COVID-19 Brings Major League Changes to Major League Soccer

by Tom Athron ’21

Source: Major League Soccer

Published Nov. 28th, 2020

With the scheduling issues that have arisen due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Major League Soccer, like many other professional leagues, has announced significant changes for the qualification for the 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs.

Firstly, the playoffs will be expanded from 16 to 18 teams. 8 teams from the Western Conference qualify for the first round directly, being joined by 6 from the Eastern Conference. 

Teams ranked 7th-10th in the Eastern Conference participate in a play-in round for the rights to play in the normal first round.

The league also announced that, for the first time in history, playoff qualification will now be determined by a team’s average points per game, or PPG.

Traditionally, standings in soccer are determined by the total number of points a team accumulates over the course of a season, with every team playing the same number of matches. But a disparity in the number of games played between teams led to PPG being chosen to decide the playoffs instead.

This decision came in direct response to a Coronavirus outbreak among the Colorado Rapids which forced the team to postpone a month’s worth of matches.

As of November 3rd, the Rapids have only played 16 matches, as opposed to rivals like the San Jose Earthquakes and the Vancouver Whitecaps at 21 and 22 matches, respectively.

Under the regular system, the Rapids would be in the unenviable position of needing to make up at least 6 matches before the end of the regular season in November, on top of the already scheduled matches against teams within their geographic bubble. But when it became clear that making up those matches was not going to be feasible, the league changed to a PPG metric to give teams like Colorado a better shot at qualification.

The change, made in early October, had immediate repercussions for many teams. Thanks to their PPG, Minnesota United is now guaranteed playoff qualification without playing another match. Inter Miami, on the other hand, initially dropped out of the playoff spots, although the Florida team would later secure qualification anyway.

The decision also boosted the Colorado Rapids into a playoff spot with the Rocky Mountain side now sitting 7th in the Western Conference. The Rapids later confirmed their playoff appearance after a 1-0 win over the Portland Timbers.

Questions were also asked about whether the Supporters Shield would be awarded, with MLS backpedaling on their decision not to award the trophy for most points in a season overall after fan backlash.

For reference, a list of the qualified teams for MLS Cup Playoffs is listed below:

Eastern Conference:

Philadelphia Union, Toronto FC, Orlando City SC, New York City FC, New York Red Bulls, Columbus Crew, Nashville SC, Montreal Impact, New England Revolution, Inter Miami CF.

Western Conference:

Sporting Kansas City, San Jose Earthquakes, Minnesota United, Colorado Rapids, Portland Timbers’, FC Dallas, Seattle Sounders, Los Angeles FC.

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