Sports Illustrated’s Brian Straus is reporting that Major League Soccer officials are close to finalizing a change to playoff rules. It will allow the higher seeded team to choose whether they host the first or second leg of a series. Officials are saying that it’ll be finalized before the start of the season.
Under the current rules, which were adopted after the 2002 season, the higher seeded team travels for the first leg of a playoff series. Many have stated that the flaw in the current system allows the lower seeded team to take an early advantage when they get early home field advantage. If they win, the second match becomes a display of extreme defense. Because the lower seeded team doesn’t need to score another goal, they utilizes a 10-1-0 formation, focusing entirely on preventing shot on goal.
Would a change really have that much of an impact on the playoffs? I do not think so, as the higher seeded team will have to travel anyway. In last season’s playoffs some high seeded teams had difficulty on the road, including the eventual champions Sporting Kansas City. Either way, each team will face the other in a game away from home, so the effect could be minimal. On the other hand, if the higher seeded team chose to host the first leg they could put the series away with a big victory; although given the parody of MLS that is very unlikely.
Could this small change lead to an influx of changes to benefit higher seeded teams? The MLS Cup Playoffs fail to give any real advantage to the better seeded teams. The Wild Card Round and the MLS Cup itself are the only times where a the higher seed gets an absolute home field advantage. Apparently the MLS officials have noticed that the advantage isn’t enough, and they’re willing to make a change. It may not be enough to truly make a difference, but it’s a step in the right direction.