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
(single games) Dec. 9. MLS Cup
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.
MLS: 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.