CARSON, Calif. – A collection of Major League Soccer executives will hold talks over the next few months that could spark significant changes to the league's playoff format, including the revamping of the selection process for the MLS Cup final.
Last week, commissioner Don Garber revealed that a plan to allow the finalist with the better regular-season record to host the league's championship game was under consideration. The current system of awarding the MLS Cup final months in advance is not flawed and has served the league well up to this point. However, now that most clubs have permanent homes, potential problems such as scheduling clashes with other sports have been drastically reduced.
The Home Depot Center put on a fine show for Sunday's title game, which ended in a 3-1 victory for the Columbus Crew against the New York Red Bulls. Strong and noisy pockets of Crew and Red Bulls supporters occupied the stadium, which was announced as a sellout of 27,000 but actually had far less in attendance as many Los Angeles Galaxy fans who were given tickets as part of their season packages were no-shows.
If the "best record" system had been in place this year, the final would have been held at a packed Crew Stadium, as Columbus won the Supporter's Shield for compiling the best record over 30 games.
"I think the team with the best record getting the chance to host [the final] would be awesome," said Columbus fan Nick Felber, 24, an Ohio native who now lives in San Ramon, Calif. "This year we have the situation where both teams are from the east and we are on the West Coast.
"The weather is beautiful and it is kind of hard to complain about being here. But it would be really nice to see a scene full of fans just from Columbus and New York and not so many David Beckham jerseys. I would love to see more of a reward for what happens over the whole season."
Some logistical issues would remain if a new system was adopted. The MLS playoffs are packed into a tight schedule and there would be little time for the league and television companies to coordinate their planning under the current calendar. To help alleviate that problem, an extra week's gap between the conference finals and MLS championship game could be added.
"I don't think MLS will ever do it, but it would be awesome for us," Crew midfielder Robbie Rogers said. "I don't think there is another club, apart from maybe Toronto, that has a connection with their fans like we do.
"It would have been huge for us. You put in all that work in the regular season and you would like to see some benefit for it."
At present, the only advantage to finishing with a superior regular-season record is to host one of the single-game conference finals. The first round of the playoffs is on a home-and-away basis in order to give every playoff team at least one home game.
There is no great sense of discontent with the current method, so a change would not be unanimously popular.
"It is kind of tough to gauge," Red Bulls goalkeeper Danny Cepero said. "It is a terrific venue in L.A. I wouldn't necessarily have wanted to go to Columbus. I don't think there is a problem playing where there is no home team, as long as it is a great venue."
- Major League Soccer