The playoffs and MLS Cup final are being completely revamped in 2012.
Instead of rotating the MLS Cup between different cities, starting in 2012, the MLS Cup final will be played at the home venue of the participating team with a higher regular-season point total. No more neutral fields, which is something that the MLS has done since 1996.
As we saw in the Galaxy v Houston final on Sunday, playing in front of your home field is a huge advantage for a team, and will increase the importance of the Supporters Shield.
The playoff format itself is also getting changed. As in 2011, the playoff field will remain 10 teams. However, the top five teams in each conference will qualify for the postseason without wild card spots. This format, without any wild cards will make it easier for the occasional soccer fan to look at the standings and understand what is going on.
Similar to the NFL format, the No. 4 team in each conference will then host the No. 5 team in its conference in a single-elimination game for the right to face its respective conference’s top seed in the Conference Semifinals.
Finally instead of a single-game Conference Championship, these will now be two-leg series instead.
“The MLS Cup Playoff format in 2012 gives increased reward to clubs that fare well in the regular season and removes the possibility of clubs winning the opposite conference championship,” said MLS executive vice president Nelso Rodriguez in a statement. “Having a competitively determined site for MLS Cup is one of the most exciting improvements our Board of Governors has adopted. We believe this provides every club a tremendous incentive during our regular season and ensures a festive and boisterous setting for our championship game.”