Major League Soccer hasn't been shy about considering anything short of free agency, and that includes regular tweaks to its playoff format. The equation they're trying to master is one that equals a meaningful playoff race involving multiple teams in late September and early October. What they've regularly gotten is teams still mathematically capable of making the playoffs over the last few weeks of the season and the occasional already eliminated team ruining someone else's season.
That's not exactly the recipe for playoff excitement in play across other North American pro sports leagues. Most at issue for MLS is balancing the conferences with the wildcards to produce a system that's rewarding while leaving just enough up for grabs to make those last few games of the season as exciting as possible. It's the lead-in to the playoffs, giving MLS more to work with as they attempt to attract a bigger audience to the games that lead to MLS Cup.
Since tickets don't normally get scarcer for the MLS postseason, it's an important step. End of season excitement segues nicely into postseason excitement. Games are played in front of large and genuinely interested crowds across the League, with that push helping to turn the championship into a bigger game. That's the theory, anyway. In practice, it's been a problem.
For 2013, the attempt at an answer is an end of the wildcard race. In previous seasons, that was supposed to be the excitement builder. Instead, it turned into an exercise of not screwing up just enough late in the season to still claim one of those final seeds. Teams had success barely making the playoffs, producing two MLS Cup champions that played through the bracket in the wrong conference. That's the problem with league-wide wildcards, they can make the conference setups seem like a waste of time.
MLS responded, doing away with the wildcards entirely in favor of a strict 'by Conference' playoff format. They also added another motivational tactic by dropping the neutral site final. Both of these are intended to make things better, but both are attempts at a solution rather than an obvious response.
Corner Rating: (with 1 MLS's changes doing very little to raise the excitement level and 11 those fixes doing as planned and turning the end of the season and the playoffs into bigger events) 6.5
Last Week's Corner: The rating stays the same because RSL got the weekend off. They play in the CONCACAF Champions League on Tuesday, meaning they haven't played an MLS game since dropping three points to Houston on Sept 6th. They've got Portland at home this Saturday.