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MLS: Why the Current Playoff System Has to Change

Peter Galindo@@GalindoPWFeatured ColumnistNovember 25, 2015

Portland Timbers celebrate during the second half of the first leg of the MLS soccer Western Conference championship against FC Dallas in Portland, Ore., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015. Portland won 3-1. (AP Photo/Steve Dipaola)
Steve Dipaola/Associated Press

The MLS playoffs resumed last Sunday after a two-week break and, due to the international window, the postseason was lost in the shuffle.

Abruptly pausing during the playoffs is probably why the buzz faded, and it's one of many reasons why the current MLS playoff system has to change.

Kurtis W. Larson @KurtLarSUN

I've forgotten the MLS season is still going on. This has to change.

The conference finals were exciting, but both FC Dallas and the New York Red Bulls looked very rusty. They were the two best teams in the regular season, yet they both have to overcome two-goal deficits in the return legs.

Dallas and New York each played 34 regular-season games to claim the top seeds in their conferences. Their rewards consist of starting a two-legged series on the road with an away-goals tiebreaker.

Using this rule is absurd in a seeded tournament. The home team has to be more careful because goals are almost twice as valuable for the road side.

Even some European clubs want to abolish this method in the UEFA Champions League, where there's no numerical seeding in the knockout stage.

It was introduced to encourage the away teams to attack, but it's just made the matches more cautious and tedious.

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Grant Wahl @GrantWahl

A reminder that away goals are the first tiebreaker in 2-leg MLS playoffs. Kind of ridiculous in a seeded tournament.

MLS began enforcing the rule in 2014. An average of 2.76 goals per game were scored during the two-legged series in the playoffs that year. There's been 2.3 per match this season. In 2013, there were 2.84.

Using away goals demeans the regular season. It rewards lower seeds that recorded fewer points across a 34-game campaign.

Two-legged rounds must also be scrapped. They kill momentum for the teams because the international break coincides with the playoffs.

Playing in Columbus or Kansas City in November and December is not ideal, either.

Removing the extra legs would allow the season to finish one week before the international break in November. This means players get extra vacation time and can stay in sync throughout the postseason.

This also adds more meaning to the regular season. Because the top seeds would have home-field advantage, it gives the other teams more incentive to finish higher in the standings.

The league may want two legs because it allows it to broadcast more games on national television. However, ratings have declined in 2015 compared to 2014, per Soccer America's Paul Kennedy:

Paul Kennedy @pkedit

MLS Conf. finals, Game 1 viewers: '15: ESPN: CLB-NY, 278K FS1: POR-DAL, 211K. h/t: @SportsTVRatings '14: ESPN: LA-SEA, 365K NBC: NY-NE, 550K

MLS is competing with the NFL on Sundays as well. Moving playoff games to Saturdays cannot work because college football rules the airwaves, which Jonathan Tannenwald of Philly.com pointed out:

Jonathan Tannenwald @thegoalkeeper

If you want to go head to head with college football, you’ll be on Fox Sports 2 and ESPNews. You want that? https://t.co/IzSco9gzSp

All the more reason why single-game knockout rounds have to be considered.

Sudden-death matches add drama, which leads to more eyeballs. Plus, if the playoffs finish earlier, MLS avoids clashing with the NFL when its teams are jockeying for postseason positioning.

The opening round of this year's playoffs were incredible for many reasons, and this was no coincidence.

The 11-round penalty shootout between the Portland Timbers and Sporting Kansas City was insanity and is one of the most memorable moments of the playoffs.

The Seattle Sounders' victory over the LA Galaxy was as crazy as it was entertaining. That match finished 3-2. All it was missing was the extraordinary penalty shootout.

Juan Agudelo's bicycle kick, Jermaine Jones' outburst, Toronto FC's capitulation and the Montreal Impact's dominance are other storylines that MLS fans won't forget for a long time. 

MLS has the ability to produce more of these memories. All it has to do is reconsider its current layout for the playoffs.

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