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    LAFC players, coaches not fans of new MLS playoff format
    • October 27, 2023

    The 2022 MLS Cup playoffs produced the first final in 19 years between the top seeds from the opposing conferences.

    And the instant classic that followed netted the Los Angeles Football Club its initial league trophy.

    For last year’s Supporters’ Shield winners, collecting a rare double meant coming out ahead in three straight knockout games at home.

    Capped by the thriller with the Philadelphia Union at BMO Stadium, that format could not have worked out better for the players, the league or anyone else involved, LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo suggested after the 34-game MLS regular season concluded last weekend with a draw for the defending champions in Vancouver.

    “So it makes perfect sense to go change everything,” Cherundolo noted, offering a wry smile.

    LAFC’s path to becoming the first MLS champion to repeat since the Galaxy in 2014 will look significantly different than the journey the club took during Cherundolo’s impressive debut season – and not just because LAFC failed to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, a tough task up against the most demanding schedule in league history.

    The postseason format that was announced prior to opening day in late February still deems winning three knockout games necessary in order to lift the Cup, but those will only come following the new best-of-three opening-round series.

    Tying 1-1 in Vancouver clinched third place in the Western Conference for LAFC (14-10-10, 52 points), giving the team an advantage for the home-away-home series, unusual as that is in soccer, against the same opponent it faced in the regular-season finale.

    If three games are needed to determine a winner against the sixth-seeded Whitecaps (12-10-12, 48 points), the first stage of the postseason would last as long as LAFC’s Cup-winning excursion from a year ago. And L.A. would face Vancouver seven times over 51 matches in all competitions.

    LAFC captain Carlos Vela, who has qualified for the playoffs in five of his six seasons in Los Angeles, isn’t sure what the league was thinking by tacking on the opening series.

    “We know how MLS playoffs are,” Vela prefaced. “So it’s a little bit crazy. A little bit wild.”

    The Mexican star, who, at the age of 34, appeared in 44 matches this season, did not understand “the point of three games in the first round and after that three more games to win the championship.”

    When a reporter hinted at money being the reason – that is, a few dozen more must-win games – Vela responded “everybody knows but can’t say nothing.”

    Veteran MLS defender Ryan Hollingshead, a pro since 2014, is also unsure what to expect from a type of playoff competition that is typical in other North American sports.

    “I have the understanding of aggregate and how to manage a game when it’s aggregate home and away,” said Hollingshead, who thinks LAFC’s depth and versatility could be a factor in its favor as it attempts to defeat the same team over and over.

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    Between the best-of-three and the subsequent round, there is a two-week international break, including competitive matches for Canadian goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau, who isn’t a fan of the new-look playoffs either.

    “Does that belong in our sport? Best-of-three? Best-of-five? Best-of-seven? Does that belong to our sport?” Crepeau wondered. “Home-away games, I totally understand it. We’ve seen it for years overseas but to start to add on and add on and add on, does that really translate to our sport? I don’t know.

    “Soon we’ll do a best-of-seven, you know? And the season will finish December 31st and the preseason will be January 5th.”

    As it stands, the conference semifinals take place Nov. 25 and 26, the conference finals on Dec. 2 and 3, and the MLS Cup on Dec. 9.

    “I think this group knows on a good day we can beat everybody,” Cherundolo said. “Now it’s just a matter of having one, two, three, four, five, six … six good days in a row.”

    ​ Orange County Register