason format timing will conclude prior to World Cup 2022, which begins in Qatar on Nov. 21.