Major League Soccer will not be making changes to its playoff format in 2017, but MLS Commissioner Don Garber told reporters after his annual State of the League address on Friday that he's open to considering future changes if they are needed.
On Thursday, MLS Vice President of Competition Jeff Agoos told ESPNFC that although "the format we have now works, we're always open to improving as much as we possibly can to make it exciting for fans and fair for our clubs."
Garber elaborated on the topic with media in Toronto, where MLS Cup 2016 will be played on Saturday night (8 pm ET on FOX and UniMás in USA; TSN and RDS in Canada).
“There has been a lot of discussion about what we need to do to ensure that we are creating a playoff format that could be exciting for our fans, provide great content for our broadcast partners that will drive ratings, and that can be an incentive for teams to emphasize the regular season while also having a fair competitive format when they get into the playoffs,” Garber said.
The league's current playoff format sees 12 teams qualifying, six from each conference. The four lowest seeded playoff teams in each conference kick off the postseason in single-elimination Knockout Round matches. Those are followed by home-and-home, aggregate-goal Conference Semifinals and Conference Championship series in both the East and West, where the first tiebreaker is most away goals scored in the series. The final two teams left standing go head-to-head in a one-game MLS Cup final.
The ESPNFC story entertained other ideas for potential tiebreakers in the Conference Semis and Conference Championships, including making regular-season finish – rather than away goals – the first tiebreaker in a two-leg series.
But there are no plans to change the away-goals rule, said Garber, who noted that since the rule was instated in 2014, it has figured in only two of 12 two-leg playoff series. The Seattle Sounders advanced against FC Dallas on away goals in a 2014 Western Conference Semifinal only to lose out on away goals to the LA Galaxy in the following round.
"I'm not sure the away goal rule is a problem," Garber said. "Frankly, if you were in Toronto for that playoff game the other day [2nd leg of the Toronto-Montreal Eastern Conference Championship series], I thought it was pretty cool. We'll continue to work on it, but know that there won't be changes next year."
That said, Garber added, the league will take up possible postseason format changes if they are needed.
“Unlike some of the comments that I've read from fans, I'm not afraid to make changes,” he said. “Things change. Things happen, and you've got to evolve and pivot to ensure that you end up in the right spot."