During his annual state-of-the-league press conference, Garber confirmed that newcomer Seattle and the existing 14 clubs will again play 30 MLS matches, that the two-division format and playoff system will remain, and that clubs can carry up to 20 senior roster players beginning in 2009.
If there was a bombshell, it was Montreal’s departure from the cities seeking expansion teams for 2011. Six remain in the hunt, two of them being in the Pacific Northwest: Portland and Vancouver. Both made presentations here, along with Miami and Ottawa. Atlanta had made its pitch earlier and St. Louis will do before the weekend’s over.
Fixture congestion and economics drove the league decision to tinker with the roster composition. In addition to league matches, teams are involved in tournaments such as CONCACAF Champions League, SuperLiga and domestic cups such as America’s U.S. Open Cup.
Such activity can prove a burden on relatively small squads. To date, MLS clubs have been limited to 18 senior roster players, plus an additional 10 development players. Garber stated that by allowing teams up to 20 senior players (their option), the improved depth will translate to greater quality of play.
Sounders FC will be choosing 10 players in the MLS Expansion Draft next Wednesday, Nov. 26.
To help make ends meet in challenging times, the MLS Board of Governors trimmed the number of develop roster slots from 10 to four and eliminated the Reserve Division, which had been in operation for four years.
In 2009, the regular season will commence one week earlier, on March 21. Rather than play through the FIFA international calendar dates, as has been the case since the league began in 1996, MLS will either clear its schedule on two weekends or play with a reduced schedule over four weekends.
Each team will play every other MLS team home and away. There will be two additional games against intra-conference rivals which, in the case of Seattle, mean two more matches in the West.
Eight teams will qualify for the playoffs and the format will remain the same, with the first round consisting of a two-match aggregate series, followed by one game conference finals and MLS Cup. The top two teams in each conference automatically qualify, to be joined by the four teams with the next best point totals.
All U.S. teams will participate in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. However, there will no longer be teams doubling in both SuperLiga and the Champions League.