The Dallas Tornado qualified for the playoffs by virtue of having the highest non-division-winning point total in the league (119 points). They defeated the defending league champion Rochester Lancers in a marathon semifinal series, two games to one, that featured two of the longest games ever played in the history of soccer. Game 1 lasted a record 176 minutes and Game 3 lasted 148 minutes.
The Atlanta Chiefs path to the finals was a bit smoother. They qualified for the playoffs by winning the Southern Division with 120 points. The Chiefs then defeated the New York Cosmos in the semifinals, two games to none without conceding a goal.