The big announcement at the Supporters' Summit this morning by MLS Commissioner Don Garber will be the nature of the unbalanced schedule for next year. Supporters gather at MLS Cup 2011 will learn of the 34 game schedule, which will feature more conference match-ups than out of conference. Let's take a look at what that will be comprised of:
- The Montreal Impact, MLS' 19th team, will join the Eastern Conference as that conference's 10th team.
- The Western Conference will consist of the same 9 teams.
The schedule will consist of 34 games, with 24 in conference games and 10 out of conference games. West clubs will play four clubs twice at home and once away. They will play the other four opponents once at home and twice away. The home and away groups will swap in 2013.
The West clubs will play the ten East clubs, five at home and five away. The slate will flip in 2013. That equals 9 out of conference games for the East, who will play 25 in conference games. Seven opponents three times each, and 2 opponents twice.
"We have established a fair and compelling format for the 2012 season," said MLS Executive Vice President Nelson Rodriguez. "This regular season will include more games between regional rivals and less total travel than we have seen in recent years. Because of the wide geographic distribution of MLS clubs, this structure should improve the quality of play, while continuing to give every club an equal chance of qualifying for the MLS Cup Playoffs."
When it comes to the playoffs, ten teams will qualify. The wildcard is scrapped however, and the top five point getters in each conference will be the teams that qualify. The fourth and fifth place teams in each conference will play a play in game, then the conference semi's will be a two game aggregate series. In another change from last year, the Conference final will be a two game aggregate series. The MLS Cup will be hosted by the finalist with the best regular season point total.
Still with me? The schedule will begin in March and end in October.
"The MLS Cup Playoff format in 2012 gives increased reward to clubs that fare well in the regular season and removes the possibility of clubs winning the opposite conference championship," Rodriguez said. "Having a competitively-determined site for MLS Cup is one of the most exciting improvements our Board of Governors has adopted. We believe this provides every club a tremendous incentive during our regular season and ensures a festive and boisterous setting for our championship game."
My thoughts? Now that MLS has moved from a curiosity for soccer moms into the Supporters' Age, it makes a lot of sense to locate MLS Cup in the city that has earned it through competition. Likely this means less time for MLS to get corporate partners on board, but I think MLS has come to a point where they want a product with buzz, not just novelty value. It's hard to get buzz for FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids in Toronto. It's easy to get buzz for the LA Galaxy in Los Angeles. Now with most teams playing in a soccer specific stadium, there's less risk of having the Cup hosted at an unsuitable venue. San Jose just needs to be terrible again next year, and DC can't be good again until they move to Baltimore.