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MLS mulling changes to playoff structure, report says

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The Athletic is reporting that MLS will move to a single-elimination tournament between the October and November international dates.

MLS: MLS Cup Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The MLS Cup playoffs could look a lot different the next time around. According a report in The Athletic, the league is seriously considering a move to a single-elimination tournament that effectively runs between the October and November international breaks and expands the post season to include seven teams from each conference. The changes could be made as soon as the December Board of Governors meeting and be implemented for the 2019 season.

The main benefit of these changes would be to allow the playoffs to run without significant interruption. For the last several years, the playoffs have required a break midway through in order to accommodate the November international date.

The biggest downside would be a season that ends in early October for teams who miss the playoffs and might not begin again until early March. The story does suggest that the league is considering the eventual possibility of pushing up the start of the regular season into February, though, which would help better prepare teams for CONCACAF Champions League. It would also likely require teams to play more midweek games during the season, although that could be mitigated by starting the season earlier after 2019.

Aside from how the regular-season would look, the biggest question is how MLS would structure a seven-team playoff bracket. The most obvious possibility would be to give the No. 1 seed in each conference a bye while the other six teams face off; the No. 1 seed would then play the lowest remaining seed with the other two teams facing off in the other conference semifinal.

Here’s how a 2019 schedule might look if these changes were adopted: Season begins in early March and ends no later than Oct. 6. The playoffs begin on Wednesday, Oct. 16 or Thursday, Oct. 17 with matches between the 2 and 7 seeds; the 3 and 6 seeds; and the 4 and 5 seed. The lowest remaining seed would play the No. 1 seed and the other two teams would play in conference semifinals the following weekend. The conference finals would then be the weekend of Oct. 26-27 and the final could be played anytime between Nov. 2-10.

By tilting early season games toward teams playing in warmer climates, the 2020 season — when Nashville and potentially Austin or Miami come on line — could potentially start in mid-February.