MLS Cup Playoffs

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MLS Cup Playoffs
Founded 1995
Region United States
Number of teams 10
Current champions Sporting Kansas City (2 titles)
Most successful club(s) D.C. United
Los Angeles Galaxy (4 titles)
2014 MLS Cup Playoffs

The MLS Cup Playoffs is the postseason elimination tournament of Major League Soccer held at the end of the regular season en route to the MLS Cup, the league's championship game. 10 teams in total from the Eastern Conference and Western Conference qualify for the tournament based on regular-season records, and a tiebreaking procedure exists in the case of equal records. Awarding the league championship through a postseason tournament differs from most other soccer leagues around the world where the team with the most points at the end of the season is deemed champion. MLS awards the regular season winners with the Supporters' Shield and a direct berth in the CONCACAF Champions League, the continental tournament. The regular season champion must be a U.S.-based club in order to receive direct entry to Champions League.

Playoff system[edit]

Since 2012, the top five teams in each conference will qualify for the playoffs, in which the two brackets are entirely separate. The First Round of each conference is a one-off match between the 4th- and 5th-place teams, with the 4th-place team hosting. The First Round winner advances to play the conference's top seed in the Conference Semifinals.

The Conference Semifinals and Conference Finals are conducted in a home-and-away, aggregate-goal format. The team that scores the most goals in the home-and-away series advances to the two-game, total-goals Conference Finals. The away goals rule was adopted for the 2014 season.[1][2] In both rounds the lower-seeded team hosts Game One and the higher-seeded team Game Two. If the teams are tied after two games (180 minutes) in the Conference Semifinals or Finals, the team which scored more goals away from home advances. If there is still a tie after the away goals rule is applied, a 30-minute overtime period (divided into two 15-minute periods) will be played followed by a penalty kick shootout, if necessary. The away goals rule does not apply to goals scored in the overtime period.


Ten teams qualify for the playoffs: the top five teams in each conference that have the most points in the standings upon the completion of the 34-game regular season.

The seeding is as follows:[3]

  • The top five teams in each conference are seeded first to fifth in their respective five-team playoff conference brackets.
  • The top three teams receive a bye; the fourth and fifth place teams in each conference play in the first round.

Tie-breaking procedures[edit]

If two teams finish the regular season with an equal number of points, the following system is used to break the tie:[4]

  1. most wins
  2. goal differential
  3. goals for
  4. fewest disciplinary points
  5. road goals
  6. road goal differential
  7. home goals
  8. home goal differential
  9. coin toss/draw of lots


  • Unlike previous seasons, head-to-head competition results will not be used as a tie-breaker, starting with the 2012 season.[5]
  • If two clubs remain tied after another club with the same number of points advances during any step, the tie breaker reverts to step 1 of the two-club format.


Seasons League teams Playoff teams
1996–1997 10 8
1998–2001 12 8
2002–2004 10 8
2005–2006 12 8
2007 13 8
2008 14 8
2009 15 8
2010 16 8
2011 18 10
2012–2014 19 10
2015– 20 TBD

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Major League Soccer to introduce away-goals rule for first time in 2014 MLS Cup Playoffs". MLS. 7 March 2014. Retrieved 9 March 2014. 
  2. ^ "MLS adopts away goals rule". ESPN. 8 March 2014. Retrieved 9 March 2014. 
  3. ^ 2012 Competition Rules and Regulations, MLS, retrieved June 28, 2012 
  4. ^
  5. ^ "New tiebreakers designed to encourage attacking play". MLS Communications. Retrieved October 1, 2012. 

External links[edit]