New York, New York (December 17, 2018) — The MLS Cup Playoffs will look a bit different next season.
The league announced on Monday that beginning in 2019, the postseason will now consist of a completely single-elimination format. More teams will also take part, with the playoffs expanding to 14 teams.
▪️ Single-game rounds
▪️ All between Oct/Nov FIFA breaks
▪️ Rewards regular-season success
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) December 17, 2018
MLS Cup Playoffs Expanding to 14 Teams Starting in 2019
The new format emphasizes excelling during the regular season, with the team who finishes with the best record in each conference receiving a first-round bye. In addition to getting rid of two-leg rounds, reseeding will also be eliminated.
The following visual represents how the postseason will work moving forward.
The move ensures that the playoffs will end before the November FIFA international break. The first games will take place on October 19 while MLS Cup will occur on November 10. This allays concerns that the previous format left too much time between rounds by trying to work around that November FIFA date.
The 2018 edition of MLS Cup, won by Atlanta United who defeated the Portland Timbers, was played on December 8. That was over a month after the conclusion of the regular season on October 28. Next year, Decision Day will take place on October 6. That will necessitate the regular season becoming more compact given it will still begin in early March.
This is the first change to the playoff format since 2015. Back then, the league expanded the postseason to 12 teams from ten, adding a second knockout round game. It’ll be the first time in league history that each round of the playoffs will be single-elimination.
The tweak should add drama. After all, there have been quite a few highly entertaining knockout round ties over the past few years. It included Columbus Crew SC eliminating Atlanta and D.C. United via penalties in 2017 and 2018 respectively. And who could forget the epic matchup between Portland and Sporting KC in 2015 that culminated in an 11-round P.K. shootout?
There’s certainly the potential for more of those kinds of down to the wire matchups with one-and-done now part of the entirety of the playoffs.