MLS Cup Playoffs

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MLS Cup Playoffs
Founded1996
RegionUnited States
Canada
Number of teams14
Current championsNew York City FC (1st title)
2021 MLS Cup Playoffs

The MLS Cup Playoffs is the annual postseason elimination tournament of Major League Soccer. The final match of the tournament is the MLS Cup, the league's championship game. Under the current format adopted for the 2019 season, 14 teams qualify for the tournament based on regular-season point totals—the seven highest-placed teams from both the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference. Audi is the title sponsor of this tournament.

Awarding a 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 champions with the Supporters' Shield, and the winner must be a U.S.-based team in order to earn a direct berth in the CONCACAF Champions League, the continental tournament.

Playoff system[edit]

Since 2019 (but excluding 2020),[1] the top seven teams from the Eastern Conference and top seven teams from the Western Conference qualify for the playoffs, playing in separate brackets. All rounds are single-match eliminations hosted by the higher seed and there is no re-seeding in subsequent rounds. Extra time (divided into two 15-minute periods) and a penalty shoot-out are used if the teams were still tied.

The teams ranked 2nd through 7th in each conference compete in the First Round, with the winners advancing to the Conference Semifinals along with the 1st seed who is given a bye. Winners of that round play in the Conference Finals which is then followed by MLS Cup.[2]

The Conference Semifinals and Conference Finals were formerly conducted in a home-and-away, aggregate-goal format. From 2014 to 2018, the away goals rule was used for these rounds.[3][4] In both rounds, the higher-seeded team hosted the second leg. If the teams were tied after two games (180 minutes), the team that scored more goals on the road advanced. If there was still a tie after the away goals rule has been applied, the teams played 30 minutes of extra time (divided into two 15-minute periods), followed by a penalty shoot-out if necessary. The away goals rule did not apply to goals scored in these extra time periods.

Qualification[edit]

Fourteen teams qualify for the playoffs: the top seven teams from the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference that had earned the best points per game record during the 34-game regular season. The top-seeded team in each conference gets a first-round bye, advancing to the conference semifinals, and will host the fourth-fifth seed winner from the first round.[2]

Tie-breaking procedures[edit]

If at least two teams finish the regular season with an equal number of points, the following criteria are used to break the tie.[5]

  1. most wins
  2. goal differential
  3. goals scored
  4. fewer disciplinary points
  5. away goal differential
  6. away goals scored
  7. home goal differential
  8. home goals scored
  9. coin toss (2 clubs) or drawing of lots (3 clubs)

Note:

  • 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 for the two remaining clubs.
  • Head-to-head competition results have not been used in tie-breakers since 2012.[6]

History[edit]

Seasons League teams Playoff teams % of teams Matches played
1996–1997 10 8 80% 19
1998–2001 12 66.7%
2002–2004 10 80% 11
2005–2006 12 66.7%
2007 13 61.5%
2008 14 57.1%
2009 15 53.3%
2010 16 50%
2011 18 10 55.6% 13
2012–2014 19 52.6%
2015–2016 20 12 60% 17
2017 22 54.5%
2018 23 52.2%
2019 24 14 58.3% 13
2020 26 18[a] 69.2% 17
2021 27 14 51.9% 13
2022 28 50%
  1. ^ Temporarily expanded due to the shortened regular season.[1]

MLS playoff records[edit]

  • Records include all knockout playoff matches, individual legs of aggregate-goal rounds, and MLS Cup appearances.

Goals[edit]

Note: Players in bold are still active for an MLS club.

Rank Player Years Goals
1 United States Landon Donovan 2001–2014
2016
25
2 Guatemala Carlos Ruiz 2002–2008
2011
2013
2016
16
3 United States Roy Lassiter 1996–1999
2001–2002
13
4 Bolivia Jaime Moreno 1996–2010 12
5 United States Ante Razov 1996–2009 11
6 United States Brian McBride 1996–2003
2008–2010
10
United States Preki 1996–2005
United States Taylor Twellman 2002–2010
9 United States Jozy Altidore 2006–2008
2015–present
9
United States Will Bruin 2011–present
Republic of Ireland Robbie Keane 2011–2016
Peru Raúl Ruidíaz 2018–present
England Bradley Wright-Phillips 2013–2021

Records[edit]

