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 adopted for the 2019 season, 14 teams qualify for the tournament based on regular-season point totals—the seven highest-placed teams from both the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference. Audi is the title sponsor of this tournament.

MLS Cup Playoffs
Founded1996
RegionUnited States
Canada
Number of teams14
Current championsColumbus Crew (2nd title)
2020 MLS Cup Playoffs

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 the winner must be a U.S.-based team in order to earn a direct berth in the CONCACAF Champions League, the continental tournament.

Playoff systemEdit

In the 2020 season, the top ten teams from the Eastern Conference and top eight teams from the Western Conference qualified for the playoffs, playing in separate brackets. All rounds were single-match eliminations hosted by the higher seed and there was no re-seeding in subsequent rounds. Extra time (divided into two 15-minute periods) and a penalty shoot-out were used if the teams were still tied.

The teams ranked 7th through 10th in the Eastern Conference competed in a play-in round, to join the top six seeds who were given a bye. In the first round, the lowest remaining seed from the play-in round (New England Revolution) played against the Eastern Conference regular-season champions, the Philadelphia Union, while the highest remaining seed from that round (Nashville SC) played against the Conference runners-up, Toronto FC. 3rd place vs 6th place and 4th place vs 5th place were the other first-round pairings. First-round winners advanced to the Conference Semifinals; winners of the Conference Semifinals advanced to the Conference Finals.[1]

The Western Conference had the top eight teams qualifying. There was no play-in round; the top-seeded team hosted the 8th seed, with 2nd place vs 7th place, 3rd place vs 6th place and 4th place vs 5th place being the other first-round pairings. The first-round winners then advanced to the Conference Semifinals and then the Conference Finals, just like in the East.

The winners of each Conference Finals, Columbus Crew SC and Seattle Sounders FC, then competed in the MLS Cup, a single match hosted by Columbus, the team with the better regular-season record; Columbus won the game and was thus crowned MLS Cup champions.

In 2021, as in the 2019 season, the top seven teams per conference will qualify for the playoffs. The top-seeded team gets a first-round bye.

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.[2][3] 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 has 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 time periods.

QualificationEdit

Fourteen teams qualify for the playoffs: the top seven 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-seeded team in each conference gets a bye to the conference semifinals, and awaits to host the fourth-fifth seed winner from the first round.[4]

Tie-breaking proceduresEdit

If at least two teams finish the regular season with an equal number of points, the following criteria are used to break the tie.[5]

  1. most wins
  2. goal differential
  3. goals scored
  4. fewer disciplinary points
  5. away goal differential
  6. away goals scored
  7. home goal differential
  8. home goals scored
  9. coin toss (2 clubs) or drawing of lots (3 clubs)

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.[6]

HistoryEdit

Seasons League teams Playoff teams % of teams Matches played
1996–1997 10 8 80% 19
1998–2001 12 66.7%
2002–2004 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 69.2% 17
2021 27 14 51.9% 13
2022 28 16 57.1% 15

MLS playoff recordsEdit

  • Records include all knockout playoff matches, individual legs of aggregate-goal rounds, and MLS Cup appearances.

GoalsEdit

Note: Players in bold are still active for an MLS club.

Rank Player Years Goals
1   Landon Donovan 2001–2014
2016
25
2   Carlos Ruiz 2002–2008
2011
2013
2016
16
3   Roy Lassiter 1996–1999
2001–2002
13
4   Jaime Moreno 1996–2010 12
5   Ante Razov 1996–2009 11
6   Brian McBride 1996–2003
2008–2010
10
  Preki 1996–2005
  Taylor Twellman 2002–2010
9   Jozy Altidore 2006–2008
2015–present
9
  Will Bruin 2011–present
  Robbie Keane 2011–2016
  Raúl Ruidíaz 2018–present
  Bradley Wright-Phillips 2013–present
Legend
Games to be played
Defunct team

