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How MLS Should Resume After COVID-19

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I have a plan for this

MLS: Montreal Impact at FC Dallas Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

I’m sure everyone’s been flooded with COVID-19 information and updates, so I’m not going to add anything here. However, because of the uncertainty and how quickly things have been changing in a matter of hours, I want to have a proposal ready in case MLS can’t go a full-season. I know there were talks of getting the Finals in December, but I can’t imagine any of our northern friends too excited about that.

Whenever MLS does come back and needs to get things up and running in a pinch, let me propose this solution that’ll have something for all fans alike and make sure each team gets maximum attendance: MLS Champions League.

Here’s how it will work:

32 teams will participate in this tournament style competition. “Hey dummy” - you might be thinking - “there are only 26 teams in MLS!” You see, you’ve I’ve thought that through too. When I said “all fans” - I meant it. Because a tournament style competition requires a certain number of teams for it to even out nicely, we’re going to have to get a few teams from USL Championship. Oh yes, I’m talking about a temporary Pro/Rel here. Well, all Pro for this season.

(For those who are not aware Pro/Rel refers to Promotion/Relegation that is often used overseas to “promote” teams from lower leagues into the top league, and to “relegate” the Cleveland Browns of sports to a lower league.)

“OK Jason - you have my attention, but how do we select the six teams from USL-C to join in?”

I am so glad you asked! Because there’s a myriad of legitimate possibilities here, and because this is just a temporary one-off situation, I’m proposing the simplest of solutions: Top 3 of each conference from regular season play in 2019.

So that means Phoenix, Reno and Fresno from the Western Conference and Pittsburg, Indy and Louisville from the East. (Nashville doesn’t count because... well, you know, they’re a Major League soccer team now.)

Because Miami and Nashville are the two expansion teams, I’m going to lump them with the USL-C teams into one pot. Each team in this pot will be randomly drawn into a group to ensure that no group gets more than two USL-C or expansion teams in their group.

The rest of the MLS teams will be drawn into eight groups at random. There’s no other seeding or pot or anything. Just a random set of ping pong balls that determine your fate. Eight groups that we’ll just conveniently call “Group A, Group B, Group C” and so forth.

Group Play:

This is where the games will mirror the Champions League: each team will play the other team twice in a home-away situation. That gives us a total of 6 games for each team to be played out over 6 weeks.

3 points for the win. 1 point for a draw.

At week 6, each group will play at the same time to eliminate any kind of gamesmanship and recreate “Decision Day”.

Hypothetically, the target return date is May 10 - using that date, we’ll give all teams one week to get ready with the first set of games to start on May 16 and 17. Six weeks will then put the group play in action until June 20 and 21st.

Second Round:

The top two teams with the most points from their group play will advance to the second round. The top team from each group gets put into one put and the rest will get put into another. This should, in theory, give each team the incentive to go for the maximum points in group play.

The top team from each group will be randomly drawn to face the second place team in the other pot.

All teams are given a bye week to regroup before play a home-away series. We’ll go with the aggregate score system, so the team that scores the most goals after two games advances. I haven’t given too much thought about the “away goals” tie-breaker rule, so I’m just going to leave it out. The powers that be can decide that.

The Second Round play begins July 4 & 5, and will end July 11 & 12.

Quarter Finals:

Same deal as the start of the Second Group. The final eight teams will be randomly drawn into another pairing for another home-away series.

No bye given for this round. Games played July 17 & 18 and ends July 24 & 25.

Aggregate goals determine the winner.

Semi-Finals:

You get the idea now. Winners from previous round are again paired together by random draw.

This time there will be a bye week given, so games will be played the weekend of August 7 & 8, and end of the weekend of August 14 & 15.

Aggregate goals will also determine the winner.

Final:

To be played at a neutral site determined by the weather. I proposed a start date according to the MLS anticipated schedule, but who actually knows? If it is August-ish, then you definitely want to play somewhere north like Minnesota or Columbus.

If this tournament started later, like August and ended in November, then you can go with Miami or LA or somewhere with a more temperate weather.

One game to decide the winner.

The benefits here is the flexibility of the schedule. You can start this at any point and end it quickly if the season starts late. You also get 6 USL teams to participate, adding drama and fueling neutrals’ to be interested too. Because it’s a tournament style format, the hope is that it’ll drive up attendance since every home game is a big, big tournament game.

There are some significant downsides here, since would effectively could end the season for half the teams after three home games. The revenue loss there would be difficult to swallow. I also wouldn’t know how to handle the logistics of the fans who purchased season tickets to only get 3 more home games to attend.

I am not proposing this as the way to go, but rather just another option to inject some fun to a weird, weird season and a way to get some games in while keeping things interesting.

What do you think? Would you be interested in seeing this happen?