MLS expands playoff field, adds best-of-3 series to mix

Four days before the start of the regular season, Major League Soccer introduced its the format and schedule for the 2023 playoffs.

MLS has expanded the playoff field from 14 to 18 teams, adding a wild-card round and a best-of-3 series to Round One.

Oct. 25-26.
Wild-card matches (No. 8 vs. No. 9 in each conference)
Oct. 28-Nov. 12.
Round One (Best-of-3 series, No. 1 vs. No. 8/9, No. 2 vs. No. 7, Nov. 3 vs. No. 6., No. 4 vs. No. 5 in each conference)
Nov. 25-Dec. 3.
Conference semifinals and finals (single games)
Dec. 9.
MLS Cup (single game)

The winners of the two wild-card games -- penalty kicks if the score is tied after regulation -- will face the conference top seeds in Round One, where each series will feature at least two games.

The series winner will be the first team to win two games. There will be no ties in Round One, so each match in the best-of-3 series will go to penalty kicks if the score is tied after regulation. It creates the possible scenario of a team losing one game after 90 minutes but advancing by winning two shootouts.

MLS used a similar format in its early years. Best-of 3-series (ties broken by NASL-style shootouts) were used for the conference quarterfinals and semifinals in 1996-99.

It moved to first to 5 points for the next four years -- ties stood if not broken after 10 minutes of sudden-death overtime -- in the conference quarterfinals and semifinals.

Two-leg series for the conference quarterfinals or conference quarterfinals and finals -- some years with away-goals breaking aggregate ties, others not -- were then used until 2019 when all rounds leading up to MLS Cup were knockout games.

The 2023 conference semifinals and finals will remain knockout games -- with penalty kicks after 120 minutes, if necessary.

Complete 2023 MLS

The break for the November FIFA window -- Nov. 13-21 -- effectively cuts the 2023 MLS playoffs into two, one with the wild-card round and Round One (18-26 games, depending on how many series go to a third round) and the other with the rush to the final, featuring the single-game conference semifinals and finals (seven games, including MLS Cup).

There will be a distinct start-stop feel to the 2023 MLS season.  There will be a five-week break in league play in July-August for the new Leagues Cup and another break in action for the October FIFA window ahead of the final weekend of play in the regular season.

There will be no break for the March or June FIFA window or for the Gold Cup, but only three games are scheduled for the weekend of the September FIFA window.
13 comments about "MLS expands playoff field, adds best-of-3 series to mix".
  1. Randy Vogt, February 22, 2023 at 6:43 a.m.


  2. George Miller, February 22, 2023 at 7:55 a.m.

    What's the point of the regular season? Having a team teams in the playoffs is a joke one more reason not to watch.

  3. Valerie Metzler, February 22, 2023 at 8:18 a.m.


  4. Matthew Shaddock, February 22, 2023 at 9:03 a.m.

    Good luck explaining this to friends... 

  5. Peter Hussmann, February 22, 2023 at 9:37 a.m.

    I agree with George, what is the point of the regular season?
    the Supporters Shield is worthless seeing as the winners hardly get any recognition for it. As we have seen the home field advantage makes no difference. Adding more teams to the playoffs makes teams less competitive because if if they are having a crappy season they still only have to play good enough to make the playoffs.The real reason why they are doing this is to have more TV time which translates into more money. Personally I think the quality of play in the MLS has gone down with the addition of more teams. 

  6. SD Dude, February 22, 2023 at 9:57 a.m.

    Awful system that rewards poor performing clubs. Relegation and promotion is the only way to put the fear of God in bad teams.

  7. Santiago 1314, February 22, 2023 at 11:05 a.m.

    If they are going to do this Madness; (Might be Good, but i don't understand the Math... )
    Shouldn't they put 8 East vs 9 West and 8 West vs 9 East.???
    That is always the Complaint; that once Conference is stronger than the other, and if we would play the team in the other Conference, we could Prove it.

  8. humble 1, February 22, 2023 at 11:48 a.m.

    Best of 3?  Nonsense. Why not do best of 5 or 7? 
    They are trying to make the playoff seem like pro-rel.  The playoffs are another season.  Wildcard team could play up to 6 post season games.  They are clearly looking at the number of games they have in Champions league and seeking this outcome, but backing into it, in the usual MLS way.  3 steps backwards.  Have a nice day. 

  9. Tim Shyver, February 22, 2023 at 12:36 p.m.

    Absolutely awful decision that devalues the regular season. 

  10. beautiful game, February 22, 2023 at 2:14 p.m.

    MLS has caught the FIFA di$ea$e.

  11. Santiago 1314, February 22, 2023 at 2:20 p.m.

    Look, if it Brings IN more Money, we have to "Get On Board" with it...
    Only Money for PLAYER SALARIES for YOUNG, ATTRACTIVE, ABLE Players from Every League that is NOT BPL, LaLiga, Bundesliga, SerieA is going to Make MLS the # 5 or 6 League in the World. And MLS will Probably NEVER be Able to get above #5 or #6.

    We have to Face It... ALL Players want to Play for a Euro Team in the Champions League.
    MLS will NEVER have the Traditions to Compete with that...

    MLS Needs to be able to BUY every Player that is NOT Bought Up by the Big Teams in the Big Leagues... 
    THAT WILL RAISE THE LEVEL IN THE LEAGUE and HOPEFULLY the Level of the USA Players attached to these US Teams... 

    We are COMPETING with 20 BPL Teams... 4 LaLiga Teams... 1 French Team ... 4.?? German Teams ... 4 Italian Teams...Maybe 4 WILD Card Teams(Portugal,Holland,Sherrif,Scotland)
    Let's Round it OFF to 40 Teams @ 25 Players per Team = 1,000 TOP LEVEL PLAYERS

    MLS Needs to Concentrate on the NEXT 1,000 Players... Buy, Sell, Trade... INCREASE THE PLAYER Salaries to keep them from going to 2nd Tier Euro Leagues.

    It seems like a Pretty Simple Business Model.!?!?!?  

  12. humble 1 replied, February 24, 2023 at 10:20 a.m.

    Santi, MLS is not about player development - the owners are not interested.  Their rules for foreign players in the league are weak.  The MLS final - started 3 Americans if I recall.  In Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, I think the rules are no more than two foreign players on the pitch at one time, max could have been 4.  Until we have such rules - player develoment here is stymied because of the pay-to-play and MLS Heginmony.  P-T-P mediocrity rules the youth space - MLS mediocrity the adult.  We will have to wait for the grass roots game to take hold.  I go to MLS games only to watch Uruguayan players, the rest of my time I watch HS - the real free youth soccer - and UPSL - the real club soccer league and I do some USL too - as I like that model - and soon I will be watch a lot of D1 college soccer.  Painful, yes, sometimes, but, pure.  Have a nice day.

  13. Phil Love, February 23, 2023 at 3:29 p.m.

    I thought MLS had just about gotten they're playoffs right, now this stupidity.  Thanks a bunch, Apple TV.

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