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Season Format Change

Major League Soccer revamped its playoffs with a fixed-bracket, single-elimination format and shortened the season's length, big changes intended to emphasize the regular season.

This year 14 of the 24 teams will qualify, two more than in 2018. Each conference's top team gets a first-round bye. The next best three teams host first-round games. No reseeding after each round and no more two-game series with aggregate scoring.

The playoffs will be held between FIFA's October and November international breaks. The regular season ends Oct. 6, the first playoff games are Oct. 19 and the MLS Cup determines a champion Nov. 10, a month earlier than last season.

To do so, more midweek games will be played. Minnesota United, which finished 10th last year in the Western Conference, plays six Wednesday games, four more than in 2018.

Place to call home

This week Minnesota United accepted the keys to its new $250 million Allianz Field, what its creators call the "next generation" of MLS stadiums.

The St. Paul stadium's unique, lighted exterior skin undulates with the wind, designed to evoke Minnesota's natural wonders — its rivers, lakes and northern lights.

Allianz Field opens with an April 13 game against New York City FC. United, after playing its first two MLS seasons at TCF Bank Stadium, has a place to call home.

"We can walk into the place and leave some of your stuff there," veteran midfielder Ethan Finlay said. "You get used to being in the same place. You really can kind of call it your own."

United in name only

Both are United, but Minnesota and Atlanta split in different directions after each team entered MLS in 2017. Last December, in its second season, big-spending Atlanta won its first MLS championship.

This season Minnesota United enters the third leg of its three-year plan. Meanwhile, Atlanta has retooled with new coach Frank DeBoer and new featured player Pity Martinez, 2018's South American Player of the Year.

Star Miguel Almiron is gone to Newcastle in England's Premier League for a reported $27 million transfer, an MLS record for an outgoing transfer.

Jerry Zgoda