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What does Major League Soccer (MLS) do differently than most of the footballing world? One word says it all: PLAYOFFS! Most soccer leagues around the world do not have playoffs. The season is played; the team at the top of table wins the league. This is not the case in Major League Soccer. First, there is not one table; there are two tables in this league. Since the league covers a vast amount of land in two countries, the owners thought it best to split the league in to an Eastern and Western conference. In addition, the majority of games played by each team will occur within their own conference. Reducing wear and tear throughout the season, as most teams travel by air to matches was the thought behind this. This means there is not a balance schedule.
With the two expansion franchises of New York City FC and Orlando City SC that entered the league this year, this takes the total amount of teams to 20. At the beginning of the season with the expansion of these new teams, the commissioner announced an expansion of playoff teams to 12. Yes, that is right; more than 50% of the league gets a ticket in to the playoffs. This caused much consternation amongst MLS circles. Even though fans were and still are wary of this many teams obtaining access to the playoffs, almost every team was still involved in the playoff hunt in to the last month of the season. From a business perspective that was the goal to ensure fans were engaged for as long as possible since there is no promotion or regulation.
Six teams from each conference get in to the playoffs. The top seed from each conference obtains home field advantage throughout the conference playoffs. The team with the best record overall no matter the conference has home field advantage for the MLS Cup if they make it to that point. This year that team is the New York Red Bulls. The first two seeded teams from each conference receives a bye while the third through six seeded teams compete in a one game knockout round match. The excitement is that once in the playoffs start anyone can win the cup. For most purest this does not seem fair as the team with the best record should be crown champion. In North American sports, this is the norm for over a century to have playoffs. The thinking is that if you really are the best then a team needs to play against the best with the highest pressure on them. The regular season is considered a ramp up to the playoffs and then finally to the MLS Cup match. There is not a right or wrong way to crown a champion; this is just another avenue to accomplish this.
Knockout round matches start October 28, 2015
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