The MLS Cup Playoffs is the postseasonelimination tournament of Major League Soccer held at the end of the regular season en route to the MLS Cup, the playoff championship game. 12 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 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. The regular season champion must be a U.S.-based club in order to receive direct entry to Champions League.
Starting 2015, the top six teams in each conference qualify for the playoffs, playing in separate conference brackets. The first round of each conference has two one-off matches between the fourth- vs. fifth-place teams and the third- vs. sixth-, with the two higher seeds hosting. The lowest-seeded winner advances to play the conference's top seed, and the next-lowest playing the second in the Conference Semifinals. (This format matches that of the NFL Playoffs.)
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 or single-game MLS Cup Final, respectively. Since 2014 the away goals rule is used. 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.