The toughest thing to digest about Major League Soccer’s announcement of its new playoff tiebreakers is the reminder that there are still nearly three months until the postseason. It seems like forever.
That said, the tweaks could make for an exciting home stretch.
More importantly, though, they account for the unbalanced schedule that came about as a result of adding a 19th team this season, the Montreal Impact. In previous seasons, head-to-head records were used as a tiebreaker. With not every team playing every other team the same amount of times, that is no more. Instead, MLS will use goals, and discipline points.
From the league’s announcement…When two or more teams are tied in the standings on points (3 points for a win, 1 point for a draw, 0 points for a loss), the following tiebreakers will be used in the sequence below, until one team ranks ahead of the other(s):
1) Goals For (See column labeled GF on www.MLSsoccer.com/standings page)
2) Goal Differential (GD)
3) Fewest Disciplinary Points (Posted here)
4) Road Goals
5) Road Goal Differential
6) Home Goals
7) Home Goal Differential
8) Coin Toss (2 teams) or Drawing of Lots (3 or more)
Let’s try to work D.C. United into this equation, currently in fourth place in the Eastern Conference with 36 points, 35 goals for and a goal differential of +8. If the season ended today, they’d host Chicago (35 points, 25 goals, +1 differential) in a one-game wild card with advancement to a conference semifinal series against Houston on the line.
But before even getting that far, it’s worth noting that in the current standings, United is level with first-place Houston -on goals (35 apiece) and three behind third-place New York (38 goals). The Dynamo, who get first place based on a superior goal total over Sporting Kansas City (35-28) – both teams have 40 points – also have a goal differential is +10; the Red Bulls are at +4. At +7, Sporting KC’s goal differential is one less than D.C. United’s (+8).
All of these statistics could come into play as the season winds down – and the league is hoping that they’ll serve as motivation for teams to continue pressing forward even when match outcomes appear determined. The tradeoff is the value of one or two games against a specific team, which could be diminished. Will MLS see more blowouts? It’s anyone’s guess, but there’s incentive to try.
Then there is the discipline situation, should goals and goal differential be the same. D.C. United currently has the second fewest discipline points in MLS (292). Houston at 305 serves to demonstrate how narrow the margins between teams are and could be.
With MLS squeezing more matches into the postseason, it’s hoping that position provides adequate advantage for the top-seeded teams when it hasn’t exactly done so in the past.
In fourth place, D.C. United’s hypothetical past to MLS Cup would require a three-day turnaround after the wild card game. The No. 1 seed instead gets a full week of normal preparation although the series itself will be decided in just five days. A mere eight days after the playoffs start, the number of teams will be whittled from 10 to four.
Here’s the example MLS used, based on the current standings:
MLS CUP PLAYOFFS EASTERN CONFERENCE WESTERN CONFERENCE
First Round Knockout: D.C. United (4) vs. Chicago Fire (5) Vancouver (4) vs. LA Galaxy (5)
Wed. Oct. 31 or Thu. Nov. 1
Conference Semifinals (1st leg): DC/CHI winner vs. Houston (1) VAN/LA winner vs. San Jose (1)
Sat. Nov. 3 or Sun. Nov. 4 New York (3) vs. Sporting KC (2) Seattle (3) vs. Real Salt Lake (2)
Conference Semifinals (2nd leg): Houston (1) vs. DC/CHI winner San Jose (1) vs. VAN/LA winner
Wed. Nov. 7 or Thu. Nov 8 Sporting KC (2) vs. New York (3) Real Salt Lake (2) vs. Seattle (3)
Conference Championship (1st leg): at team with fewer points at team with fewer points
Sat. Nov. 10 or Sun. Nov. 11
Conference Championship (2nd leg): at team with more points at team with more points
Sat. Nov. 17 or Sun. Nov. 18
MLS Cup 2012 (single game final): at team with more points
Sat. Dec. 1