MLS is considering changing its playoff structure again, according to Sam Stejskal and Pablo Maurer of The Athletic. The league is looking to expand the number of playoff games from 13 to 30. Ultimately, MLS’s plan is for the playoffs to have a World Cup-style format.
This idea of expanding the playoffs comes after the league shortened the postseason. Previously, MLS used two-legged ties with the away goals rule in place. He removed that in favor of single matches. Therefore, reducing and then expanding the competition soon after is foolish and a waste of time.
MLS must understand that it is creating match congestion in the worst way. This is disrespectful to other tournaments administered by US Soccer, CONCACAF and FIFA.
The MLS has already cut a month of league games to have its precious League Cup with Liga MX. Each league forced CONCACAF to recognize the competition, providing three spots for the CONCACAF Champions League. Meanwhile, MLS continues to ignore the US Open Cup and water down the US and Canadian men’s national team rosters.
MLS is doing too much to mess with its playoff structure. The regular season, the main part of the campaign, becomes increasingly meaningless. Perhaps this idea is trying to salvage national broadcast deals with ESPN, FOX and Univision? After all, Apple TV has all the games for the next 10 years, so what incentive is there for ESPN, FOX or Univision to spend big on MLS in 2023 and beyond?
So far, there has been no announcement of a new deal between MLS and its national broadcast partners. But MLS needs to think fast and not make that move to change the current structure of the playoffs.
The risks for the MLS when modifying the structure of the playoffs
MLS Commissioner Don Garber and the league need to understand the risks of this potential playoff expansion. This damages the game and harms the players. MLS already has too many top division teams playing in the regular season. This makes the postseason easier to secure than ever. Qualifying streaks and decline.
Other sports leagues in the United States have suffered from playoff expansion in recent years. The most discussed is in Major League Baseball, where three division winners and three wild-card teams per league qualify. In all, baseball now has 12 playoff teams. The spotlight is brighter. However, it makes division races meaningless. The Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers both won their divisions. Both lost to rivals within their division in the National League Division Series, the Philadelphia Phillies and the San Diego Padres.
Don Garber and all the owners of the league must reconsider changing the playoffs. The structure of the MLS playoffs, as it stands, is fine. Other mods run the risk of stuffing fixtures and excessive player exhaustion. Also, the increase in games could lead to more injuries and an overall drop in the quality of the league.
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