The What If Game: If MLS Did Away With Conference Playoff Brackets

The What If Game: If MLS Did Away With Conference Playoff Brackets

  • Posted by Drew Epperley
  • On September 14, 2011
  • 2011 MLS Playoffs, 2011 MLS Season, Features, What If

I’ve been sitting on this thought for some time now. We all know the new MLS playoff system is a ten-team deal with wild card games and the whole shebang. We know the advantages right now of some teams in the wild card zone playing in the Eastern Conference bracket instead of the Western Conference bracket. We got it.

MLS tried to re-do things this year to make sure they wouldn’t have a team from the West winning the East. They tried but let’s be fair, its likely to happen again with the way things are shaping up here. With the top five clubs in the league being in the Western Conference, the likelihood of a team from the West winning the East is pretty good again this season.

It makes me think “what if” though. What if MLS had this ten-team playoff system but with no conference alignments. What if the playoff system was a 1 v. 7/10 and so on and so forth? What if?

Take a look at the standings right now. Under the current system we’ll likely have a matchup of either the Seattle Sounders and FC Dallas or Seattle and Real Salt Lake in the semifinal round of the playoffs. No other league in the world would have that kind of a match up in the first non-wild card round of a playoff. A #2 v. # 3 should never happen that early in the playoffs unless it is just a four team playoff.

In a more logical world the playoffs would look a little more like this:

(Note: using the current standings…this is not a forecast of how the final 10 will end up being!)

Wild card round:

No. 7 Columbus Crew vs. No. 10 DC United (winner plays Supporter’s Shield winner)

No. 8 Philadelphia Union vs. No. 9 Houston Dynamo (winner plays Supporter’s Shield runner-up)


No. 1 Los Angeles Galaxy vs. No.7 Columbus Crew/No. 10 DC United

No. 2 Seattle Sounders vs. No. 8 Philadelphia Union/No. 9 Houston Dynamo

No. 3 FC Dallas vs. No. 6 Sporting Kansas City

No. 4 Real Salt Lake vs. No. 5 Colorado Rapids


No. 1 / No 7/10 winner vs. No. 4/5 winner

No. 2 /No 8/9 winner vs. No. 3/6 winner

MLS Cup:

Two semifinal winners

Now you could even go the NHL route and have the seeds re-ordered after the wild card round should the number nine seed beat the eight seed and the seven seed beat the 10 seed. That way the Supporter’s Shield winner gets the lowest seeded team left. You know a little reward for their regular season title.

Obviously this is all hypothetical. MLS constantly tinkers with their playoff system and will eventually “get there”. It is just s shame each season we see a low seeded team go all the way or that we get a early round match up of two of the top three teams in the league.

I’ve seen plenty of solid ideas out there for a better playoff system and I’m not saying this one is would be perfect for the league. I still believe 10 teams in a potential 20-team league is a couple too many but at least we can say the wild card race this season is making it worth paying attention to since more clubs are involved.

What kind of playoff system makes sense to you? We know MLS is sticking with playoffs here to crown their champion each season so what type of system works for you?

  • Jeremy Wright

    The more MLS can reward the SS winner the better.  I think single table as you have above with re-seeding to allow the SS winner to get the lowest seed out there is the right approach.  I simply don’t understand obsession with conferences.  The Don says it give clubs and players a chance to win something other than the title.  Thats nonsense.  Have you watched the silly celebrations for those conference championships.  The players are embarassed – they only care about MLS Cup.

    Finally 10 playoff teams in a 20 team league feels about right. Although it’s on the high side in comparison to say the NFL (12 teams out of 32)

  • Byob

    Once MLS hits 20 they will pause and use 1 through 10 playoffs. They should,or even next year at 19 teams. In reality I do not know what they are thinking, they kill us FANS and our soccer love for MLS. Just try the top ten, no conferences,supporters shield hosts the cup make it or not. IF THE LEAGUE EXPANDS OVER 22 TEAMS,OR EVEN 20 THEN MAKE TWO DIVISIONS,NOT EAST OR WEST STYLE. FOR NOW, Single table,top 8 or  10, supporter shield hosts the cup no matter what and give them more cash. Honestly MLS needs more than 20 teams to keep soccer alive, and eventually MLS CUP will be a superbowl for soccer fans,but we need more teams for MLS CUP to be huge. The NBA finals,Superbowl,MLB, NHL championship game is HUGE because 32 teams are after the same prize. In the MLS we need more teams, then we still got Champions,Open Cup,MLS CUP and just add a league cup.

  • SoundersFCforlife

    I think
    East and West conferences in a soccer league is just plain silly. It’s just a carryover
    from American baseball where the whole point is to win the pennant, and then
    maybe go on to win the world series. Just because MLS is from the U.S. doesn’t
    mean we have to copy the other U.S. sports. Let’s be true to football (the
    original football) and have playoffs that make more sense. In MLS all of the
    teams play each other anyway, so let’s take the top 8, forget the wildcard, and
    have a traditional playoff. I’m sure some of the carryover from the other
    sports into MLS is to try to connect to traditionally non-soccer fans to get
    more viewers, but let’s not stray too far. At least I’m not arguing to get rid
    of the playoffs altogether, which will still provide some “grand finale”
    excitement. What will ultimately help U.S. soccer to grow is for the teams to
    get better and better and attempting to play the best overall season (and not
    just slide in as a wildcard contender) is the best test for a team. Also, why
    not have relegation like most other leagues? This will put more pressure on all
    teams to perform, but particularly on the lowest performers and will allow
    lower division teams to work their way up and prove themselves in 1st
    division…..Maybe I’m too much of a traditionalist, I’m just saying let’s not
    reinvent the wheel–at least not too much…