I’m at the MLS Cup in Toronto, covering the game for the Associated Press. We got some news from The Don of MLS, aka Commissioner Don Garber, before the match. Here’s what he had to say:
Major League Soccer will add two playoff teams next season, expanding its postseason field to 10, and will investigate switching its schedule to align with the international calendar.
Commissioner Don Garber made the announcement at Sunday’s 15th MLS Cup game in Toronto between the Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas.
Next year’s playoff format has yet to be determined, Garber said, but the goal is to avoid a repeat of this season, when two Western Conference teams (Colorado and San Jose) met in the Eastern Conference championship. Six of the eight playoff qualifiers this year came from the West.
The league will grow to 18 teams next season when expansion franchises in Portland, Ore. and Vancouver, Canada, begin play. The season will increase from 30 to 34 games and teams will play a balanced schedule with the same number of games against each opponent.
The addition of two western teams will require moving one existing team from the Western Conference into the East. Garber said no final decision has been reached on who that will be.
A 19th team, Montreal, is set to join the league in 2012.
Aligning with the international calendar would help avoid MLS teams losing players to national team duty during breaks for World Cup qualifiers and other exhibition matches. The league suspended play for two weeks during the group stage of last summer’s World Cup in South Africa.
Garber offered few details about how MLS, whose season currently runs from March to November, could better match the global schedule, which typically runs from August to April.
“It’s way too premature for us to go into any details of what it could look like,” Garber said. “What we’re basically saying is we’re going to do the research. We’re going to do a study, we’re going to take the time to get it right. There’s no rushing.
“The bottom line is we’re telling the world we’re going to begin taking a very serious look at this whole issue and what kinds of things we need to do to determine if it makes sense for us.”
With so many teams in northern climates, Garber conceded a winter break would be necessary to avoid playing games in frigid, snowy conditions. He said Sunday’s final, one degree warmer than the coldest final in league history, was “a pretty good test” for playing later into the fall.