Logo of the 2018 edition
|Number of teams||14|
|Current champions||Atlanta United FC (1st title)|
|2019 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 in 2019, 14 teams qualify for the tournament based on regular-season point totals—the seven highest-placed teams from both the Eastern Conference and Western Conference. Audi is the title sponsor of this tournament.
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 a direct berth in the CONCACAF Champions League, the continental tournament.
Since the 2019 season, the top seven teams in each conference will qualify for the playoffs, playing in separate brackets. The top seed in each conference is given a bye to the Conference Semifinals, while the remaining six teams compete in the first round of the playoffs. All rounds are single-match eliminations hosted by the higher seed and there is no re-seeding in subsequent rounds, with the winner of the 4th and 5th place match advancing to face the conference leader and the 2nd–7th and 3rd–6th winners in the other semifinal match. The winners of the conference semifinals advance to the conference finals.
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. In both rounds, the lower-seeded team hosted the first game and the higher-seeded team hosted the second. 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 kick shootout if necessary. The away goals rule did not apply to goals scored in these extra time periods.
Ties after full-time are broken as follows: two straight 15-minute extra time periods will be played; and if the tie persists, a penalty kick shootout will determine who advances.
Fourteen teams qualify for the playoffs: the top seven teams from each conference that have accumulated the most points during the 34-game regular season. The highest-placed team in each conference receives a bye to the conference semifinals, while the second- through seventh-placed teams play in the first round.
If at least two teams finish the regular season with an equal number of points, the following criteria are used to break the tie.
- most wins
- goal differential
- goals scored
- fewer disciplinary points
- away goal differential
- away goals scored
- home goal differential
- home goals scored
- coin toss (2 clubs) or drawing of lots (3 clubs)
- 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 the 2012 season.
|Seasons||League teams||Playoff teams|
MLS playoff records
- Records include all knockout playoff matches, individual legs of aggregate-goal rounds, and MLS Cup appearances.
|Games to be played|
- Matches determined by shoot out counted as win-loss, not draw
- As of December 9, 2018
|Club||MLS Cups||MLS Cup
|Atlanta United FC||1||1||4||2||0|
|Columbus Crew SC||1||2||20||24||5|
|Los Angeles FC||0||0||0||1||0|
|Minnesota United FC||0||0||0||0||0|
|New England Revolution||0||5||17||17||7|
|New York City FC||0||0||2||5||0|
|New York Red Bulls||0||1||19||25||8|
|Orlando City SC||0||0||0||0||0|
|Real Salt Lake||1||2||10||10||5|
|San Jose Earthquakes||2||2||13||11||1|
|Seattle Sounders FC||1||2||15||12||5|
|Sporting Kansas City||2||3||19||23||8|
|Tampa Bay Mutiny||0||0||2||9||0|
|Vancouver Whitecaps FC||0||0||1||4||2|
- As of October 28, 2018
|Atlanta United FC||2||2||2|
|Columbus Crew SC||15||2||4|
|Los Angeles FC||1||1||1|
|Minnesota United FC||0||0||0|
|New England Revolution||13||0||8|
|New York City FC||3||3||3|
|New York Red Bulls||19||9||9|
|Orlando City SC||0||0||0|
|Real Salt Lake||9||1||7|
|San Jose Earthquakes||9||0||5|
|Seattle Sounders FC||10||10||10|
|Sporting Kansas City||17||8||8|
|Tampa Bay Mutiny||4||0||2|
|Vancouver Whitecaps FC||4||0||2|
- Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny folded after completion of the 2001 season
- Chivas USA folded after completion of the 2014 season
MLS playoff shoot outs
- 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.
- As of December 1, 2018
|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||7||Real Salt Lake||1–1 (5–4)||Los Angeles Galaxy||2009 MLS Cup 1|
|7||Chicago Fire||0–0 (4–5)||Real Salt Lake||2009 Conference Finals|
|5||6||Toronto FC||0–0 (4–5)||Seattle Sounders FC||2016 MLS Cup|
|6||FC Dallas||4–4 (4–5)||Colorado Rapids||2006 Conference Semifinals|
|6||D.C. United||3–3 (4–3)||New England Revolution||2004 Conference finals|
|8||5||Seattle Sounders FC||4–4 (2–4)||Portland Timbers||2018 Conference Semifinals|
|5||D.C. United||2–2 (2–3)||Columbus Crew||2018 Knockout Round|
|5||New England Revolution||2–2 (2–4)||Houston Dynamo||2006 MLS Cup 1|
|5||New England Revolution||2–2 (4–2)||Chicago Fire||2006 Conference Semifinals|
|5||FC Dallas||2–2 (4–5)||Colorado Rapids||2005 Conference Semifinals|
|3 Games have been decided in 4 rounds|
1 – Game played at neutral location
- Bogert, Tom (December 17, 2018). "MLS announces new playoff format for 2019 season". Major League Soccer. Retrieved December 17, 2018.
- "Major League Soccer to introduce away-goals rule for first time in 2014 MLS Cup Playoffs". MLS. March 7, 2014. Retrieved March 9, 2014.
- "MLS adopts away goals rule". ESPN. March 8, 2014. Retrieved March 9, 2014.
- "MLS Cup Playoff Format". Retrieved October 29, 2018.
- "New tiebreakers designed to encourage attacking play". MLS Communications. MLSSoccer.com. Retrieved October 1, 2012.