A balanced schedule and a change in the Western Conference Championship format highlight Major League Soccer's competition format for the 2012 regular season and MLS Cup Playoffs.
Also, beginning next season, the MLS championship game will be hosted by the team with the most points in the standings. The addition of a 19th team, the Montreal Impact, had consequences on scheduling.
"We have established a fair and compelling format for the 2012 season," said MLS Executive Vice President Nelson Rodriguez. "This regular season will include more games between regional rivals and less total travel than we have seen in recent years. Because of the wide geographic distribution of MLS clubs, this structure should improve the quality of play, while continuing to give every club an equal chance of qualifying for the MLS Cup Playoffs."
As released by MLS, here are the competitive guidelines for 2012:
Each of the 19 MLS clubs will play 34 games, 17 at home and 17 away.
All clubs will play an equal schedule within their respective conference.
Western Conference: 24 in-conference plus 10 out-of-conference games — Western Conference clubs will play each West opponent 3 times (24 games); West clubs will play four conference opponents twice at home and once away; They will play the other four conference opponents once at home and twice away. (The home and away games will be reversed in 2013.)
Western Conference clubs will play each East opponent once each (10 games): Five of these will be at home and five will be away. (The East opponents each team faces at home and away will be reversed in 2013.)
Eastern Conference: 25 in-conference plus nine out-of-conference games — Eastern Conference clubs will play 25 games against other East clubs; East teams will play seven conference opponents three times each (21 games) and two conference opponents twice each (four games).
Eastern Conference clubs will play each West opponent once each (nine games) — Some will play four at home and five away while others will play five at home and four away. (The West opponents each team faces at home and away will be reversed in 2013.)
MLS CUP PLAYOFFS:
Ten clubs will qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs – the top five in points from each conference at the end of the regular season.
The fourth- and fifth- place teams will play a single knockout game, the winner of which will advance to the Conference Semifinals and face the first-place team in the conference.
The Conference Semifinals will be decided by a two-game, aggregate-goal format (same as 2011).
The Conference Championships will be decided by a two-game, aggregate-goal format (change from recent years).
MLS Cup will be hosted by the finalist that finished the regular season with the most points in the standings.
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