Major League Soccer unveiled its playoff schedule Wednesday, highlighted by a return to ABC for the first time since 2008. The network will air the MLS Cup championship game Nov. 10 along with Univision, marking the first time the final will be televised on over-the-air channels in both English and Spanish.
ABC was home to many of American soccer’s biggest games over a 20-year stretch beginning in 1994: five men’s World Cups, the 1999 and 2003 women’s World Cups the U.S. hosted, U.S. national team friendlies and World Cup qualifiers, and MLS Cup finals from the league’s launch in 1996 through 2008.
The final moved to ESPN in 2009, then started alternating with Fox in 2016. Fox put the game on its over-the-air network, and put the game in prime time on Saturday nights. This year’s game will kick off on a Sunday at 3 p.m., during NFL games, but ABC and ESPN have pledged to deliver a big marketing push.
“We’re bullish on the future of MLS, and it’s been great to use our array of distribution outlets to showcase the league,” ESPN’s executive vice president of programming Burke Magnus told Front Office Sports. “Their championship game had a great history for many years on ABC, so it’s a great opportunity to take it back over to the broadcast network.”
Magnus added that the network is looking at airing regular-season games on ABC as well.
“We’re going to look at all the scheduling possibilities and add ABC into the mix," he said.
ABC’s last regular-season MLS broadcast was also in 2008: a doubleheader of David Beckham’s Los Angeles Galaxy at D.C. United before the European Championship final.
For the history buffs out there, the network’s last U.S. men’s national team game was the 2010 World Cup round-of-16 game vs. Ghana, and its last non-World Cup U.S. men’s game was a friendly vs. the Netherlands a few weeks before the 2002 tournament. ABC’s last U.S. women’s game was during the 2003 World Cup.
Returning to the present, this year’s MLS playoffs will be the first under a new format: one-game rounds all the way through instead of two-game aggregate conference semifinals and finals. Seven teams from each conference will qualify for the playoffs, with the top seed in each conference receiving a first-round bye.
The postseason starts Oct. 19. There’s a FIFA international window after the regular season ends on Oct. 6, which means teams will have time to rest some of their players before the playoffs start.
Notably, the only weekend games will be the first round and the final. All of the conference semifinal and final games will be on weeknights.
All kickoff times not listed are still to be announced.
Saturday, Oct. 19: Two games on Univision and TUDN, in both Spanish and English
Sunday, Oct. 20: Two games on Fox Sports 1 and Fox Deportes, one on ESPN and ESPN Deportes, one on ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes
Wednesday, Oct. 23: Two games on FS1/Fox Deportes
Thursday, Oct. 24: One game on ESPN/ESPN Deportes, one game on ESPN2/ESPN Deportes
Tuesday, Oct. 29: One game on ESPN/ESPN Deportes or FS1/Fox Deportes
Wednesday, Oct. 30: One game on ESPN/ESPN Deportes or FS1/Fox Deportes
Hosted by the finalist with the best regular-season record