RecordsEdit

  • Matches determined by shoot-out counted as win-loss, not draw
As of November 10, 2019
MLS Cup playoff club records
Club MLS Cups MLS Cup
Apps
Win Loss Draw
Atlanta United FC 1 1 6 3 0
Chicago Fire FC 1 3 20 16 5
Chivas USA 0 0 1 4 3
Colorado Rapids 1 2 15 20 3
Columbus Crew SC 2 3 20 24 5
D.C. United 4 5 29 14 5
FC Cincinnati 0 0 0 0 0
FC Dallas 0 1 14 25 6
Houston Dynamo FC 2 4 17 10 6
LA Galaxy 5 9 43 25 6
Los Angeles FC 0 0 1 2 0
Miami Fusion 0 0 0 0 0
Minnesota United FC 0 0 0 1 0
CF Montreal 0 0 6 3 0
Nashville SC 0 0 1 1 0
New England Revolution 0 5 17 18 7
New York City FC 0 0 2 6 0
New York Red Bulls 0 1 19 26 8
Orlando City SC 0 0 1 1 0
Philadelphia Union 0 0 1 5 0
Portland Timbers 1 2 9 6 4
Real Salt Lake 1 2 11 11 5
San Jose Earthquakes 2 2 13 11 1
Seattle Sounders FC 2 4 19 12 5
Sporting Kansas City 2 3 19 23 8
Tampa Bay Mutiny 0 0 1 4 0
Toronto FC 1 3 10 5 1
Vancouver Whitecaps FC 0 0 1 4 2

AppearancesEdit

As of November 10, 2020
MLS playoff appearance records
Club MLS playoff
appearances
Active
streak
Longest
streak
Atlanta United FC 3 0 3
Chicago Fire FC 13 0 6
Chivas USA 4 0 4
Colorado Rapids 14 1 5
Columbus Crew SC 16 1 4
D.C. United 15 0 4
FC Dallas 18 3 7
Houston Dynamo FC 8 0 4
Inter Miami CF 1 1 1
LA Galaxy 19 0 10
Los Angeles FC 3 3 3
Miami Fusion 3 0 2
Minnesota United FC 2 2 2
CF Montréal 4 1 2
Nashville SC 1 1 1
New England Revolution 15 2 8
New York City FC 5 5 5
New York Red Bulls 21 11 11
Orlando City SC 1 1 1
Philadelphia Union 5 3 3
Portland Timbers 6 4 4
Real Salt Lake 10 0 7
San Jose Earthquakes 10 1 5
Seattle Sounders FC 12 12 12
Sporting Kansas City 18 1 8
Tampa Bay Mutiny 4 0 2
Toronto FC 5 2 3
Vancouver Whitecaps FC 4 0 2

MLS playoff shoot-outsEdit

  Won
  Lost
  • MLS began implementing a shoot-out 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 November 22, 2020
Longest MLS Cup Playoffs Shoot-outs
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 8 Portland Timbers 1–1 (7–8) FC Dallas 2020 First round
4 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
7 6 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
10 5 Seattle Sounders FC 4–4 (2–4) Portland Timbers 2018 Conference Semifinals
D.C. United 2–2 (2–3) Columbus Crew SC 2018 Knockout Round
New England Revolution 2–2 (2–4) Houston Dynamo 2006 MLS Cup  
New England Revolution 2–2 (4–2) Chicago Fire 2006 Conference Semifinals
FC Dallas 2–2 (4–5) Colorado Rapids 2005 Conference Semifinals
3 games have been decided in 4 rounds
1 game has been decided in 3 rounds

  Game played at neutral location

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Bogert, Tom (September 11, 2020). "MLS announces new playoff format for 2019 season". Major League Soccer. Retrieved November 24, 2020.
  2. ^ "Major League Soccer to introduce away-goals rule for first time in 2014 MLS Cup Playoffs". MLS. March 7, 2014. Retrieved March 9, 2014.
  3. ^ "MLS adopts away goals rule". ESPN. March 8, 2014. Retrieved March 9, 2014.
  4. ^ Bogert, Tom (December 17, 2018). "MLS announces new playoff format for 2019 season". Major League Soccer. Retrieved December 17, 2018.
  5. ^ "MLS Cup Playoff Format". Retrieved October 29, 2018.
  6. ^ "New tiebreakers designed to encourage attacking play". MLS Communications. MLSSoccer.com. Retrieved October 1, 2012.

External linksEdit