The 2020 MLS Season was suspended after just two match days due to the coronavirus crisis. And of course, there’s no clear timeline for a restart. With so little of the season played, it would be easier to cancel the MLS season than some European campaigns that were suspended on the home straits, with silverware in the balance. But... there are a few unique ways in which MLS could meaningfully conclude what it has already started.
Firstly, if there is a scenario where play is able to start sometime in July—perhaps behind closed doors—then the league could be shortened to just 12 matches. Every team plays every other team in their conference, which would take us to early October with one game per week being played. Then, the playoffs could take place as normal. Not only would this truncated season suit the timeline, but it would mean less long-distance travel and expense for all teams involved.
But, if the COVID-19 pandemic pushes play to much later in the year, MLS could try something very creative: a tournament format, with round-robin groups and a knockout stage, like the UEFA Champions League or the World Cup. The 26 teams could be drawn into six groups (four groups of four and two groups of five). The top two teams from each group and the four best third-place finishers would then progress to the round of 16 and the knockout phase.
This is essentially the exact format of Euro 2016, and the proposed Euro 2021. The Euros are squeezed into one month, so MLS would likely have a window to fit this in before the 2021 season starts. And if time allows, the knockout stages could be increased to two legs, like the UEFA Champions League, and the tournament could run for two months or longer.
With its countdown clocks, lack of ties and halfway line shootouts, MLS was founded on a spirit of innovation. In its 25th season, under extraordinary circumstances, it feels right that the American top-flight should embrace its innovative roots once again.
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