Some details from the Major Arena Soccer League’s owners meetings have begun to trickle out.
In a sideline interview on Friday, commissioner Joshua Schaub announced that the league would play a 22-game regular season in 2017/18, and that the playoff structure would feature the familiar home-away-minigame format in the first round but that the semifinals and finals would only be single elimination, with the higher seed hosting those games.
The expansion to 22 games doesn’t seem that significant unless you compare it to the 16-game schedule the league played in the PASL days during its first six seasons. MASL teams played a 20-game schedule each of the last three seasons.
The playoff format change will alleviate some costs because the playoffs are notoriously difficult to sell with uncertain dates and little time for group sales. Playoff date availability has also been a big issue for most MASL teams.
Last year, for example, with the home-and-home format if Sonora was the higher seed and elected to play the first game against San Diego on the road, then the teams had to find two dates that lined up with San Diego hosting first and Sonora returning home at a subsequent date. Now, in the same scenario, Sonora could just pick the best home date without needing to make accommodations for San Diego’s game.
Also, in the home-and-home format the question of home-field advantage is debatable. Some teams like Baltimore felt it was to their advantage to play Game 1 at home, forcing the other team to essentially travel to both games, whereas other teams preferred to play Game 1 on the road so they could host the conditional Minigame at home. Now, teams in the semifinals and finals will truly benefit from the home-field advantage they earned by virtue of their regular season performance.
The downsides are losing the drama and storylines of a best-of-three series, and the chance that on “any given Sunday” any team could pull off an upset in a one-off situation. With scant media coverage and no broadcast television, the biggest risk for the league would be having a lower seeded team win a championship on the road in a virtual vacuum.
When you consider all the various factors, though, there is no truly optimal format.
In other developments, Schaub spoke of a Mexican team that would be joining the league. It has been widely speculated that Atletico Baja would be transferring to Obregon, a city 300 miles south of Hermosillo in the state of Sonora. They would presumably play at Arena ITSON, which would seat around 5,000 for arena soccer.
Atletico Baja played in the league’s smallest venue and often struggled to attract crowds in the low 100s despite making the playoffs in each of their two seasons.
While there is still some lingering uncertainty surrounding the Kansas City Comets ownership situation, it is likely that a new team in Bakersfield will not play in the MASL in 2017/18. There is still a remote chance that the Rochester Lancers could play this year. With the additions of Rio Grande Valley and Monterrey, the most likely scenario would be for the MASL to play this season with 19 teams, a two team increase over last season.