Soccer 101

SOCCER 101: Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs

Soccer 101_MLS Playoffs article header

Written by Zach Lowy

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What are the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs?

Similar to the other top professional sports leagues in the United States, the MLS season is divided into two parts: the regular season and the playoffs. After a 34-match regular season, the best teams in the Eastern and Western Conference qualify for the playoffs.

What’s new about this year’s edition?

The 2023 MLS postseason will see the addition of a pair of single-elimination Audi MLS Cup Playoffs Wild Card matches ahead of an enhanced Round One, which now includes a Best-of-3 series. Whilst the top seven teams in each conference will qualify for the playoffs, the eighth- and ninth-best teams will face off against each other in a single-elimination Wild Card match. The winner of this match will then advance to the playoffs. If a Wild Card game is tied at the end of regulation, there will be no extra time; instead, the two teams will go to a penalty shootout.T the winner advancing to the Round One Best-of-3 series to face off against the top-ranking side in the conference. With the addition of the Wild Card games and the Round One Best-of-3 series, the playoffs will see up to 24 must-win matches in the playoffs, compared with 12 in 2022.

How do the playoffs work?

The first-placed team takes on the eighth or ninth-placed team, the second-placed team takes on the seventh-placed team, the third-placed team takes on the sixth-placed team and the fourth-placed team takes on the fifth-placed team. The higher-ranked team hosts the first match before traveling to the lower-ranked team’s stadium – if necessary, a third match will be held in the higher-ranked team’s stadium. Hypothetically, a team could fail to score zero goals across the first two matches and automatically qualify for the next round if they were to win both penalty shootouts. Whichever team accumulates two wins across a three-game series, be that via penalties or in regular time, advances to the next round.

When do the playoffs start?

The postseason will kick off with the two Wild Card matches on October 25 and 26, with Round One taking place from October 28 to November 12. In Round One, if a match is tied after extra time, the match will advance to penalties. The Conference Semifinals and Conference Finals will take place from November 25 to December 3. As opposed to the previous round, these will be single-game elimination matches hosted by the higher seed. If a match is tied at the end of regulation, two 15-minute extra time periods will be played, and if the score is still tied, the teams will head to a penalty shootout.

The Conference Semifinals will see the winner face of the No. 1 vs. No. 8/9 series take on the winner of the No. 4 vs. No. 5 series, whilst the winner of the No. 2 vs. No. 7 series will face off against the winner of the No. 3 vs. No. 6 series. After the champion of each conference has been determined, these two sides will face off against each other in a single-elimination final which will be hosted by the higher seed. The Audi 2023 MLS Cup Final will take place on December 9.

How have expansion teams fared in their first MLS campaign?

Reaching the MLS Cup Playoffs as an expansion team is easier said than done. Charlotte FC and Austin FC have missed out on the postseason in each of the last two years, whilst 2020 would see Nashville SC and Inter Miami finish seventh and 10th, respectfully, and qualify for the play-in round. Miami lost to Nashville in the play-in round, who would proceed to beat Toronto FC before losing to eventual champions Columbus Crew in the Conference Semifinals. Cincinnati failed to reach the postseason in 2019, LAFC reached the postseason in 2018 only to lose to Real Salt Lake in the first round, Atlanta United fell in the first round of the 2017 playoffs whilst Minnesota United missed out on the playoffs entirely. Since 2010, only Nashville, LAFC and Atlanta have been able to make the postseason in their first season in MLS.