Today, the North American Soccer League (NASL) unveiled a new postseason championship format effective for the 2014 season. Branded “The Championship”—and conspicuously not “playoffs”—in the league’s press release, the new format will comprise a four-team, two-weekend tournament with a semifinal round held the weekend of November 8-9 and the championship final held the following weekend, November 15-16.
The tournament format, approved this week by the NASL Board of Governors, will feature the winners of the NASL’s spring and fall seasons at its top two seeds. The two season champs will be the top two seeds in the postseason, with the top seed being whichever club notches the better combined regular season record. These top two seeds will host their semifinal match.
The three and four seeds in the tournament will be the next two clubs that post the best overall records from both seasons combined. If the same club wins both the spring and fall seasons, the clubs with the second, third and fourth best overall records from both seasons combined will qualify for the championship.
Teams will retain their seeding throughout the tournament, with the top-seeded semi final winner will host the championship final.
“We have a vision for how we want to be structured when we reach 18 clubs,” said NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson in a statement. “The Championship is an integral part of that vision and the fan feedback we received overwhelmingly supported the decision. The already fierce competition in NASL just got tougher.”
Last week, Triangle Offense published a marketing survey the NASL recently circulated to select markets and supporters groups asking for reaction to possible changes in the league’s postseason format. This survey contained most of the elements of the new postseason format the league announced today. Although posited as a mere proposal in the survey, today’s announcement by the league clearly shows that those purported changes were, in fact, well beyond the exploratory stage.
Today’s announcement also represents an about-face for a league that spent the better part of the past year trumpeting the efficacy of its new split season and single-game championship format. Semantics aside, the league has essentially adopted a four-team postseason playoff system. This alteration will expand postseason pool and avoid outcomes like last season, when the two teams with the best combined records over the entire NASL regular season—the Carolina RailHawks and Tampa Bay Rowdies—were excluded from postseason play because neither won the spring or fall championship.
That said, this change also jettisons awarding hosting rights for the Soccer Bowl final to the spring season champion. While controversial among some supporters, this perk allowed the league to identify the site of the championship months in advance, enabling it to plan and coordinate ticket sales, travel, and marketing and other related events surrounding the championship weekend well ahead of time. The fruits of this advance planning were on display during last November’s Soccer Bowl weekend in Atlanta.