MLS tweaks 2012 play-off format
Major League Soccer announced changes to its play-off and scheduling format for the 2012 season, including how a host city is determined for the MLS Cup championship match.
The North American league, which welcomes the Montreal Impact as its 19th club next year, will feature ten teams in the Eastern Conference and nine in the Western Conference. The top five teams in each conference reach the play-offs.
The fourth and fifth teams meet in a one-game knockout round to decide which will face the conference champion in a two-game aggregate series. The winner of that series will then meet the winner of a series between the second- and third-placed squads in the conference final, which will be changed from a one-game knockout to a two-game aggregate series.
In another new twist, the MLS Cup will be hosted by the finalist qualifier that finished with the most points in the regular-season standings.
Previously the league has awarded the match to a host city, with Los Angeles serving that role in today's title match between Houston Dynamo and Los Angeles Galaxy well before LA had qualified for the championship match earlier this month.
MLS will retain a 34-match regular-season schedule for each club that starts in March and concludes in October, but expansion means dropping the home-and-away balanced schedule format of two matches against every rival.
Instead, teams will play rivals from the other conference only once in the season and meet conference rivals three times each. In the East, teams will face two conference foes only twice each.