Major League Soccer has drafted the road map leading to Decision Day and the start of the expanded (or bloated) MLS Cup playoffs scheduled to kick off in mid-November, adding nine regular season matches to the schedule of most clubs. A few teams will require an extra game or two to compensate for earlier hiccups.
Decision Day will take place Nov. 8. At that point, each team will have played a regular season comprising 23 games, including the three group-stage contests played in July at the MLS is Back Tournament. Clubs currently have fixtures in place through this weekend, at which point most will have played 14 regular season games.
Ten teams from the 14-team Eastern Conference and eight teams from the 12-team Western Conference will qualify for the single-elimination playoffs set to start the weekend of Nov. 20-22, following the FIFA international break. The bottom four seeds in the East will contest two preliminary round playoff games to set up an eight-team bracket. Every team is still alive. The club with the worst record in the league, the 2-7-3 Chicago Fire, is a mere three points out of a playoff spot.
There will be a Supporters’ Shield winner, despite the abbreviated campaign. That team will join the MLS is Back champion Portland Timbers and the eventual MLS Cup champion in the 2021 Concacaf Champions League. No announcement has been made regarding the fourth U.S. bid (which would’ve gone to the winner of the canceled U.S. Open Cup) or what will happen if Portland or another team doubles up. The Columbus Crew (8-1-3) currently lead the Shield race by three points over the Philadelphia Union.
A Nov. 1 game between Columbus and Philadelphia will be broadcast on ABC and ESPN Deportes, MLS announced.
Decision Day will feature seven Eastern Conference matchups at 3:30 PM ET, followed by six Western Conference games at 6:30 PM ET. Although the league continued to factor in geography when setting the schedule—most games allow the visiting team to charter in and out on matchday—MLS confirmed Tuesday that no team will play the same opponent more than four times (not including MLS is Back knockout games).
Four teams—FC Dallas, Nashville SC, Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy—have rescheduled or postponed games that still need to be added. MLS said those details will be announced at a later date.
Other scheduling wrinkles include the continuation of the three Canadian clubs having U.S. home bases (because of Canadian travel restrictions). Toronto FC will play its “home” games at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn. The Montreal Impact will keep using Red Bull Arena as “home,” and the Vancouver Whitecaps will share Providence Park with the Timbers.
Toronto FC also has its Canadian Championship final against Hamilton Forge to schedule, while four MLS clubs remain involved in the yet-to-be-rescheduled 2020 CCL. Montreal, New York City FC and Atlanta United all are midway through their two-leg quarterfinal series (and all are trailing on aggregate), while Los Angeles FC has yet to kick off its quarterfinal against Cruz Azul.
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