Major League Soccer revealed the playoff format for the 2011 season on Wednesday. A few interesting new changes are in store this year for American soccer fans.
Most importantly, a total of ten teams will now qualify for the postseason instead of eight teams in previous years. Of course, two new teams have also entered the league this year, namely the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
The top three teams from each conference will qualify for the playoffs, followed by the next four best teams in the overall standings, regardless of conference. These four teams will be known as "Wild Cards." The seventh-seeded team will host the tenth-seeded team and the eighth-seeded club will host the ninth-seeded team in one-off, do or die playoff games to earn spots in the quarterfinals.
The Supporters' Shield winner will then face off against the lowest remaining seed in the quarterfinals. This change gives even more incentive for clubs to vie for the top overall regular season record, aside from just a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League. The second-lowest remaining seed will face the other, non-Supporters' Shield winning team in another quarterfinal matchup. More info can be found after the jump.
The second- and third-seeded teams from each conference will also face off against each other in the other two quarterfinals. The semifinals, which will still act as Conference Championships, are one-off games, as is the MLS Cup Final. A host site still has not been determined for that game.
The new format means that two Eastern Conference teams cannot face off against each other for the Western Conference championship, or vice versa. Each conference championship game is guaranteed to have at least one participant from its own conference.
However, the chance is still left open that a team could end up winning the championship game of the conference that it doesn't belong to, just as in 2010 with Colorado and in 2009 with Real Salt Lake each winning the East, and in 2008 when the New York Red Bulls were crowned Western Conference champs.