  • Matches determined by shoot-out counted as win–loss, not draw
As of the conclusion of 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs
  Defunct team
MLS Cup playoff club records
Club MLS Cups MLS Cup
Apps
Win Loss Draw
Atlanta United FC 1 1 6 4 0
Austin FC 0 0 0 0 0
Chicago Fire FC 1 3 20 16 5
Chivas USA 0 0 1 4 3
Colorado Rapids 1 2 15 21 3
Columbus Crew 2 3 20 24 5
D.C. United 4 5 29 14 5
FC Cincinnati 0 0 0 0 0
FC Dallas 0 1 15 26 6
Houston Dynamo FC 2 4 17 10 6
Inter Miami CF 0 0 0 1 0
LA Galaxy 5 9 43 25 6
Los Angeles FC 0 0 1 2 0
Miami Fusion 0 0 0 0 0
Minnesota United FC 0 0 0 2 0
CF Montreal 0 0 6 4 0
Nashville SC 0 0 3 2 0
New England Revolution 0 5 20 20 7
New York City FC 1 1 6 7 0
New York Red Bulls 0 1 19 28 8
Orlando City SC 0 0 1 2 0
Philadelphia Union 0 0 3 7 0
Portland Timbers 1 3 12 8 4
Real Salt Lake 1 2 13 12 5
San Jose Earthquakes 2 2 13 11 1
Seattle Sounders FC 2 4 22 14 5
Sporting Kansas City 2 3 21 25 8
Tampa Bay Mutiny 0 0 1 4 0
Toronto FC 1 3 10 6 1
Vancouver Whitecaps FC 0 0 1 5 2

Appearances[edit]

As of December 31, 2021
  Defunct team
MLS playoff appearance records
Club MLS playoff
appearances
Active
streak
Longest
streak
Atlanta United FC 4 1 3
Chicago Fire FC 13 0 6
Chivas USA 4 0 4
Colorado Rapids 15 2 5
Columbus Crew 16 0 4
D.C. United 15 0 4
FC Dallas 18 0 7
Houston Dynamo FC 8 0 4
Inter Miami CF 1 0 1
LA Galaxy 19 0 10
Los Angeles FC 3 0 3
Miami Fusion 3 0 2
Minnesota United FC 3 3 3
CF Montréal 4 0 2
Nashville SC 2 2 2
New England Revolution 16 3 8
New York City FC 6 6 6
New York Red Bulls 22 12 12
Orlando City SC 2 2 2
Philadelphia Union 6 4 4
Portland Timbers 7 5 5
Real Salt Lake 11 1 7
San Jose Earthquakes 10 0 5
Seattle Sounders FC 13 13 13
Sporting Kansas City 19 2 8
Tampa Bay Mutiny 4 0 2
Toronto FC 5 0 3
Vancouver Whitecaps FC 5 1 2

MLS playoff shoot-outs[edit]

  Won
  Lost
  • MLS began implementing a shoot-out to determine the winner of a playoff series in 2004.
  • From 2014 to 2018 the away goals rule was used (but not in extra time).
As of December 31, 2021
Longest MLS Cup Playoffs Shoot-outs
Rank Rounds Home team Score Away team Season / stage
1 11 Portland Timbers 2–2 (7–6) Sporting Kansas City 2015 Knockout Round
2 10 Sporting Kansas City 1–1 (7–6) Real Salt Lake 2013 MLS Cup
3 8 Portland Timbers 1–1 (7–8) FC Dallas 2020 First round
4 7 Orlando City SC 1–1 (6–5) New York City FC 2020 First round
Real Salt Lake 1–1 (5–4) Los Angeles Galaxy 2009 MLS Cup dagger
Chicago Fire 0–0 (4–5) Real Salt Lake 2009 Conference Finals
7 6 Seattle Sounders FC 0–0 (5–6) Real Salt Lake 2021 First round
Toronto FC 0–0 (4–5) Seattle Sounders FC 2016 MLS Cup
FC Dallas 4–4 (4–5) Colorado Rapids 2006 Conference Semifinals
D.C. United 3–3 (4–3) New England Revolution 2004 Conference finals
7 games have been decided in 5 rounds
5 games have been decided in 4 rounds
1 game has been decided in 3 rounds

dagger Game played at neutral location

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "How the 2020 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs will work: Qualifying and competition format". Major League Soccer. September 11, 2020. Retrieved November 24, 2020.
  2. ^ a b Bogert, Tom (December 17, 2018). "MLS announces new playoff format for 2019 season". Major League Soccer. Retrieved December 17, 2018.
  3. ^ "Major League Soccer to introduce away-goals rule for first time in 2014 MLS Cup Playoffs". MLS. March 7, 2014. Retrieved March 9, 2014.
  4. ^ "MLS adopts away goals rule". ESPN. March 8, 2014. Retrieved March 9, 2014.
  5. ^ "MLS Cup Playoff Format". Retrieved October 29, 2018.
  6. ^ "New tiebreakers designed to encourage attacking play". MLS Communications. MLSSoccer.com. Retrieved October 1, 2012.

External links[edit]