I've been very critical of the MLS playoff system in the past. I think it was ridiculous that the Galaxy were able to reach the playoffs despite finishing with the 9th best record in 2005 and went on to win the MLS Cup that year. Worse than that was the year before when 8 out of 10 MLS teams made the playoffs. In days past, you had to be a terrible club not to make the postseason.
This year promised to be different. With an odd number of clubs in the Eastern Conference, the league had to tinker with the playoff system somehow. The league decided on having the top two sides in each conference reach the postseason, then allowing the four remaining clubs with the highest point totals in, regardless of conference.
It still remains to be seen how the system will ultimately work out but so far it's setting up what should be a competitive last few months of the season.
With last year's system in place, the Galaxy would have all but been assured of making the postseason. Following the club's 0-0 tie in Toronto, L.A. has 14 points from 13 games. Colorado is in fourth place with 18 points in 19 games. All the Galaxy would have had to have done is make up the five-point difference with six games in hand, and it could have been 2005 all over again.
This year, though, there aren't any handouts. With the new-and-improved playoff system, the last playoff spot would go to Columbus, who has 26 points from 19 games.
While in the past, regular-season matches were deemed meaningless by many, this year the season has taken on a whole new level of significance. Poor results such as Colorado's or Real Salt Lake's have justly sunk their respective playoff hopes while Columbus' and Chicago's (likely) resurgence may indeed be be rewarded with a playoff spot.
Many fans have also clamored for a single table, and this has essentially set one up. While finishing in the first two places in each conference will still be rewarded (SuperLiga 2008 spots are up for grabs) and the Supporters Shield winner will also receive a reward next year (CONCACAF Champions Cup), the rest of the league's teams have been tossed into one pot and will battle for playoff spots among them.
So far, this is the best playoff system the league has had in place. But there is still room for improvement. I'd still like to see one quarterfinal match as opposed to a two-leg quarterfinal series. Though the team with the eighth-best record in the regular season deserves a chance of fighting for MLS Cup, I'm not so sure they deserve to host a playoff game.