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MLS open to playoff revamp: Garber

Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber said Thursday the league was open to revamping its playoff format amid reports the postseason could be expanded to 16 teams.

Speaking ahead of Saturday’s MLS Cup championship game in Los Angeles, Garber said league officials would review possible format changes in the close season.

A report in The Athletic last week speculated that the playoffs could be increased to 16 teams divided into four groups of four — eight from each conference. The top two teams in each group would then advance to a straight knockout competition.

Garber said while league officials were satisfied with the current format, which sees seven teams from each conference qualify from the regular season table into a knockout tournament, the expansion of the 28-team MLS to 30 clubs could inevitably lead to more teams in the playoffs.

“The playoff format we have at the moment has been fantastic,” Garber said. “But I’m convinced that as our league continues to grow — soon to be 30 teams — you need to evolve your competitive schedule and your competitive format.”

Previous changes to the postseason had been made after research amongst clubs, media partners and fans, Garber said.

“We gauge interest, and if it makes sense to evolve we do that,” he said. “Are there changes we could make that would make good things even better? Perhaps. 

“And in the offseason we’ll sit down as we always do sit down with our competition committee and determine if something needs to be tweaked.”

Garber meanwhile said MLS’s recent broadcasting deal with Apple TV — which will make all league games available to anyone around the world — would help boost the league’s global profile.

“Having global exposure to our league in easily accessible formats is going to allow us to open up our league to other players and obviously other fans,” Garber said. “We’re in the most global sport but we’re not the most global league. 

“Everybody knows global leagues are thinking about how they can capture some of the opportunities here in the United States; we’re now thinking about how we can capture those opportunities more broadly internationally.”

Garber added that while this month’s World Cup would feature approximately 40 players from MLS, the upcoming 2026 World Cup in North America could be an engine of growth for the sport in the region.

Garber said there was “no doubt in my mind” that Canada’s qualification for this year’s tournament after a 36-year absence was a result of the growth of MLS teams in Canada.

“The path to 2026 is an entire ecosystem for soccer in North America,” Garber said. 

“All of us are focused on how can we capitalize on what will be the biggest sporting event this continent has ever seen. 

“We need to ensure that we’re using the path to the 2026 World Cup and the World Cup itself as the rocket fuel we need to make this sport everything we dreamed it could be.”

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