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New MLS playoff format raises question marks from players and fans

For the first time in decades, a best of three playoff format has been introduced as the first round of the postseason activity.

Philadelphia Union se convierte en el tercer invitado a Semifinales de Conferencia Este
Eric CanhaUSA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

After a long 34 game MLS regular season with added US Open Cup and a demanding Leagues Cup programme for many clubs, players and officials have questioned the rationale behind the newly introduced best of three playoff format for the first round of postseason.

Starting last Saturday, 28 October and running through to 12 November, the first round of MLS 2023 season playoffs will take place with the team that prevails in the best of three series advancing to the Conference Semifinals (25/26 November), to later reach the Conference Finals (2/3 December).

Tied games in the best of three series will be resolved by a penalty shoot-out.

Vela questions format

Speaking to the media ahead of LAFC’s opening best of three game against Vancouver, club captain Carlos Vela questioned the rationale behind the new playoff format.

‘It doesn’t make sense, but it is what it is,’ shrugged Vela when asked for his take on the new format. ‘The league decided and we can only try to win the first two [games] to have time to prepare better for the next round.’

Carlos Vela, en duda para duelo de octavos de final de Leagues Cup
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Carlos VelaGary A. VasquezUSA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

The Mexican’s sentiment was echoed by LAFC goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau with the Canadian asking: ‘Does that belong in our sport? Best-of-three? Best-of-five? Best-of-seven? Home-away games, I totally understand it. We’ve seen it for years. But to start to add on and add on and add on, does that really translate to our sport? I don’t know.”

When the format was originally announced, Philadelphia Union coach Jim Curtin also offered his view on the format.

‘It’s best to have [the] regular season mean as much as possible to teams,’ Curtin claimed.

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CurtinTim NwachukwuGetty Images

‘The more you can incentivize having a good season and earning those home games, I think, the better.’

Empty seats

Many clubs were left disappointed with the attendance levels for the first round of playoff games with several thousand empty seats watching both LAFC and the Philadelphia Union in their opening games.

LAFC - Houston Dynamo: how to watch
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The MLS Cup holders take on the US Open Cup winners in the Western Conference final at BMO Stadium on Saturday.ALLISON DINNEREFE

Seattle Sounders drew 30,000 to the 68,000 capacity Lumen Field for their game against Dallas and Houston Dynamo saw 17,000 fans watch their win over Real Salt Lake with 5,000 empty seats at the 22,000 capacity Shell Energy Stadium.