Major League Soccer has revamped its playoff format with two extra teams making the post-season from each conference and an expanded first round featuring best-of-three series.
The Eastern and Western Conference will each send nine teams to the post-season, one up from last year.
At the end of the regular season, the top seven teams from each conference will automatically make the first round of the playoffs. The eighth- and ninth-place teams in each conference will try to join them via a single-elimination wild-card match that will go directly to a penalty shootout if tied after regulation time.
The first round will feature No. 1 versus No. 8 or 9, No. 2 versus No. 7, No. 3 versus No. 6 and No. 4 versus No. 5 in each conference. Like the wild-card matchups, tie games will go directly to a penalty shootout.
The higher seed will host the first game and the third, if required. Game 2 will be played at the lower seed.
The conference semifinals, finals and MLS Cup final will be single-elimination matches hosted by the team with the better regular-season record. Should these games finished knotted after 90 minutes, two 15-minute extra time periods will be played in their entirety, with a penalty shootout to follow if needed
In 2022, the top seven clubs from each conference made the playoffs with the No. 1 seeds in the East and West getting first-round byes. All the post-season games were single-elimination affairs.
The regular season kicks off Saturday with Toronto FC at D.C. United, CF Montreal at Inter Miami FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps hosting Real Salt Lake.
The wild-card matches are scheduled for Oct. 25-26 with the first-round series to follow Oct. 28 to Nov. 12. The conference semifinals and finals will be played between Nov. 25 and Dec. 3 with the championship game slated for Dec. 9.
MLS is up to 29 teams this season with the addition of expansion St. Louis City FC.
MLS said the revamped format came after a review designed “to deliver an enhanced playoff format that would provide fans with more games of consequence and better reward regular-season results while maintaining the best elements from the single-elimination format.”
In addition to the advantage earned in the MLS post-season, the league says higher MLS regular-season ranking will be rewarded with greater home-field advantage and grouping with lower seeded LIGA MX opponents during Leagues Cup group play.
The MLS Cup champion will earn a bye past the group stage.
—Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press