Sounders Insider

Ten team playoffs in 2012, but no wild cards

MLS announced a new format for its postseason, starting next year. The highlights are that the top five teams from each conference get in, and there are no wild cards. Also, MLS Cup will be played at the home field of the higher-ranked finalist.

Here is the release from MLS:

The MLS Cup Playoffs and the league's grand finale are getting new looks in 2012. The MLS Cup final will no longer be a neutral-site game, according to a plan approved on Saturday by the league’s Board of Governors. Instead, the league’s championship match will be played at the home venue of the participating team with a higher regular-season point total. That effectively brings an end to the system of rotating the MLS Cup final to different venues around the league, as MLS has done since its inaugural 1996 season. The playoff format itself will also get a tweak. As in 2011, the playoff field will remain 10 teams. However, the top five teams in each conference will qualify for the postseason without wild card spots. The No. 4 team in each conference will then host the No. 5 team in its conference in a single-elimination game for the right to face its respective conference’s top seed in the Conference Semifinals. The Conference Championships will shift to two-leg series instead of a single game, as they have been since 2003. “The MLS Cup Playoff format in 2012 gives increased reward to clubs that fare well in the regular season and removes the possibility of clubs winning the opposite conference championship,” said MLS executive vice president Nelso Rodriguez in a statement. “Having a competitively determined site for MLS Cup is one of the most exciting improvements our Board of Governors has adopted. We believe this provides every club a tremendous incentive during our regular season and ensures a festive and boisterous setting for our championship game.”

Reaction: Good moves. I'm not a fan of the unbalanced schedule, but going to one at least provides some basis for conferences. The two-game conference finals could help deliver more deserving finalists to the MLS Cup. And home-field advantage for MLS Cup should provide more of a reward for the higher seed, but also a more passionate in-stadium atmosphere for the final.