Major League Soccer announced substantial changes to the schedule for the 2019 season on Monday. Notably, the regular season will fit into a shorter span of time, the playoffs will be fully single-elimination, and the season will wrap up a full month earlier than in recent years.
The regular season will kick off on the weekend of March 2, which is about a week earlier than in recent years. The final day of the regular season will be Oct. 6, which is two weeks earlier than it was this year. With the same number of regular season games, 34, this means teams will have fewer byes and/or play more midweek games.
Then, for the playoffs, the top seven teams in each conference will qualify for the playoffs, up one team from 2018, and the top seed in each conference will get a bye to the Conference semifinal round. Most notably, the rounds in the playoffs will all be single-elimination, so no more home-and-away series for the conference semifinals and conference finals, like the past several years. This means fewer teams will host games in the playoffs, and teams will play a maximum of four games to win MLS Cup, In 2018, the minimum number of games a team had to play to win MLS Cup was five.
Moving to a single-elimination set-up, and shifting the regular season back a couple weeks, means the playoffs will wrap up with MLS Cup on Nov. 10 in 2019. This year, MLS Cup took place on Dec. 8. So the playoffs will be complete next year before the November FIFA international window.
The changes are sure to lead to many discussions of the merits and demerits of the new system, and we’ll see how things go. We all know that MLS is willing to change things up, so if the new system doesn’t quite work in the end, they’ll continue to tinker. But now you can make your vacation, wedding and any other relevant offseason plans for 2019.
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