Atlanta United celebrate winning MLS Cup


MLS Announces New Single-Elimination Playoff Format For 2019

December 17, 2018 - 4:44 pm

NEW YORK (WFAN) -- A historic MLS season just ended with Atlanta United winning their first MLS Cup, but big changes announced on Monday have already put the focus firmly on next year.

American soccer fans have long complained about the MLS Cup Playoffs being too drawn out, and as a result, poorly marketed. Any hype generated in the early rounds would dissapate after a two week break from the conference semifinals to the conference finals.  

The league announced that it will be adapting a single-elimination playoff format for 2019. The field will expand from 12 teams to 14, and only one team in each conference will get a bye. There won’t be any more two-legged rounds, and there won’t be any more two-week breaks. All the postseason action in 2019 will take place from October 19 – November 10.

The change in format means that the regular season will get underway earlier in March in order to end earlier in October. This allows for the entirety of the playoffs to be over and done with in between the two autumn FIFA international breaks that come in October and November. Playoff matches in colder climates have resulted in some poor conditions for soccer in the past, but the earlier finale will help in that department as well. 

Expansion to 14 playoff teams will make more sense as the league continues to expand, but for next season it would allow 58 percent of the league’s clubs to qualify for the postseason. FC Cincinnati will join MLS in 2019 with Nashville and Miami set to join in 2020. On December 7, commissioner Don Garber announced that Austin would also receive an expansion team in the near future.

Atlanta United were an expansion team in 2017 and went on to win the title in their second season of existence. They beat the Portland Timbers 2-0 in front of a packed Mercedes-Benz Stadium to win MLS Cup 2018.

Maybe the fresh rules will be what some perennial playoff strugglers, like the New York Red Bulls, need to reboot their postseason fortunes. NYRB were eliminated by Atlanta in the eastern conference finals, while NYCFC fell to United in the conference semifinals.