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MLS mulling playoff expansion and revised format beginning in 2023, per report

Are changes in store for the league’s postseason format?

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MLS: Portland Timbers Legends-MLS Cup Trophy Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Could the MLS Cup Playoff format be headed for a shakeup in 2022?

According to The Athletic’s Sam Stejskal and Pablo Maurer, the league is set to make a change to the current 7-team per conference setup next year, which could equate to “roughly 30” postseason matches beginning in 2023 instead of the current 13. The potential move is being precipitated by St. Louis CITY SC's entry into the league and the start of a 10-year global broadcast deal with Apple TV.

One source The Athletic spoke to mentioned a possible “World Cup-style playoff tournament” in which the top 8 teams in each conference advanced to the playoffs and are then placed into groups of 4 (split by conference). After 3 group-stage matches, the top 2 from each group move to a knockout stage, also split by conference, proceeding until each conference champion met in MLS Cup. Under the current single-elimination playoff system, the top-ranked team from each conference receives a first-round bye with a total of 13 matches played including the Cup final.

There’s much more to the scenario than described above (it was reportedly “viewed favorably” by “high-ranking MLS owners and officials”), but Stejskal and Maurer lay it out in their story over at The Athletic while adding that the league’s board of governors would have to vote on the proposal next month. With St. Louis joining MLS as an expansion side and a potential 30th club probably around the corner soon, it seems it was always going to be a matter of not when, but if MLS expanded the playoff field. That being said, with the MLS regular season (34 matches), plus the U.S. Open Cup (up to 5 or 6 matches for the winner), plus Leagues Cup (as many as 7 matches for the winner), plus this hypothetical playoff format (as many as 6 matches for the winner), that’s a lot of soccer to consider. (That’s not to mention the Concacaf Champions League and a potential Club World Cup appearance.)

What are your thoughts on the World Cup-style proposal? Or is there another option you’d like to see?