Here are the problems with the MLS playoffs, in no particular order:
- Too much randomness, making the “league champion” whoever’s hottest for a few games rather than the whole season.
- Not enough advantage for the higher seed.
- The first leg of a two-leg series is often excruciating.
I’ve seen suggestions for a single-elimination tournament, but that just steps up the randomness. I’ve seen suggestions to bring back the “first-to-five” series, which means each series could be two or three games. And Brian Straus has preserved the group-stage idea he first floated at AOL in 2010.
My proposal remains: Use the Page Playoff system that works so well in curling, Australian football and a few other competitions.
In each conference:
- 1 vs. 2 — winner to final, loser to semifinal
- 3 vs. 4 — winner to semifinal, loser out
CONFERENCE SEMIFINAL: 1-2 loser vs. 3-4 winner
CONFERENCE FINAL: 1-2 winner vs. semifinal winner
Then you can have MLS Cup. Maybe it’s a single game, or maybe it’s the two-leg series I floated at The Guardian last year with one game at the higher seed’s home ground and one at a neutral site. (I’m a little less wedded to that idea in a 28-team MLS in which the schedules will be even less balanced than they are now.)
If you want to get fancy, you could mix the conferences for the conference finals — the East 1-2 winner plays the West semifinal winner and vice versa. That avoids a repeat matchup.
So you get:
- Serious incentive for every place in the top four.
- First place gets home field in the 1-2 game and gets a second chance if it loses round.
- Second place gets a second chance if it loses in the first round, and it will host either the semifinal or the final.
- Third place hosts the 3-4 game.
- Fourth place just makes the playoffs.
- A little less randomness than a straight single-elimination tournament.
- No games like the game we won’t mention from last night.
- It all goes relatively quickly. If it’s a one-leg MLS Cup, it’s four gamedays — first round, conference semis, conference finals, MLS Cup. If it’s two legs, just add one game.
So that’s solved. Next, we’ll figure out fun ways to keep the middle of the table engaged …