MLS commissioner Don Garber defends new MLS playoff format

Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber defended the new playoff format, explaining the changes stem from a need to ‘innovate’ and bring fans more excitement.

The new system will see the top seven teams from each conference automatically qualify to the Round One Best-of-3 series following Decision Day on October 21, while teams ranked from seventh to ninth compete in a single-elimination playoffs Wild Card match.

The winners of each Wild Card game will earn a spot in the Round One Best-of-3 series.The upcoming edition of the postseason will see up-to 24 must-win matches ahead of the 2023 MLS Cup, compared with just 12 in 2022.

“We are playing here in North America, know the importance of playoffs to drive energy in the latter part of the season, and we understand that’s not the way most of the world plays. We do have qualifications for other tournaments, but at the end of the day, we’re trying to create energy and excitement for our fans and our teams and even for our players in a postseason tournament,” he said. 

“Most recently we had the knockout tournament which really worked, but we wanted more games, you know, we had to find a formula to drive more games in a way that made sense with the FIFA window in the middle of our playoffs, with multiple new media partners that have to figure out how they’re going to schedule all those games stadium available, which at that time of the year is not entirely under our control. We’re really excited about it.”

The new format was announced just days ahead of the 2023 Major League Soccer campaign, causing mass confusion for clubs and fans. But Garber explained it “took a long time” to develop the schedule and have it approved by the necessary league personnel.

“First of all, it takes time to change formats, right? And, and as you all know, we have been working on trying to find the right format for a really long time,” added Garber.

“And it took time for us to settle on the new format. We’ve got the support of our Chief Soccer Officers, coaches, our technical people, our product strategy committee that by the way, just met last week and approved the new format, so, you know, in a world where, you know, you’d like to have the same format for the rest of time, I am intrigued by innovation and look at what the NBA is talking about with the play in tournament.”

The commissioner later revealed that this format is subject to change in the future if it doesn’t work. 

“So I’m not married to it, you know, the past, I want to get it right, and if this works, we’ll have it forever and it doesn’t work. We’ll continue to evolve it. I’m excited about it,” he concluded. 

The 2023 MLS campaign kicks off on Saturday, February 25.