|Number of teams||18|
|Current champions||Los Angeles FC (1st title)|
|Most successful team(s)||LA Galaxy (5 titles)|
|2023 MLS Cup Playoffs|
The MLS Cup Playoffs is the annual postseason elimination tournament of Major League Soccer. The MLS Cup, the league's championship game, is the final match of the tournament. Under the current format adopted for the 2023 season, 18 teams qualify for the tournament based on regular-season point totals — the nine highest-placed teams from each the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference. Audi is the title sponsor of this tournament.
Awarding a championship through a postseason tournament differs from most other soccer leagues around the world, where the team with the most points at the end of the season is deemed champion. MLS awards the regular-season champions with the Supporters' Shield and both champions earn a berth in the CONCACAF Champions Cup, the continental tournament.
Since 2023, the top nine teams from each of the Eastern and Western Conference qualify for the playoffs, playing in separate brackets. The Wild Card round, Conference Semifinals, Conference Finals, and the MLS Cup are single-match eliminations hosted by the team with the better regular season record, while Round One is a best-of-3 series with the higher seeds hosting the odd-numbered games with no re-seeding in any round. A penalty shoot-out is used if the teams are still tied in all games while extra time (divided into two 15-minute periods) is utilized from Conference Semifinals onwards.
The top seven teams in each conference are given byes to the first round. The teams ranked 8th and 9th in each conference compete in the Wild-card round, with the winner advancing to face the team with the best regular season record in Round One. The winners of the first-round series advance to the Conference Semifinals, then the Conference Finals, and finally the MLS Cup, a single match hosted by the finalist with the better regular season record.
Previously, the top seven teams per conference qualified for the playoffs, with only the team with the best regular season record in each conference earning a first-round bye to the Conference Semifinals. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the top ten teams from the Eastern and top eight teams from the Western conference qualified for the playoffs in the 2020 season, with single-elimination remaining intact. The top six Eastern teams earned byes to the first round while teams seeded 7–10 and competed in play-in games. The lowest-ranked team to advance from the play-in round advanced to play the conference's first-placed team while the highest-ranked remaining team from that round advanced to face the conference's runner-up. In the Western Conference, the top eight teams competed in their first round with no byes.
The Conference Semifinals and Conference Finals were formerly conducted in a home-and-away, aggregate-goal format. From 2014 to 2018, the away goals rule was used for these rounds. In both rounds, the higher-seeded team hosted the second leg. If the teams were tied after two games (180 minutes), the team that scored more goals on the road advanced. If there was still a tie after the away goals rule had been applied, the teams played 30 minutes of extra time (divided into two 15-minute periods), followed by a penalty shoot-out if necessary. The away goals rule did not apply to goals scored in these extra periods.
Eighteen teams qualify for the playoffs: the top nine teams from the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference that had earned the best points per game record during the 34-game regular season. The top seven teams in each conference get a first-round bye, advancing to the conference quarterfinals.
If at least two teams finish the regular season with an equal number of points, the following criteria are used to break the tie, with coin tosses (two teams) or drawing of lots (at least three teams) used if all of those below fail.
- Most wins
- Higher goal differential
- Higher goals scored
- Fewer disciplinary points
- Higher away goal differential
- Higher away goals scored
- Higher home goal differential
- Higher home goals scored
- If two clubs remain tied after another club with the same number of points advances during any step, the tie breaker reverts to step 1 for the two remaining clubs.
- Head-to-head competition results have not been used in tie-breakers since 2012.
|Seasons||League teams||Playoff teams||% of teams||Matches played|
- Temporarily expanded due to the shortened regular season.
MLS playoff records
- Records include all knockout playoff matches, individual legs of aggregate-goal rounds, and MLS Cup appearances.
Note: Players in bold are still active for an MLS club.
