MLS: Explaining how the MLS playoffs work
Major League Soccer is probably the hardest football league to understand in the world to outsiders.
The MLS, which is the American soccer league, has a league system based on their Baseball, Basketball and American Football formats.
In the first place, the MLS has a Western and Eastern Conference, which are basically two mini-leagues.
Currently during the 2017 MLS Season, in each of these Conferences, there are 11 teams.
Out of these 11, the top 6 Clubs after 34 games make it into the MLS Play-Offs.
In this season, teams have only one game left to play in both the Western and Eastern Leagues of the MLS.
So, let me explain the playoffs.
There is a playoff for the best 6 Western and 6 Eastern teams
The playoffs have a Knockout Round, a Semi-Final Round and a Final.
The 1st placed team and 2nd placed team in each conference get a pass to the semi-final, whilst in the knockout round, 3rd placed team faces 6th placed team and 4th placed team faces 5th placed one.
The semi-finals see the highest-seeding team, which is the team in 1st place, go up against the lowest remaining seed. For example, if the knockout games were won by 3rd place and 4th place, the 1st seed would face the 4th seed and the 2nd seed would be opposing 3rd place. i.e., the second-highest seed placed team goes up against the second-lowest seed.
The final takes place then between the two semi-final winners.
The victors of the Western playoff final and the Eastern playoff final then face one another for the MLS Cup.
Let me use the current standings in this year's Western Conference as an example.
If we were to use the current positions and not take the last game of the season into account, the 6 teams from the Western Conference to reach the playoffs would be Vancouver Whitecaps FC (1st, W1), Portland Timbers (2nd, W2), Seattle Sounders FC (3rd,W3), Sporting Kansas City (4th, W4), Houston Dynamo (5th, W5) and San Jose Earthquakes (6th, W6).
In the Knockout Rounds, it would be Seattle Sounders FC (W3) vs. San Jose Earthquakes(W6), and Sporting Kansas City (W4) would face Houston Dynamo(W5).
If for example Sounders (W3) beat San Jose, then they would go onto the semi-finals to face Portland Timbers (W2), and if Kansas City (W4) best Dynamo, they would go on to face Vancouver Whitecaps (W1 ) in the other semi-final.
The victor of each semi-final play in the final against one another. The winner of this final then goes on to challenge the winner of the Eastern Conference playoff for the MLS Cup.
To clarify one thing, the Conference playoff semifinal matches and final games are two-legged games, i.e teams play one game at home and one away. If after the two legs, the sides are level, the team who scored the most away goals goes through. However, if they have scored the same amount away from home, the match goes to 30 minutes extra time and if there is no change then there is a penalty shootout.
The main point to take from this though is that winning the Western or Eastern play-off does not win you the MLS Cup. As I said before, the winners of the Western and Eastern play-offs go head-to-head and the victor wins the MLS Cup. This is just a one-legged match.
I am definitely excited for the playoffs this year.
My prediction would be that the Portland Timbers win the Western Conference playoffs whilst Toronto FC will win the Eastern Conference playoffs. Toronto would be favourite to win the MLS Cup overall.
We hope you now have a better grasp of how the MLS playoffs work.