I've never been a big fan of the randomness of playoffs. Coming from a baseball analytic background, it never seemed fair that the playoffs are such a crap shoot after such a long regular season. I do like the drama of playoffs, and the idea that everyone has a chance; but unless your playoff system has the best teams winning more often than not, I think it's flawed.
The MLS playoffs this year were a prime example. The two best teams were eliminated in their first series. And the favored team only won two series out of eight. I've devised two options I think might address this.
The first is to keep the four vs five playoff game, but then have the final four teams in each conference play a group stage. In the group stage; the number one seed gets all its games at home, the number two gets two games at home, and so on. Every team would play one less game than Seattle had to play in the playoffs this year (assuming no one ends up tied). If a team makes MLS Cup, they would play no more games than Seattle or LA played this year. The top two from the group stage advance to the Conference final. Tie breakers are head to head, goal differential, goals scored, away goals, and if needed a tiebreak game (at the higher seeds stadium however unlikely). The only downsides I see is that the three, four and five seed would get less chances to sell playoff tickets for home games (though the third seed could actually end up with just as many). Also, you would need some sort of incentive for teams out of it in their final game to actually field a competitive team in the group stage. I would probably give allocation money for finishing third in the group. This does have the advantage for TV that there is a double header on every playoff night and there are more games to show. Here's how this year would have worked out, assuming the same teams made the playoffs and the same teams advanced.
Wednesday 10/31 Houston at Chicago
Thursday 12/1 Vancouver at LA
Saturday 11/3 Seattle at RSL & NY at DC
Sunday 11/4 LA at San Jose & Houston at KC
Wednesday 11/7 LA at Seattle & Houston at DC
Thursday 11/8 RSL at San Jose & NY at KC
Saturday 11/10 LA at RSL & Houston at NY
Sunday 11/11 Seattle at San Jose & DC at KC
Sunday 11/18 LA at Seattle & Houston at DC
Saturday 12/1 Houston at LA
The second option is probably simpler. Instead of having a home and away leg with the higher seed starting on the road, the higher seed would start at home and if they win; the series is over. If they draw or lose, the second leg is played with the same rules as now. This is probably a much bigger advantage to the higher seeds, and I'm not sure I like it as much. It has the same problem as option one where the lower seeds might not get any home playoff games. It also doesn't have the benefit of the extra TV games to sell. I still think it would be a much more fair system.
I would like to know what everyone else thinks. Are there flaws that I'm not considering?