MLS Cup Playoffs
Logo of the 2018 edition
|Number of teams||12|
|Current champions||Toronto FC (1st title)|
|2018 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, 12 teams qualify for the tournament based on regular-season point totals—the 6 highest-placed teams from both the Eastern Conference and Western Conference. Audi sponsors 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 a direct berth in the CONCACAF Champions League, the continental tournament.
Since the 2015 season, the top six teams in each conference have qualified for the playoffs, playing in separate brackets. The first round of each conference bracket consists of two knockout matches in which the third-placed team hosts the sixth-placed team and the fourth-placed team hosts the fifth-placed team. The lower-seeded winners of the knockout round advances to play the first-placed teams in their respective conferences, while the higher-seeded winners play the second-placed teams in the conference semifinals. The winners of the conference semifinals advance to the conference finals.
The conference semifinals and conference finals are conducted in a home-and-away, aggregate-goal format. Since 2014, the away goals rule has been used for these rounds. In both rounds, the lower-seeded team hosts the first game and the higher-seeded team hosts the second. If the teams are tied after two games (180 minutes), the team that scored more goals on the road advances. If there is still a tie after the away goals rule has been applied, the teams play 30 minutes of extra time (divided into two 15-minute periods), followed by a penalty kick shootout if necessary. The away goals rule does not apply to goals scored in these extra time periods.
Twelve teams qualify for the playoffs: the top six teams from each conference that have accumulated the most points during the 34-game regular season. The two highest-placed teams in each conference receive byes to the conference semifinals, while the third- through sixth-placed teams play in the knockout round.
If at least two teams finish the regular season with an equal number of points, the following criteria are used to break the tie.
- most wins
- goal differential
- goals scored
- fewer disciplinary points
- away goal differential
- away goals scored
- home goal differential
- home goals scored
- coin toss (2 clubs) or drawing of lots (3 clubs)
- 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 used in tie-breakers since the 2012 season.
|Seasons||League teams||Playoff teams|
MLS playoff records
- Records include all knockout playoff matches, individual legs of aggregate-goal rounds, and MLS Cup appearances.
|Games to be played|
- Matches determined by shoot out counted as win-loss, not draw
- As of November 12, 2018
|Club||MLS Cups||MLS Cup
|Atlanta United FC||0||0||2||1||0|
|Columbus Crew SC||1||2||20||24||5|
|Los Angeles FC||0||0||0||1||0|
|Minnesota United FC||0||0||0||0||0|
|New England Revolution||0||5||17||17||7|
|New York City FC||0||0||2||5||0|
|New York Red Bulls||0||1||18||24||8|
|Orlando City SC||0||0||0||0||0|
|Real Salt Lake||1||2||10||10||5|
|San Jose Earthquakes||2||2||13||11||1|
|Seattle Sounders FC||1||2||15||12||5|
|Sporting Kansas City||2||3||19||22||7|
|Tampa Bay Mutiny||0||0||2||9||0|
|Vancouver Whitecaps FC||0||0||1||4||2|
- As of October 28, 2018
|Atlanta United FC||2||2||2|
|Columbus Crew SC||15||2||4|
|Los Angeles FC||1||1||1|
|Minnesota United FC||0||0||0|
|New England Revolution||13||0||8|
|New York City FC||3||3||3|
|New York Red Bulls||19||9||9|
|Orlando City SC||0||0||0|
|Real Salt Lake||9||1||7|
|San Jose Earthquakes||9||0||5|
|Seattle Sounders FC||10||10||10|
|Sporting Kansas City||17||8||8|
|Tampa Bay Mutiny||4||0||2|
|Vancouver Whitecaps FC||4||0||2|
- Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny folded after completion of the 2001 season
- Chivas USA folded after completion of the 2014 season
MLS playoff shoot outs
- MLS began implementing a shoot out to determine the winner of a playoff series in 2004.
- Since 2014 the Away goals rule has been used.
- As of November 9, 2017
|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||7||Real Salt Lake||1–1 (5–4)||Los Angeles Galaxy||2009 MLS Cup 1|
|7||Chicago Fire||0–0 (4–5)||Real Salt Lake||2009 Conference Finals|
|5||6||Toronto FC||0–0 (4–5)||Seattle Sounders FC||2016 MLS Cup|
|6||FC Dallas||4–4 (4–5)||Colorado Rapids||2006 Conference Semifinals|
|6||D.C. United||3–3 (4–3)||New England Revolution||2004 Conference finals|
|8||5||Seattle Sounders FC||4–4 (2–4)||Portland Timbers||2018 Conference Semifinals|
|5||D.C. United||2–2 (2–3)||Columbus Crew||2018 Knockout Round|
|5||New England Revolution||2–2 (2–4)||Houston Dynamo||2006 MLS Cup 1|
|5||New England Revolution||2–2 (4–2)||Chicago Fire||2006 Conference Semifinals|
|5||FC Dallas||2–2 (4–5)||Colorado Rapids||2005 Conference Semifinals|
|3 Games have been decided in 4 rounds|
1 – Game played at neutral location
- "Major League Soccer to introduce away-goals rule for first time in 2014 MLS Cup Playoffs". MLS. March 7, 2014. Retrieved March 9, 2014.
- "MLS adopts away goals rule". ESPN. March 8, 2014. Retrieved March 9, 2014.
- 2018 Competition Rules and Regulations, MLS, retrieved 2018-01-13
- "MLS Cup Playoff Format". Retrieved October 29, 2018.
- "New tiebreakers designed to encourage attacking play". MLS Communications. MLSSoccer.com. Retrieved October 1, 2012.