Soccer: MLS changes playoff format, schedules for 2012
Major League Soccer has tweaked the season schedules for the 2012 season as well as the format of the MLS Cup.
Real Salt Lake general manager Garth Lagerwey called the unbalanced schedule for next year's 19-team league practical.
As far as a new playoff format that calls for a home-and-home series for the Western Conference Championship instead of the one-game winner-take-all format in which RSL wound up losing to the L.A. Galaxy, "We knew what the rules were at the beginning of the season," Lagerwey said. "That kind of stuff is what it is."
The addition of the Montreal Impact gives the Eastern Conference a 10th team. The Western Conference, home of RSL, remains with nine.
Of the 34-game schedule, Western Conference clubs will play each West opponent three times, for 24 games. Four West teams will play four conference opponents twice at home and once away. The other four West clubs will have one home conference game and two away.
The home and away games will be reversed in 2013. Western Conference clubs will play each East opponent once each, for 10 games.
"The new schedule does a good job reducing travel," Lagerwey said. "It's good if you want to succeed in all competitions.
"In effect, it creates two leagues. Having two-thirds of your games against Dallas, Los Angeles and Colorado is not a lot of fun."
With the 34-game MLS schedule, coupled with CONCACAF and Open Cup matches, RSL could play as many as 50 games in 2012.
MLS had considered a schedule that would have every team play one another twice, home and away.
"That would have been just ruinous," Lagerwey said. "We'd be looking at [traveling] more than 50,000 miles."
Teams 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, the same as 2011. The conference championships will also be decided by a two-game, aggregate-goal format, and the MLS Cup will be hosted by the finalist that finished the regular season with the most points in the standings.