The Athletic: MLS considering new playoff system

Jun 29, 2022; Orlando, FL, USA;  A general view of the stadium before the start of a match featuring
Jun 29, 2022; Orlando, FL, USA; A general view of the stadium before the start of a match featuring / Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

According to Sam Stejskal and Pablo Maurer of The Athletic, MLS is considering an overhaul of its playoff system, replacing the current single-elimination system with a World Cup-style group play and knockout system.

To find more information about the specifics of the proposal, subscribe to The Athletic and support their excellent journalism. For our purposes, let's talk about the pros and cons and what this could mean for MLS and Orlando City.

With this system, 16 of the 29 (eventually 30) teams will make the playoffs, up from 14 now. That means most of the league will qualify for the postseason. In many ways, this is a good development by making success a very achievable and reachable goal for every team in the league. But an expanded field also devalues the regular season with so many teams making it in.

That lack of regular season intrigue is the biggest potential issue, from a fans perspective, with this new system. There appears to be little intrigue to the regular season outside of the Supporters' Shield. As long as a team qualifies to the field of 16, then you get to the real season and even get to host at least one playoff game.

There's also the physical considerations for the players. Between a massively expanded playoffs and the overhauled Leagues Cup, that's a ton of extra minutes on these players. With MLS's limited salary cap, it's hard to have enough depth to put out quality teams with so many games to play.

This new system would create an undeniably interesting and potentially excellent postseason set up, creating stakes but also lasting longer than the quick flash of the single elimination bracket. The increased margin of error and multiple games of the group play system is almost like playing a series in the NHL or NBA, just against several teams.

There will undoubtedly be issues, especially when teams are eliminated with group games left to play, but in theory, this could be the best way to add more meaningful playoff games and then keep the single elimination intensity after the fact.

Personally, I think I like the new proposal. I don't need more stakes in the regular season, I watch tons of regular season MLS games all the time just because I like watching the league. Adding more postseason games is like an extra dessert.

I also like adding a bit more to the postseason and giving some margin for error. I like the stakes and drama of single elimination, but a part of me wants almost less drama, giving some runway to the playoffs like in a best-of-x series in other sports.