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MLS Cup Playoffs

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MLS Cup Playoffs
Founded1996
Region
  • United States
  • Canada
Number of teams18
Current championsColumbus Crew (3rd title)
Most successful team(s)LA Galaxy (5 titles)
2023 MLS Cup Playoffs

The MLS Cup Playoffs is the annual postseason elimination tournament of Major League Soccer. The MLS Cup, the league's championship game, is the final match of the tournament. Under the current format adopted for the 2023 season, 18 teams qualify for the tournament based on regular-season point totals — the nine highest-placed teams from each 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 both champions earn a berth in the CONCACAF Champions Cup, the continental tournament.[1]

Playoff system[edit]

Since 2023, the top nine teams from each of the Eastern and Western Conference qualify for the playoffs, playing in separate brackets.[2][3][4] The wild-card round, conference semifinals, conference finals, and the MLS Cup are single-match eliminations hosted by the team with the better regular season record, while round one is a best-of-3 series with the higher seeds hosting the odd-numbered games with no re-seeding in any round. A penalty shoot-out is used if the teams are still tied in all games while extra time (divided into two 15-minute periods) is utilized from conference semifinals onwards.

The top seven teams in each conference are given byes to the first round. The teams ranked 8th and 9th in each conference compete in the Wild-card round, with the winner advancing to face the best-ranked team in Round One. The winners of the first-round series advance to the conference semifinals, then the conference finals, and finally the MLS Cup, a single match hosted by the finalist with the better regular-season record.[2][3][4]

Previously, the top seven teams per conference qualified for the playoffs, with only the team with the best regular-season record in each conference earning a first-round bye to the conference semifinals.[5][6] Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the top ten teams from the Eastern and top eight teams from the Western conference qualified for the playoffs in the 2020 season, with single-elimination remaining intact. The top six Eastern teams earned byes to the first round while teams seeded 7–10 and competed in play-in games. The lowest-ranked team to advance from the play-in round advanced to play the conference's first-placed team while the highest-ranked remaining team from that round advanced to face the conference's runner-up. In the Western Conference, the top eight teams competed in their first round with no byes.[7]

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.[8][9] 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 had 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 periods.

Qualification[edit]

Eighteen teams qualify for the playoffs: the top nine 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 seven teams in each conference get a first-round bye, advancing to the conference quarterfinals.[2][3][4]

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, with coin tosses (two teams) or drawing of lots (at least three teams) used if all of those below fail.[10]

  • Most wins
  • Higher goal differential
  • Higher goals scored
  • Fewer disciplinary points
  • Higher away goal differential
  • Higher away goals scored
  • Higher home goal differential
  • Higher home goals scored

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.[11]

History[edit]

Seasons League teams Playoff teams % of teams Matches played
1996–1997 10 8 80% 19
1998–2001 12 66.7%
2002 10 80% 17
2003–2004 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%
2023 29 18 62.1% 25–33
  1. ^ Temporarily expanded due to the shortened regular season.[12]

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.

Landon Donovan has the most goals in MLS playoff history.
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
2015–2023
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 2023 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 3 4 21 24 5
D.C. United 4 5 29 14 5
FC Cincinnati 0 0 1 1 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 1 1 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 1 4 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 22 October 2023
  Defunct team
MLS playoff appearance records
Club MLS playoff
appearances
Active
streak
Longest
streak
Atlanta United FC 5 1 3
Austin FC 1 0 1
Charlotte FC 1 1 1
Chicago Fire FC 13 0 6
Chivas USA 4 0 4
Colorado Rapids 15 0 5
Columbus Crew 17 1 4
D.C. United 15 0 4
FC Cincinnati 2 2 2
FC Dallas 20 2 7
Houston Dynamo FC 9 1 4
Inter Miami CF 2 0 1
LA Galaxy 20 0 10
Los Angeles FC 5 2 3
Miami Fusion 3 0 2
Minnesota United FC 4 0 4
CF Montréal 5 0 2
Nashville SC 4 4 4
New England Revolution 17 1 8
New York City FC 7 0 7
New York Red Bulls 24 14 14
Orlando City SC 4 4 4
Philadelphia Union 8 6 6
Portland Timbers 7 0 5
Real Salt Lake 13 3 7
San Jose Earthquakes 11 1 5
Seattle Sounders FC 14 1 13
Sporting Kansas City 20 1 8
St. Louis City SC 1 1 1
Tampa Bay Mutiny 4 0 2
Toronto FC 5 0 3
Vancouver Whitecaps FC 6 1 2

MLS playoff shootouts[edit]

  Won
  Lost
  • MLS began implementing a shootout 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 12 November 2023
Longest MLS Cup Playoffs shootouts
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
New York Red Bulls 1–1 (7–8) FC Cincinnati 2023 first round
4 8 Portland Timbers 1–1 (7–8) FC Dallas 2020 first round
5 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
Chicago Fire 0–0 (4–5) Real Salt Lake 2009 conference finals
8 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
11 games have been decided in 5 rounds
7 games have been decided in 4 rounds
1 game has been decided in 3 rounds

† Game played at neutral location

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Concacaf announces qualification criteria for Confederation's expanded Champions League starting in 2024". CONCACAF. June 1, 2022. Retrieved February 8, 2023.
  2. ^ a b c "Major League Soccer Announces Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs Format and Schedule" (Press release). Major League Soccer. February 21, 2023. Retrieved February 21, 2023.
  3. ^ a b c "MLS reveals new playoff format for 2023 season". 90min.com. February 22, 2023. Retrieved February 22, 2023.
  4. ^ a b c "MLS playoff format: Major League Soccer introduce a play-in round to their postseason". CBSSports.com. February 22, 2023. Retrieved February 22, 2023.
  5. ^ "MLS announces new playoff format for 2019 season". December 17, 2018.
  6. ^ "MLS overhauls playoff format, alters league schedule". December 17, 2018.
  7. ^ mlssoccer. "How the 2020 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs will work: Qualifying and competition format | MLSSoccer.com". mlssoccer. Retrieved February 27, 2023.
  8. ^ "Major League Soccer to introduce away-goals rule for first time in 2014 MLS Cup Playoffs". MLS. March 7, 2014. Retrieved March 9, 2014.
  9. ^ "MLS adopts away goals rule". ESPN. March 8, 2014. Retrieved March 9, 2014.
  10. ^ "MLS Cup Playoff Format". Retrieved October 29, 2018.
  11. ^ "New tiebreakers designed to encourage attacking play". MLS Communications. MLSSoccer.com. Retrieved October 1, 2012.
  12. ^ "How the 2020 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs will work: Qualifying and competition format". Major League Soccer. September 11, 2020. Retrieved November 24, 2020.

External links[edit]