For the Apertura 2011 season, slated to kick off sometime in August, the Mexican league has changed its playoff format. No longer will the league be divided up into three groups, with the top two qualifying directly and the best third-place teams also reaching the postseason. Now, the Liguilla will live up to its name. Liguilla is Spanish for "little league" or "mini-league" and that's what Mexico has done.
Now, there is one table. The top eight teams will qualify for the postseason, where the teams will be split up into two groups of four. Teams will then play each other team in the group home and away. The group winners will then play for the championship.
Sounds kind of strange, doesn't it? Let's see how this plays out both this season in Mexico and how it would have played out in MLS last season.
The groups are split up into the 1, 3, 5 and 7 seeds and the 2, 4, 6 and 8 seeds, so in Mexico it would have looked like this:
You notice the last two teams in the bottom group? That's what the league wants, more America-Chivas matches, and more superclasicos that have a lot riding on them.
This format ensures that the playoffs will go from 14 games to 26, and that will drive revenue and bring in a lot of financial resources to the league.
Now, to put it in MLS terms, the 2010 MLS Cup Playoffs would have looked like this...
New York Red Bulls
Real Salt Lake
San Jose Earthquakes
What's funny about both of these systems is that the final matchups - Morelia v Pumas, Colorado v FC Dallas - still would have been possible.
It's not a unique system. The World Cup used to use a similar system up until the 1982 World Cup. For 1986, the World Cup went to knockout rounds for good. The World Cup has actually had several different formats for determining the finalists.
It's an interesting system but I wouldn't expect MLS to do anything so drastic as that. Still, with how close MLS and FMF officials are, I would think that MLS suits will keep an eye on the Mexican playoff format, and if they crunch the numbers and figure out how much extra, if any, revenue would be drawn by using such a format, that could speak loudly to the league.
Far fetched? Possibly, but I doubt many onlookers thought the FMF would undergo such a drastic change.