MLS Cup Playoffs 101: How the soccer postseason works in the USA

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What can history tell us about teams coming home for 2nd legs?
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What can history tell us about teams coming home for 2nd legs?

No best of threes or best of fives. No Game 7s.

These are the MLS Cup Playoffs, and for those of you who may be new to MLS, this is how it works:

WHO MAKES THE MLS CUP PLAYOFFS?

The top five teams in each conference, East and West, advance to the postseason (see final regular-season standings here).

HOW MANY ROUNDS IN THE MLS CUP PLAYOFFS?

It all starts with a single-elimination Knockout Round match between the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds in each conference (hosted by the higher No. 4 seed). It’s do-or-die. Think of it as an NCAA play-in game or a baseball wild card playoff.

If the teams are tied after 90 minutes of regulation and 30 minutes of extra time, they go to a penalty kick shootout. And if you survive the Knockout Round, here’s the rest of the path to the MLS title:

Knockout Round --> Conference Semis --> Conference Championships --> MLS Cup Final

HOW DO YOU ADVANCE?

Just score more goals than your opponent.

In the single-elimination Knockout Round and MLS Cup final, you have 90 minutes to do it. In the MLS Conference Semis and Conference Championships you have two games – one at home and one away. The team that scores the most total goals moves on.

If the teams are tied on total goals in any playoff round, they play a 30-minute extra time period and if necessary, they go to a penalty kick shootout tiebreaker.

WHO GETS HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE?

It’s easy. In the single elimination Knockout Round matches and MLS Cup final, the team with the best regular season record gets to host.

In the two-game Conference Semis and Conference Championships, the team with the best regular season record hosts the second of the two-game series (it’s considered an edge in soccer to host the decisive match at home).

 

So there you have it. Now all you have to do is pick a team!

 

KNOCKOUT ROUND (1 game)

EAST: #5 Montreal Impact at  #4 Houston Dynamo (Thurs., Oct. 31)

WEST: #5 Colorado Rapids at #4 Seattle Sounders (Wed., Oct. 30)

CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS (2 games)

EAST:  #1 New York Red Bulls vs. #5 Montreal Impact or #4 Houston Dynamo

            #2 Sporting Kansas City vs. #3 New England Revolution

WEST: #1 Portland Timbers vs. #5 Colorado Rapids or #4 Seattle Sounders

            #2 Real Salt Lake vs. #3 LA Galaxy

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS (2 games)

EAST: Nov. 9-10 and Nov. 23-24

WEST: Nov. 9-10 and Nov. 23-24

MLS CUP (1 game)

Dec. 7, 2013

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