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New playoff format coming to Major League Soccer

MLS Logo Garber Soccer
Posted at 5:22 PM, Feb 21, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-21 17:23:03-05

CINCINNATI — Major League Soccer playoffs won't be the same in 2023, just one year after FC Cincinnati won its first ever playoff game since joining the league.

The 2023 MLS postseason will now hold two single-elimination wild card matches ahead of the first playoff round — one for each conference. Following that, the first round of playoff games will be held in a best-of-three format.

At the end of the season, Decision Day will be held on October 21. After that, the wild card matches will be held on October 25 and 26. The first round of the best-of-three series matches will run from Oct. 28 through Nov. 12, followed by conference semifinals and conference finals.

MLS teams will automatically qualify for the first round best-of-three series if they're one of the top seven seeds; seeds eight and nine will qualify instead for the wild card matches.

The wild card matches will be two single-game elimination matches, with the highest seeded team playing host. In the event of a tie in a wild card game, there will be no extra time — a significant divergence from most soccer playoff structures around the world.

Instead, teams will go straight to penalty kicks to determine the winner.

The winners of each wild card match will advance and face the conference's top seed in a newly-formatted best-of-three round. This round will also nix the two 15-minute extra time periods in the event of a tie, pushing teams straight to penalty kicks to determine who advances.

From there, playoffs continue as they have in recent years, with single-elimination matches and extra time to determine winners in a tie happening ahead of penalty kicks.

FC Cincinnati won its first MLS playoff game in the 2022 postseason, defeating the New York Red Bulls October 15 before falling to the Philadelphia Union on Oct. 20. It was also the first year FC Cincinnati made it to the MLS Cup playoffs since it joined the league; FC Cincinnati made it to the playoffs all three years they spent in the USL.