Big changes for MLS Cup Playoffs format in 2012

Top remaining seed to host MLS Cup 2012; Conf. finals two legs

The MLS Cup Playoffs and the league's grand finale are getting new looks in 2012.

The MLS Cup final will no longer be a neutral-site game, according to a plan approved on Saturday by the league’s Board of Governors. Instead, the league’s championship match will be played at the home venue of the participating team with a higher regular-season point total.

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That effectively brings an end to the system of rotating the MLS Cup final to different venues around the league, as MLS has done since its inaugural 1996 season.

[READ: 2012 conference-based schedule format]

The playoff format itself will also get a tweak. 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.

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.

The Conference Championships  will shift to two-leg series instead of a single game, as they have been since 2003.

“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.”