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MLS Cup contenders will need to run scheduling gauntlet


More than ever, the MLS champion will likely be the team that wins the war of attrition.

Playoff formats are like that. A great season can vanish with one poor 90-minute performance. And, with Colorado and Real Salt Lake winning the MLS Cup over the past two years, we have seen lower seeds march through the playoffs and take the big prize — while the juggernaut Los Angeles Galaxy continued to build a reputation as a great regular-season team that can’t win the big game.

MLS released its playoff schedule on Tuesday — and the road to MLS Cup is tougher than ever.

Why? Because of the need to squeeze in a wild-card playoff date to accommodate the new 10-team format, and the need to clear the schedule for the Nov. 11 and 15 international dates, the conference semifinals and finals come in quick succession.

To take the conference, a team may have to win three games in a week.

The conference semifinals, usually a two-leg affair spread across consecutive weekends, will now see both legs with just three or four off-days in between. The teams that win the semis will only have three or four off-days until the conference finals.

It’s an extremely congested schedule — and it will be trying if a team from the West crosses over as a wild card into the Eastern Conference playoffs (looking at the standings, there is little chance of that going the other way).

So, the teams that emerge to battle for the MLS Cup may the ones who get through the conference semis and finals without too many injuries — or have fewer travel issues than the other clubs.

As well, it doesn’t give the hosts of the conference finals a heck of a lot of time to hype their games. You could have a conference final staged on a Saturday, when fans only found out who would be playing in the match 72 hours before.

Wild Card Games – hosted by higher seed; single elimination

Wed., Oct. 26
Thurs., Oct. 27

Conference Semifinals, First Leg – hosted by lower seed
Sat., Oct. 29
Sat., Oct. 29
Sun., Oct. 30
Sun., Oct. 30

Conference Semifinals, Second Leg – hosted by higher seed; winner by aggregate goals
Wed., Nov. 2
Wed., Nov. 2
Thurs., Nov. 3
Thurs., Nov. 3

Conference Championships – hosted by higher seed; single elimination

Sat., Nov. 5
Sun., Nov. 6

A break occurs here due to FIFA fixtures on Nov. 11 and 15.

MLS Cup 2011 – at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.; single-game final
Sun., Nov. 20

NOTE: No team will be scheduled to play on Thursday and Saturday of a given week.

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