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MLS announces new single elimination playoff format for 2019 season


The 2019 MLS Playoffs are going to look a little bit different.

The league announced a change to their postseason format on Monday afternoon. The new tournament will be a straight bracket format with four rounds of single elimination matches.

The top seven teams in each conference will make the playoffs with the top seed receiving a first round bye. The remaining six sides will play single elimination matches with the higher seed hosting the game.

The format has expansion in mind. Once the league fulfills its goal of reaching 28 teams, half the league will qualify for the playoffs, which is right in line with other American professional sports leagues like the NHL and NBA.

In 2019, the playoffs will begin on October 19 and end with MLS Cup on November 10. That is the earliest date for MLS Cup since the 2002 Final was held on October 20. The entire thing will fit neatly between the October and November FIFA international windows, meaning there will be no interruptions for players departing for their National Teams in the middle of the playoffs.

The regular season schedule will remain unchanged under this format. Teams will still play 34 regular season matches between opening day on March 2 and Decision Day on October 6. Playoff teams will then have the entire October international break to rest up and prepare for the three week playoff sprint.

The league hops this new format will increase the emphasis on the regular season since home field means so much in the playoffs. Home teams have won about two-thirds of single elimination playoff matches under the previous format, including MLS Cup since the higher seed began hosting the match.

The league is also hoping to take advantage of better weather for the playoffs and feels the schedule fits in nicely with the 2022 World Cup, which will take place in November and December of that year.


  1. What interests me is whether this encourages or discourages attacking strategies. I could see rich teams blowing money on even more offense to leverage their better chance at higher seeds and home games. But I could also see budget teams that might foresee less chance to do mixed 2 game, home game based strategies, shifting towards more pure defense and playing for 1-0 away. Will this promote aggression since it’s one game and potentially go home, or instead encourage low seeds to build teams to pursue PK conclusions or one off deadballs. After all, if the richer teams chase even more offense and you can’t possibly spend with them, the more efficient counter move is try and buy a defense. I wonder if my high scoring, low defense, road problem Dynamo are wired right for this new process.

  2. Let’s be real, once it became 2 game round several years ago it wasn’t that different than what UEFA uses to decide CL, or various countries their use for promotion and relegation playoffs. Holier than the pope. I do think getting it done between international dates is wise because the air goes out of the balloon/cross-winds when those games hit, other sports become more and more relevant as the year progresses.

  3. I’m in the “this is great” camp! The biggest problem with MLS playoffs is not the number of teams, or the setup…it’s the amount of time it takes. The current setup drains away all of the excitement and drama because it takes like two months to get to the final, with huge breaks and international games in between.

  4. Pros
    The games in season will be more meaningful. Winning the tourney on the road as a low seed like Salt Lake did, is going to be tough and you know MLS will be VERY competitive.

    You don’t want to diminish the regular season down to four games. Talk about getting hot at the right time.

    Other Con
    They will always have too many playoff teams, it is a business.

  5. Yay! Even more teams in the playoffs! /sarcasm

    I do like the idea of trying to make the playoffs more compact and continuous though. I can appreciate what they are going for here and at least the schedule will be better.


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