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MLS set to expand playoffs in 2015

With two teams joining the league next season, the league will add a playoff spot in each conference.

If you’re the kind of MLS fan that bemoans the current MLS playoff structure, SI’s Brian Straus has some news you may not welcome:

Major League Soccer’s playoff format will change again in 2015, when 12 teams will vie for the MLS Cup trophy rather than the current 10. An announcement could come as early as next week, according to a source with knowledge of the decision.

Basically, MLS is moving to a NFL-style playoff format. The top two seeds in each conference would get a bye. Meanwhile, the third-seed team plays the sixth-seed, whilst the fourth- and fifth-seeds play each other in a single-game knockout. Both the conference semifinals and finals would remain a two-legged aggregate goal series. The twist is that the conference semis get reseeded to make sure the top seed plays the lowest surviving knockout round team.

How would that have looked this year? In the East, instead of playing the Revolution, the Columbus Crew would’ve played the Philadelphia Union, while the Red Bulls and Sporting Kansas City would’ve played each other. Assuming the Crew beat the Union, they would’ve then played New England while DC played New York.

In the West, the Timbers would’ve qualified, playing Real Salt Lake in the knockout round. Had Portland won, they would’ve then faced the Seattle Sounders as the lowest-remaining seed, while LA would’ve faced off against Dallas.

Why is the league adding playoff teams? It seems simple: with two teams joining next year, another two in 2017 (assuming LAFC stays on track) and possibly two more in 2019-2020 (to bring the league to its stated goal of 24 teams), the league thought it necessary to expand the playoffs.

While the playoff qualification rate climbs to 60 percent, by the time the league reaches 24 teams, it’ll have gone down to 50 percent. That compares with 53.3 percent in the NBA and NHL, 37.5 percent in the NFL, and 33.3 percent in baseball.