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How The Convoluted MLS Cup Playoffs Work

Explaining one of the weirdest playoff formats in sports

The MLS Cup playoffs begin today, and we here at The18 realized that most people don’t understand how the MLS playoffs work.

Heck, we barely understand how they work and this is our job. We suspect the players themselves don’t actually know how the playoffs work.

In fact, we think the only two people who actually understand the MLS playoffs in full are Don Garber and that guy who sits near you at soccer games and yells very specific soccer jargon at the players and uses the ethnic pronunciation (rolling his r’s for Hispanic players, etc.) even though he has never been anywhere more ethnic than a Starbucks in the Dallas airport. But we digress.

The MLS playoffs (and we say this with all due respect, we love the MLS here at The18) do not make any semblance of sense. Fortunately, we’re here to explain the silliness to you.

Seeds: The top five teams from the Eastern and Western conferences make the playoffs. This year’s playoff teams are as follows:

Western Conference: Seattle Sounders (1), L.A. Galaxy (2), Real Salt Lake (3), FC Dallas (4), Vancouver Whitecaps (5).

Eastern Conference: D.C. United (1), New England Revolution (2), Columbus Crew (3), New York Red Bulls (4), Sporting Kansas City (5).

The First Round: The first round of the MLS playoffs is a one-game knock out round between the fourth and fifth seeds in each conference.

The Second Round: The conference semifinals, which feature the one seeds against the knockout winners, and the two seeds against the three seeds. The conference semifinals are played like European soccer playoffs, with a home-and-home. Each team gets a home game, and the team with the most goals in the two games wins (called an aggregate). In the event of a tie, the team with the most away goals wins. If the teams are still tied after that, the game advances into extra time, and, if necessary, penalties.

The Third Round: The conference finals. The winners of the conference semifinals matches face off, using the same exact rules as the conference semifinals.

The Fourth Round: The finals, where the winners from each conference square off. The finals move back to the one-game knockout format, and the team with the best regular-season record of the two finalists gets to be the home team.

We know, we don’t understand why they switch formats during the playoffs either, but they do. The full playoff schedule can be found here.

Follow Sam Klomhaus on Twitter @SamKlomhaus

 

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