MLS to shorten season, move to single-elimination for 2019 playoffs

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Kevin C. Cox
More teams will qualify but the length of the MLS postseason tournament will be compressed in future seasons

MLS has announced an overhaul of its playoff system that will see more teams involved and a single-leg elimination format introduced from the 2019 season. 

Fourteen teams will make up the revised postseason field, up from 12 this year in a nod to the league's continued expansion – Los Angeles FC joined the league in 2018 and Cincinnati will compete for the first time next term. 

The top seed from each conference will get a bye in the first round and will face the winner of the clash between the fourth and fifth seeds in the conference semifinals. 

Teams will not be re-seeded based on upsets during postseason matches, as they have in the past, and the higher seed will be the host in each round, offering a greater reward for their regular-season performance. 

By eliminating two-legged matches in the conference semifinals and finals, the more streamlined bracket will fit entirely between FIFA's October and November international breaks. 

The 2019 regular season will conclude on October 6, about three weeks earlier than in 2018, with the playoffs set to start on October 19 and just ahead of the October FIFA international date, giving teams a bit of recovery time between the regular season and the start of the playoffs.  

A date of November 10 has been set for the MLS Cup, which was played on December 8 this year, leaving the entire league schedule nearly a full month shorter.  

The move, according to a league release, is partially targeted at better weather conditions for MLS Cup should it be held in a cold-weather market, where average temperatures are, according to the league, 10 to 17 degrees warmer in early November when compared to early December.  

MLS Playoff bracket

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The new format also seems likely to stick around for a while. 

The earlier end date will have MLS in line with the schedule for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, which is slated to start on November 21.  

Statistics also show that the move to single elimination will actually benefit the home sides, which have advanced nearly 64 percent of the time in single elimination matches while they have won just 55 percent of the time in the two-legged format. 

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