For the first time since 2008, Major League Soccer’s championship game will air on ABC.
The league announced Wednesday that this year’s MLS Cup will be shown on the network for the 14th time in 24 seasons. The final on Nov. 10 will start at 3 p.m. EST. It also will air on Univision in Spanish.
“With the new playoff format and a change in the date, we had a spot where we could air it (on ABC),” said Burke Magnus, ESPN’s executive vice president for programming and scheduling. “It is MLS’ marquee event and shows our optimism for the league’s strength and where it is headed.”
This is the third time in four years that the MLS Cup will air on network television. Fox broadcast it in 2016 and 2018. The MLS Cup was on ABC from 1996-2008 before moving to ESPN for eight of the last 10 seasons.
The league’s new playoff format features single elimination in all rounds. The conference semifinals and finals used to be two legs, with the winner determined by total goals. It also used to take place over six weeks, with the MLS Cup taking place in early December. The playoff schedule had been spread out to bump up against FIFA’s November international break.
With the new format, the 14-team tournament will be done in three weeks. Seven teams in each conference qualify for the postseason, with the top seed receiving a bye. The first round will take place Oct. 19-20, followed by the semifinals on Oct. 23-24 and conference finals Oct. 29-30. ESPN and Fox Sports 1 will air five games each the first three rounds.
The MLS Cup will take place at the finalist with more points during the regular season.
“The change in the format has made the regular season much more interesting because teams are fighting for home field (the second through fourth seeds get it in the first round),” said ESPN commentator Taylor Twellman, who will call the MLS Cup alongside Jon Champion. “Historically teams have the advantage in home field. When it was two legs you could work around that a little bit, but you can’t do that in a one-game playoff.”
Seth Bacon, the league’s senior vice president of media, added that contesting the playoffs over three weeks should help sustain interest.
“The name of the game is momentum,” he said. “The new structure helps create more noise and interest as well as showcases great soccer.”
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