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Could Sounders end up playing on Thanksgiving?

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MLS has scheduled a playoff game for Thanksgiving for the first time ever.

Use cautious before touching the trophy
Use cautious before touching the trophy
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

MLS released its tentative 2021 playoff schedule on Thursday with a notable change. For the first time ever, the league intends to play a game on Thanksgiving Day.

At least one reporter suggested the league is hoping that the Seattle Sounders will be the team to fill that holiday timeslot, which is scheduled to air on Fox directly opposite the Dallas Cowboys game on CBS, with the Bears-Lions game as a lead-in. Regardless of what Fox and MLS want, however, the hosting team for that game will likely be one of the two teams who finish atop their conferences during the regular season, as those teams will have two weeks of added lead time to sell tickets.

The bet Fox and MLS are making is that the broadcast TV time slot will result in better ratings than putting it on FS1 on a different day.

The downside will almost certainly be that home-market fans will be annoyed about having to change their holiday plans on relatively short notice and, as a result, fewer of them will likely show up in person than would have otherwise attended.

The Seahawks have home games on Nov. 21 and Dec. 5, which does create some potential scheduling conflicts.

While plans to play the first-ever MLS Thanksgiving Day game are going to get the attention, the playoff schedule is also baking in some competitive issues that are possibly even more frustrating. Similar to 2019 when this single-elimination format was first unveiled, the regular-season conference winners will end up going about three weeks between matches. Decision Day is on Nov. 7 and the Round One playoff games don’t start until Nov. 20, in order to accommodate the FIFA window that runs Nov. 8-16.

Rather than holding all six Round One playoff games on the weekend, though, two of them are being pushed out to Nov. 23.

The conference finals are spread out even more awkwardly, with one game scheduled for Nov. 25, two on Nov. 28 and one on Nov. 30. The winner of that Tuesday game will then be expected to play in the conference finals on Dec. 4-5, likely on several days’ less rest than their opponent.

All of this appears to be designed to accommodate TV considerations and most specifically Fox, who coincidentally have all the awkwardly scheduled dates.

2021 MLS Cup Playoffs Schedule

Round One (Six Games)

(The No. 1 Eastern Conference seed and the No. 1 Western Conference seed will have a Round One bye. The No. 2 seed will host the No. 7 seed, the No. 3 seed will host the No. 6 seed, and the No. 4 seed will host the No. 5 seed)

Saturday, Nov. 20 Doubleheader

9 AM PT (Univision and TUDN / local English-language broadcast / TSN / TVA Sports)

Noon PT (Univision and TUDN / local English-language broadcast / TSN / TVA Sports)

Sunday, Nov. 21 Doubleheader

Noon PT (ABC / ESPN Deportes / TSN / TVA Sports)

2:30 PM PT (ESPN / ESPN Deportes / TSN / TVA Sports)

Tuesday, Nov. 23 Doubleheader

TBD (FS1 / FOX Deportes / TSN / TVA Sports)

TBD (FS1 / FOX Deportes / TSN / TVA Sports)

Conference Semifinals (Four Games)

(The No. 1 seed will play the winner of No. 4 vs. No. 5. The winner of No. 2 vs. No. 7 will play the winner of No. 3 vs. No. 6, with the higher-seeded club hosting)

Thursday, Nov. 25 (Thanksgiving Day)

1:30 PM PT (FOX / FOX Deportes / TSN / TVA Sports)

Sunday, Nov. 28 Doubleheader

Noon PT (ABC / ESPN Deportes / TSN / TVA Sports)

2:30 PM PT (ESPN / ESPN Deportes / TSN / TVA Sports)

Tuesday, Nov. 30

TBD (FS1 / FOX Deportes / TSN / TVA Sports)

Conference Finals (Two Games)

Saturday, Dec. 4

TBD (FS1 / FOX Deportes TSN / TVA Sports)

Sunday, Dec. 5

Noon, PT (ABC, ESPN Deportes / TSN / TVA Sports)

MLS Cup (One Game)

Saturday, Dec. 11

Noon, PT (ABC / UniMás and TUDN / TSN / TVA Sports)