MLS outlines tiebreakers for playoff chase


With the MLS standings the way they are, the races for playoff positioning and the league's 10 postseason berths figure to down to the wire. Instead of past seasons, though, when head-to-head records were used as a tiebreaker, this year's potential standings ties will be determined by the most prolific attacks.

The shift to an unbalanced schedule made head-to-head records a bit of an unfair measure considering that not all teams play against each other the same amount of times and some will have played more of the multiple head-to-head matches at home. Instead, goals scored is the top tiebreaker this season, followed by goal differential and fewest disciplinary points — a fair-play point tally based on fouls, cards and suspensions (a breakdown of the point system and current standings can be seen here). 

Road goals, road goal differential, home goals, home goal differential and a coin toss (if only between two teams) or drawing of lots (if between three or more teams) are next down the line, respectively.

The MLS Board of Governors amended the tiebreaker procedure earlier in the year in an effort to encourage attacking play, according to a league statement, and the changes were made public today. As it stands, the San Jose Earthquakes (45) and Los Angeles Galaxy (39) have scored the most goals, followed by the New York Red Bulls (38) and Houston Dynamo, Real Salt Lake, D.C. United and Montreal Impact (35).  

The tiebreaker, which will also be used in the event of a tie for the Supporters' Shield, is supremely important for teams teetering on the edge of third and fourth place in each conference. The playoff schedule was released Wednesday, and the wild card games between the fourth- and fifth-place finishers in each conference will be played just three days before the conference semifinals. For a fourth- or fifth-place team to advance to MLS Cup would mean playing five games in an 18-day span between Oct. 31 and Nov. 18 prior to the two-week break between conference finals and MLS Cup.


What do you think of the new tiebreaker procedures? Do you think goals scored should be the first tiebreaker? Do you like that attacking soccer and fair play are being taken into account?

Share your thoughts below.

  • Mig22

    Wait, MLS is setting the tiebreaking procedure DURING the season? Wow. Bush. League. I am not an MLS hater but how can you change the rules about standings in the middle of the season? What is this, NASCAR?


  • johnnycougar

    Fair play makes more sense to me than something almost arbitrary like road goal differential. I’m not sure about using goals scored as the first tiebreaker though. I don’t have a huge problem with it but offense and defense should be equally important.


  • Mig22

    I see the following in the MLS statement:

    “Earlier this year, the MLS Board of Governors approved new tiebreakers to ”

    When was this and did the teams know about it?


  • RLW2020

    i thought they would host a lottery behind closed doors to pick the playoff teams….


  • Big Chil

    Also bush league:

    If the teams are tied on 1. total goals and then 2. goal differential, and 4. road goals and 5. road goal differential, they will also be tied on 6. home goals and 7. home goal differential.


  • b

    “The MLS Board of Governors amended the tiebreaker procedure earlier in the year in an effort to encourage attacking play”

    I know people will bash this because they’re “traditionalists” or will come up with some conspiracy theory about how “this favors LA/NY” or other such nonsense, but I fully support this.
    In fact, we need MORE rule changes in all leagues that encourage attacking play. Soccer is great but it would be so much better if teams that were leading 1-0 had more incentive to go up 2-0 instead of bunkering in. Fight the bunker. Way to go MLS.


  • Jeff

    Why would it be goals scored over goal differential? The Galaxy are currently second in MLS in goals scored but a zero goal differential. Oh, I see.


  • G Lover

    Looking at the standings, it appears that the only teams who could possibly benefit from this are New York and Los Angeles. Among likely playoff teams, each is second in goald scored but fourth in differential relative to their conference foes. The Red Bulls could find themselves vaulted from third to first while the Galaxy could tiebreak themselves out of the wild card round. Garber and Abbott should be ashamed of themselves.


  • SilverRey

    Ashamed? How did they know who would score this year?

    Once again, the world has been Borg’d. Simon Borg failed to state that this rule did NOT just come out, but was decided on in the off-season. Creating added controversy over nothing…


  • hogatroge

    I agree. I think a team that scores 40 goals on the season and has a +10 GD is more deserving than a team that scores 60 and concedes 59.


  • hogatroge


    I’m not usually a conspiracy hound, but when there’s a very real possibility that LA won’t finish higher than 5th in the west, you’ve hit the nail on the head.


  • Ben

    They wouldn’t do a lottery. They would just go behind closed doors and consult the NBC/ESPN-approved tiebreaker list, which goes: 1. LA 2. New York 3. DC 4. Seattle 5. Philadelphia 6. Um, are you sure we can’t just show an LA game instead of San Jose or Salt Lake?


  • 20

    Team most likely to get absolutely screwed by this: Chicago Fire. Montreal and the Crew are behind them by a few points. Both have worse goal differentials. Montreal is -8 compared to Chicago’s +1. Montreal may go on a run and catch them on points but Chicago is still the better team if they have a better GD. I’m not saying this is too likely to happen if it did it would make the league look bad.

    Teams that will benefit: NYRB and LA Galaxy. both have scored a ton of goals, both among the worst defenses in the league. Why should failing big time in one aspect of the game put you above well rounded teams? Hmmmmmmmmmmm


  • Dank

    I disagree. As a neutral, I would much rather a team play a style that leads to 2/2 draws than 1/0 wins. These rules reward teams for playing that more open style.


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