- Matches determined by shoot-out counted as win–loss, not draw
- As of the conclusion of 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs
|Club||MLS Cups||MLS Cup
|Atlanta United FC||1||1||6||4||0|
|Chicago Fire FC||1||3||20||16||5|
|Houston Dynamo FC||2||4||17||10||6|
|Inter Miami CF||0||0||0||1||0|
|Los Angeles FC||1||1||1||2||0|
|Minnesota United FC||0||0||0||2||0|
|New England Revolution||0||5||20||20||7|
|New York City FC||1||1||6||7||0|
|New York Red Bulls||0||1||19||28||8|
|Orlando City SC||0||0||1||2||0|
|Real Salt Lake||1||2||13||12||5|
|San Jose Earthquakes||2||2||13||11||1|
|Seattle Sounders FC||2||4||22||14||5|
|Sporting Kansas City||2||3||21||25||8|
|Tampa Bay Mutiny||0||0||1||4||0|
|Vancouver Whitecaps FC||0||0||1||5||2|
- As of October 22, 2023
|Atlanta United FC||5||1||3|
|Chicago Fire FC||13||0||6|
|Houston Dynamo FC||9||1||4|
|Inter Miami CF||2||0||1|
|Los Angeles FC||5||2||3|
|Minnesota United FC||4||0||4|
|New England Revolution||17||1||8|
|New York City FC||7||0||7|
|New York Red Bulls||24||14||14|
|Orlando City SC||4||4||4|
|Real Salt Lake||13||3||7|
|San Jose Earthquakes||11||1||5|
|Seattle Sounders FC||14||1||13|
|Sporting Kansas City||20||1||8|
|St. Louis City SC||1||1||1|
|Tampa Bay Mutiny||4||0||2|
|Vancouver Whitecaps FC||6||1||2|
- Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny folded after the completion of the 2001 season.
- Chivas USA folded after the completion of the 2014 season.
MLS playoff shoot-outs
- MLS began implementing a shoot-out to determine the winner of a playoff series in 2004.
- From 2014 to 2018 the away goals rule was used (but not in extra time).
- As of November 12, 2023
|Rank||Rounds||Home team||Score||Away team||Season / stage|
|1||11||Portland Timbers||2–2 (7–6)||Sporting Kansas City||2015 Knockout Round|
|2||10||Sporting Kansas City||1–1 (7–6)||Real Salt Lake||2013 MLS Cup|
|New York Red Bulls||1–1 (7–8)||FC Cincinnati||2023 First round|
|4||8||Portland Timbers||1–1 (7–8)||FC Dallas||2020 First round|
|5||7||Orlando City SC||1–1 (6–5)||New York City FC||2020 First round|
|Real Salt Lake||1–1 (5–4)||Los Angeles Galaxy||2009 MLS Cup †|
|Chicago Fire||0–0 (4–5)||Real Salt Lake||2009 Conference Finals|
|8||6||Seattle Sounders FC||0–0 (5–6)||Real Salt Lake||2021 First round|
|Toronto FC||0–0 (4–5)||Seattle Sounders FC||2016 MLS Cup|
|FC Dallas||4–4 (4–5)||Colorado Rapids||2006 Conference Semifinals|
|D.C. United||3–3 (4–3)||New England Revolution||2004 Conference finals|
|11 games have been decided in 5 rounds|
7 games have been decided in 4 rounds
1 game has been decided in 3 rounds
† Game played at neutral location
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- "MLS overhauls playoff format, alters league schedule".
- mlssoccer. "How the 2020 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs will work: Qualifying and competition format | MLSSoccer.com". mlssoccer. Retrieved February 27, 2023.
- "Major League Soccer to introduce away-goals rule for first time in 2014 MLS Cup Playoffs". MLS. March 7, 2014. Retrieved March 9, 2014.
- "MLS adopts away goals rule". ESPN. March 8, 2014. Retrieved March 9, 2014.
- "MLS Cup Playoff Format". Retrieved October 29, 2018.
- "New tiebreakers designed to encourage attacking play". MLS Communications. MLSSoccer.com. Retrieved October 1, 2012.
- "How the 2020 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs will work: Qualifying and competition format". Major League Soccer. September 11, 2020. Retrieved November 24, 2020.