In a move long expected, Major League Soccer announced on Thursday that it will utilize points per game to determine places in the league standings for the 2020 season, as well as seeding in the 2020 MLS Cup playoffs.
MLS’s season was shut down in mid-March just two weeks into the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Play resumed with the MLS is Back Tournament at the grounds of the Walt Disney World resort just outside Orlando, with the Portland Timbers defeating Orlando City SC to win the event and secure a spot for next season’s CONCACAF Champions League.
MLS then resumed its season in home markets in August, and reduced the number of regular season games from 34 to 23. At the time, MLS commissioner Don Garber admitted that the league was facing “a lot of competitive balance issues” and might have to use points per game instead of total points.
With the league’s competition rules allowing for such a possibility, that has turned out to be the case. Starting in late September, a spate of positive COVID-19 tests caused a series of postponements, and the delays played havoc with the revised slate of games. The Colorado Rapids were especially hard hit, as the team was forced to postpone seven games following an outbreak that affected 18 players and staff. With the league determined to play MLS Cup on Dec. 12, that meant not all of the games would be played.
The regular season is set to conclude on Nov. 8, with the playoffs set to begin on Nov. 20 after the FIFA international break. The playoffs conclude with MLS Cup on Dec. 12.
The top 10 teams from the Eastern Conference and the top eight teams from the Western Conference will qualify for the playoffs.
Eight Eastern Conference teams have already qualified for the playoffs (Philadelphia Union, Toronto FC, Columbus Crew SC, Orlando City SC, New York City FC, New York Red Bulls, New England Revolution, Nashville SC) while five Western Conference teams have now qualified (Sporting Kansas City, Seattle Sounders FC, Portland Timbers, LAFC, and Minnesota United FC, which clinches a berth with the update in standings calculation).
The points-per-game format will determine the overall MLS standings, with the top U.S.-based team earning a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League. For Canada, the champions of the Canadian Championship, qualify for the Champions League.
This isn’t the first time that the league has been forced to use points per game to determine places in the standings. The approach was also taken back in 2001 when in the wake of 9/11, MLS canceled the last two weeks of the regular season.