The MLS 2009 season will begin March 21, a week earlier than usual.
That’s one of several changes regarding MLS competition issues announced by commissioner Don Garber.
Full information is available at the MLS website.
Here are the highlights:
Competition elements for the 2009 MLS season are:
Following an extensive review of the operation of the Reserve Division over the past four years, MLS has decided that it will be more efficient to cease operation of the Reserve Division and to divert funds from its operations to more directed programs such as a bolstered senior roster, increased commitment to the Generation adidas program and focused initiatives to provide leading prospects with game experience, whether in MLS or elsewhere. These options are currently being reviewed by an MLS working group.
Each team will be permitted to carry 18, 19 or 20 senior roster players (at its option) within the overall salary budget (the limit in 2008 was 18 senior roster players). In addition, teams will be permitted to carry up to four developmental players (including Generation adidas players) outside of the team salary budget. Any team with more than four Generation adidas players carried forward from 2008 will be grandfathered with respect to the size of their developmental roster.
The 2009 season will start on March 21, one week earlier than the 2008 season. Each team will play 30 regular season games. During the 2009 regular season, MLS will either clear its schedule on two weekends, or play with a reduced schedule over four weekends, to reduce World Cup Qualification conflicts. This, the elongated window of the schedule, and a few additional weeknight games, is aimed at reducing the number of conflicts with FIFA fixture dates that teams have faced in recent years.
Of the 15 teams that will compete in 2009, seven will be in the Eastern Conference and eight will be in the Western Conference, where Seattle Sounders FC is the additional team.
Each team will play every other MLS team home and away, for a base of 28 games. Two additional games against intra-conference rivals will complete each team’s 30-game schedule.
A total of eight teams will qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs in 2009. At the conclusion of the regular season, the top two teams in each conference will earn automatic berths. The next four teams in the standings, regardless of conference, will earn wild card berths. This is the same format used in 2007, the last time MLS had an uneven number of teams in each conference.
International Competitions and U.S. Open Cup:
MLS teams may participate in either the CONCACAF Champions League or SuperLiga – but not both.
All U.S.-based MLS teams will participate in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Qualification for the 2009/2010 CONCACAF Champions League will be as follows:
(1) MLS Cup Winner
(2) Supporters’ Shield Winner (Columbus Crew)
(3) MLS Cup Runner-Up
(4) U.S. Open Cup Winner* (D.C. United)
In the event that the same team occupies two qualification spots above, then as needed the following team(s) qualify for the tournament:
(5) Next Team in Regular Season Points.
(6) Next Team in Regular Season Points.
(Ties are broken according to the same system used for MLS playoff qualification.)
Given these criteria, the teams qualifying for the 2009/2010 CONCACAF Champions League will be Columbus Crew, New York Red Bulls, D.C. United and Houston Dynamo. Because Columbus will occupy both the Supporters’ Shield berth and either the MLS Cup Winner or MLS Cup Runner-Up berth, Houston qualifies as the fourth team with the next most points in MLS during the 2008 regular season.
Qualification for SuperLiga 2009 will be as follows:
The top four teams, based on regular season record, who are not competing in CONCACAF Champions League in 2009, will qualify for SuperLiga 2009. Given these criteria, Chicago Fire, New England Revolution, Kansas City Wizards, and Chivas USA have qualified for SuperLiga 2009 based on their records in 2008.