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Mark your calendars: the 2015 MLS Playoffs schedule is out

Key dates and the implications of the playoffs schedule for RBNY

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

MLS has released the broadcast schedule for the 2015 playoffs, which means we know the dates of all the post-season games, and what channels they will be on.

Before we get to the calendar, MLS also wants you to know that it has agreed to flex-scheduling of games on October 16 and October 18 - so the high-drama matches of the penultimate round of the regular season will potentially be placed at optimal times for TV audiences to tune in.

And the league is positively breathless about its "exciting scheduling enhancement" to the final round of regular season matches, aka #Deadline Day: simultaneous kick-offs in each conference (guessing that means one set for the East and one set for the West) on the last day of the season, with the biggest games broadcast nationally. October 25 has never before been made to feel so special.

As for the playoffs schedule, here it is:

Knockout Round

Wednesday, October 28 - Two games on UniMas

Thursday, October 29 - Two games on UniMas

Times haven't been set, but assume separate kick-offs so both can get space to themselves on the UniMas schedule. Teams will also have the option of local broadcasts in English - i.e. if RBNY is in the knockout rounds, the games can be on MSG.

Note: These games will be between the third and sixth seed and fourth and fifth seed of each Conference. One and done: higher seed hosts; winner takes all.

Conference Semifinals

Sunday, November 1 - First Legs

3:00 pm kick-off on ESPN and ESPN Deportes

5:00 pm kick-off on ESPN and ESPN Deportes

7:00 pm kick-off on FS1 and Fox Deportes

9:30 pm kick-off on FS1 and Fox Deportes

(All times Eastern)

Looks a lot like the East kicking off earlier in the day, suggesting ESPN has dibs on the Eastern Conference and Fox will carry the West's matches. But maybe not. We shall see.

Note: Semifinals are two-legged affairs, so there is no concern about extra time in the opening games of each series. Games will end after appropriate stoppage time is played at the end of the 90th minute.

Also, for each Conference, the first seeds play the lowest seed advancing from the knockout round. The second seed plays the other team to emerge from the knockout round. Higher seed in each Semifinal hosts the second leg.

Sunday, November 8 - Second Legs

3:00 pm kick-off on ESPN and ESPN Deportes

5:00 pm kick-off on ESPN and ESPN Deportes

7:30 pm kick-off on FS1 and Fox Deportes

10:00 pm kick-off on FS1 and Fox Deportes

We'll see how those kickoff times hold up if any of the semifinals need extra time and penalties to reach a conclusion.

Conference Finals Championships

Sunday, November 22 - First Legs

5:00 pm kick-off on ESPN and ESPN Deportes

7:30 pm kick-off on FS1 and Fox Deportes

Sunday, November 29 - Second Legs

5:00 pm kick-off on ESPN and ESPN Deportes

7:30 pm kick-off on FS1 and Fox Deportes

Again, the higher seed in each Conference Final (based on seedings established by the final regular season standings) will host the second legs.


Sunday, December 6

4:00 pm kick-off on ESPN and UniMas (and TSN and RDS - the Canadian networks carrying the MLS playoffs)

Whichever MLS Cup finalist has the higher regular season points total will host the match.

What does this mean for the New York Red Bulls?

Finishing first or second in the East is an important goal

The consequence of slipping into one of the bottom four seedings in the Conference is a brutal schedule: finish up the regular season on October 25, then a knockout game on 10/28 or 10/29. If successful, there is a Conference Semifinal first leg on November 1. Three games in a week.

Specifically for RBNY, if that worst-case scenario happens, only the potential Semifinal first leg can be guaranteed to be at home (since the knockout round winners will be the lower seeds in the Conference Semifinals and will definitely host the first-leg games).

The Red Bulls finish their season in Chicago on Sunday, October 25. And if they don't finish as one of the top two teams in the East, they'll be hoping that Chicago game is the first of three in one week, culminating in a Conference Semifinal first leg at Red Bull Arena on November 1.

Better scenario: RBNY does clinch one of the top two spots in the East before heading to Chicago on October 25, knowing it won't have to play again until the following weekend (when it will also be on the road).

International call-ups won't be a problem

No schedule is perfect, and MLS is throwing itself up against the NFL by scheduling all its post-season games after the Knockout Round for Sundays. There will also be concerns about evening kick-offs on a Sunday, which can be difficult for those with work or school to attend. And the Conference Finals are on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend - a travel day for many people around the country.

But there's not much point in optimizing kick-off times and dates for maximum attention if all eyes will be focused on weakened teams. MLS has worked around the November FIFA international window admirably. The window runs from November 9 to 17.

The Conference Semifinals end on November 8 - no call-ups can touch them. And the Conference Finals begin on November 22 - so players on international duty have time to rejoin their teams and rest. And a week between every round of games from the Conference Semifinal first legs forward seems like good sense.

For RBNY, likely to lose players to CONCACAF World Cup qualifying games (11/13 and 11/17), the only concern will be possible injury to those on international duty. Beyond that, the schedule guarantees the club will have its full squad (or those who are fit and not suspended, at least) to choose from for every post-season game it is fortunate enough to play.

Releasing the schedule now provides reasonable time for fans to plan (although final playoff seedings and therefore schedules don't look likely to be resolved until the last day of the regular season, given how close all the post-season contenders are to each other, points-wise, in both Conferences). The league has given itself its best possible shot at ensuring its showcase tournament will include the best-known players in the relevant squads. And it has allowed its teams adequate time for rest and recovery between all matches from the Conference Semifinals to MLS Cup.

The priority had to be scheduling around the November international break - and that priority has been met. The decision to opt for Sunday rather than Saturday kick-offs is presumably taken in consultation with the league's broadcast partners. If it proves a significantly flawed approach (there were a few Saturday games in the 2014 playoffs), one assumes the 2016 schedule will reflect that experience.