171010 MLS Cup 101

MLS Cup Playoffs 101

As Atlanta’s exciting inaugural MLS regular season nears an end, the hype of their playoff journey is just beginning. The expansion side has already clinched a berth in the postseason, but what exactly will their road look like? When does it start? Which teams qualify for playoffs? How does the system work?

Here’s a 101 guide to simplify the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs:


Who Qualifies?

A total of 12 teams qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs, the top six of the Eastern Conference table and the top six from the Western Conference at the conclusion of the regular season.

How Are Teams Seeded?

Teams are seeded from #1-6 within their respective conferences based on their season record and finish in the table. First place in the table receives the first seed, second in the table gets the second seed and so on.

How Many Rounds?

The playoffs consist of 4 total rounds:

1) Knockout Round

2) Conference Semifinals (2 Legs)

3) Conference Finals (2 Legs)

4) MLS Cup Final

How Does Each Round Work?

1) Knockout Round

  • The Knockout Round involves the #3-6 seeds of each conference competing in a single-game elimination match. The #1 and #2 seeds receive a bye through to the next round.
  • The higher-seeded team hosts the match at their stadium  (#3 hosts #6 and #4 hosts #5).
  • The winners advance to the Conference Semifinals.

2) Conference Semifinals

  • The Conference Semifinals are played in aggregate format over the course of two legs.
  • The lowest seed advancing from the play-in round will match up against the #1 seed, and the higher remaining seed will play the #2 seed.
  • Each team will host a match, the lower seed hosting the first leg, and the higher seed hosting the second.
  • The two-legged aggregate format means that the scores from both matches will be added together and the total score will decide who advances.
  • If the total score is tied between the two sides, the tie-breaker will be based on the most away goals scored
  • If both teams score an equal amount of away goals, the second leg will advance into a 30-minute extra-time period with two 15-minute halves.
  • If still tied at the end of extra time, the game will be decided in a penalty shootout.
  • The winners advance to the Conference Finals

3) Conference Finals

  • The Conference Finals are played in the same aggregate format as the Semifinals (details above).
  • The winners are crowned conference champions and move on to the MLS Cup Final.

4) MLS Cup Final

  • The MLS Cup Final is played in a single match between the Eastern Conference champion and the Western Conference champion
  • The team with the best overall record from the regular season between the two sides will host the match.
  • If tied at the end of regulation, the game proceeds into a 30-minute extra-time period (two 15-minute halves).
  • If still tied at the end of extra time, the game will be decided in a penalty shootout.

When Does It All Happen?

  • The Knockout Round matches will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 25th and Thursday, Oct. 26th
  • The two legs of the Conference Semifinals will take place between Sunday, Oct. 29th and Sunday, Nov. 5th
  • The first leg of the Conference Final will take place on Tuesday Nov. 21st. The second leg will take place between Tuesday, Nov. 28th and Thursday Nov. 30th
  • The 2017 MLS Cup will be played on Saturday, Dec. 9th at 4:00 pm EST


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