I get that MLS is trying to get more eyeballs on its product. It's a growing league, after all, and the best way to grow that is to increase interest in its most marquee event, the MLS Cup playoffs.
But there's "trying to increase interest", and then there's...whatever this is. According to this article in The Athletic ($), MLS wants to not just change the playoffs around the edges, but give them a wholesale overhaul. "Highlights" of this plan include:
- Increasing the number of teams in each conference that make the playoffs, from the current seven to eight. For the math nerds, that means that as of next year, 55% of the teams in MLS will make the playoffs (when team 30 is added, that percentage drops to 53%).
- Changing the format from either the current single-elimination, or the previous years' mix of single elimination and home-and-away, to a World Cup style knockout tournament, with a group stage where four groups of four teams each (two groups per conference) would play each other once, followed by a single-elimination conference knockout stage featuring four teams (the top two teams from each group). This would produce a Conference Championship game that would then send one team from each conference to the MLS Cup Final.
This tournament would take place after the regular season ends, obviously, and would feature group stage matches every night for two weeks or so. It would also dramatically increase the workload of players. Next year, there will be MLS, the US Open Cup, CONCACAF Gold Cup (for some players), the Leagues Cup (for which MLS is actually shutting down for a couple weeks), and now this. Many MLS players would be pushing 60 games a season if this playoff change were to become reality.
Playoffs, while not unique to MLS, are definitely not the norm in world soccer, and even given that I think that the current system works pretty well. And adding workload to athletes isn't generally a good thing - sure, it gives us more to watch, but it also has an effect on quality of play, and may have a longer-term impact on career duration for the players, who are being asked to do more and more every year.
I'm not necessarily an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" person, but I really don't see the need to force the MLS Cup playoffs to be like the World Cup. If the goal is to, in their words, "increase inventory" of playoff games, why not, as the Athletic article suggests, expand to eight teams/conference and reinstate the home-and-away format? Boom, you've just doubled the amount of games in your playoffs, and also made it easier to understand the status of the playoffs at a glance while they're in progress.
To be clear: I like playoffs! They're fun, and I think MLS is a better league for having them than if they went to a straight points-based champion like a lot of the bigger leagues. I just don't like this idea.
Playoffs don't crown the best team in the league over a whole season as much as they find the best team in the last month of the season, but they're still entertaining and stressful and exciting, and I think they have a place in MLS. I just...do not like the idea that "playoffs" has to equal "World Cup format".
It just seems like, in this case, change for change's sake is dumb and won't be a change that makes a positive difference in MLS, and I hope this proposal doesn't actually come to fruition. But it almost certainly will, because, y'know, that's how money works.