Major League Soccer has announced a new, expanded playoff format that will see nine teams from each conference qualify for the postseason, with the addition of a “wild card” round and a best-of-three series in round 1.
The new format will take effect for the 2023 season, which begins on Saturday.
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With the league expanded to 29 teams this season following the entry of St. Louis City SC, it means that 62% of clubs will qualify for the playoffs.
Nine clubs reaching the playoffs from each conference will be the highest number ever in MLS, other than when 10 made the postseason from both the East and West conferences in the pandemic-impacted 2020 season.
Last year, seven teams from each conference made the playoffs with the No. 1 seeds getting a bye to the conference semifinals.
As part of the new format, the teams that finish eighth and ninth in each conference will face off in a one-off wild card game for the right to move onto round one and a matchup with the No. 1 seed.
Other round one matchups will see the No. 2 seed vs. No. 7, No. 3 vs. No. 6 and No. 4 vs. No. 5.
For the first time, round one will be contested over three matches, with the higher seed hosting the first and, if necessary, third games. The games cannot end in ties, with matches going straight to penalty kicks if tied after 90 minutes, and the first team to win two games advancing.
As has been the case since 2019, the conference semifinals, finals and MLS Cup will continue to be contested in a one-off winner-take-all-game with the higher seed hosting.
MLS also confirmed dates for each of the playoff rounds. Following the climax to the regular season on Oct. 21, the playoffs will begin with the two wild card matches on Oct. 25-26 and round one series matches from Oct. 28-Nov. 12.
The conference semifinals and conference finals will be played between Nov. 25-Dec. 3, with MLS Cup taking place on Dec. 9.