Well we all saw this one coming. It had been hinted at late last year, but the official play-off format wasn't released until about 15 minutes ago. It's not pretty and MLS has amazingly made it so that the play-offs are both less relevant and more convoluted at the same time. It's like they try to do stuff like this!
Anyway, here's the simple breakdown:
Ten clubs will qualify for the 2011 MLS Cup Playoffs:
- The top three finishers in each conference, based on regular season points (six automatic berths)
- The next best four clubs based on regular season points, irrespective of conference (four wild cards)
- The four wild cards will play single elimination games against each other, with higher seeds hosting (1 vs. 4; 2 vs. 3). These play-in games are part of the MLS Cup Playoffs.
- After the two play-in games conclude, the lowest remaining seed will face the Supporters’ Shield winner in the Conference Semifinals; the other will face the No. 1 seed in the opposite conference from the Supporters’ Shield winner.
From there the four conference semi-finals (i.e. four teams from Western Conference and four from the Eastern conference) will play each other in a home-away series. The two Conference Champions from there will be decided in a one off game with the higher seed hosting the game at home. As usual, the MLS Cup final will be hosted at a predetermined site to be announced late.
I guess my primary reaction to this new format is one of just plain confusion. Why bother with all this? Why make it more complicated and include more teams from which a Western conference team can, once again, be included in an Eastern conference side, like the previous two seasons? It just makes no sense.
On the bright side, a move like this certainly makes the Supporters' Shield more valuable and, hopefully, more sought after by our leagues' American coaches.