After years of struggling to deal with an international window during the middle of their playoffs, Major League Soccer announced drastic changes to the 2019 playoff schedule on Monday afternoon. Starting next year, MLS will wrap up the regular season on the first Sunday of October, and then take a break for FIFA’s October international window. The MLS Cup Playoffs will then commence at the conclusion of that break, on October 19, culminating on November 10th, the date of the MLS Cup final.
There’s also been a significant change to the structure of the playoffs. Next year will feature seven teams from each conference, one more than the six that have qualified in recent years. The first seed in each bracket will get a bye in the first round, with the other six teams facing off for a spot in the conference semifinals. Also gone from the playoffs are the two legged conference semifinals and finals. In 2019, all rounds of the playoffs will be single game, hosted by the higher seed.
The change in the playoffs will have a great impact on the regular season, though details of the regular season were not released along with the playoff information. But the regular season will run from March 2nd to October 6th, meaning the season will end three weeks earlier in 2019 than it did in 2018. That likely means that there will be fewer off weeks during the season, for things such as international breaks, including next summer’s Gold Cup. It could also mean an increase in regular season midweek games, which typically do not sell as well in most MLS markets as weekend games.
However, having the playoffs on either side of November international window crushed alot of the momentum built up by the early rounds of the playoffs. Now, with almost two weeks between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs, teams will be able to better promote their playoff games, and have a chance to rest and get healthy and properly prepare for their opening round games.
The November 10th end date for the season will mean that the players will have an even longer offseason than they currently do, which is longer than most leagues around the world to begin with. There has been talk of starting the season in February, but that change isn’t starting next year, but might come into play in 2020.
What do you think of the changes to the playoffs? Think that higher seeds have a better advantage now? Is going to just one game for each round a good move?