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New York Red Bulls welcome possible MLS Cup playoffs change

Nov 29, 2018; Harrison, NJ, USA; New York Red Bulls forward Bradley Wright-Phillips (99) reacts after losing to Atlanta United in the MLS Eastern Conference Championship at Red Bull Arena. (Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports)

HARRISON, N.J. — After another year of enormous regular-season success followed by bitter MLS Cup playoff failure, the New York Red Bulls were talking about a system change. 

No, not their system, which has come under attack in the postseason. It’s the league’s playoff structure itself they discussed after being eliminated by Atlanta United in the Eastern Conference finals Thursday night at Red Bull Arena.

“I heard it will change next year, which is a great idea, I think,” winger Danny Royer told ProSoccerUSA. “I think you should have some advantages if you have a good regular season, to get the home game at the higher seed — and it’s quicker and just faster to go to MLS Cup, which will be really good …which will fit us as well.”

Royer and his teammates were referring to a report in The Athletic that Major League Soccer was contemplating a change to the playoff format next year, among other alterations, which would scrap the current two-legged, aggregate series for one-off games at the higher seed.

Under that format, the Red Bulls, by virtue of winning the Supporters’ Shield title, would have been home for the duration of the playoffs.

The proposed change would put added emphasis on the regular season and greater reward teams, like the Red Bulls, who are the most successful over the course of 34 games.

“I know that in MLS next season there’ll be some changes and I think that it’s going to be one-game elimination, which in our favor we would have played every [playoff] game at home this year,” midfielder Tyler Adams said. “You look at the system and the way the league is set up and it’s not easy to be successful. A lot of times it’s not necessarily a team that’s hot throughout the whole season that that comes away with the Cup.”

There’s nothing official yet on a playoff change, which according to the report would likely see MLS Cup played before the November FIFA international window. The changes could be implemented at the league’s Board of Governors meeting in December, which would be welcome news to Red Bulls coach Chris Armas.

In the future, we’re going to host one game at our place,” he said. “In many ways, [the current system is] a disadvantage. You have to go on the road. You have to play in their building, where the other team typically gets good results, have to come home — it’s difficult. It is difficult, and our guys don’t make excuses. We don’t make excuses. We just keep plugging. We’ll focus on the positive and we’ll look for ways to get better.”

As for the Red Bulls system, which has helped the club set a record for points accrued during the regular season, but hasn’t translated to the ultimate postseason success, the Red Bulls don’t think there’s a need for change there.

“We are who we are. I think it’s actually perfect for the playoffs,” Armas said of his team’s pressing style. “Hasn’t brought us that trophy yet, but if it would be questionable for the playoffs, would it be questionable for the last five games of the year [which the Red Bulls needed to win to capture the Shield]. I just think that it’s difficult in the playoffs. Every play is magnified. Every mistake you make, and it’s such a fine line.”

Added Adams: “This system has helped us be one of the top teams in regular season every single year so if you can go 34 games and be one of the top teams there’s no reason that you can’t go six and win an MLS Cup.”

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