The MLS playoffs take place after the completion of the Major League soccer season, culminating with the MLS Final. It's an unorthodox way of ending the season in soccer terms as most leagues end when the last regular season game does. But the MLS playoffs have great drama and the twelve-team playoffs are here to stay. Six Eastern Conference and six Western Conference teams qualify for the playoffs and first round consists of two matches between the fourth ~vs~ fifth-placed teams and the third ~vs~ sixth-placed teams.
The lowest ranked team that progress plays that #1 seed, while the other first-round victor takes on the #2 seed in the conference semifinal.
The conference semifinals are two-leg aggregate-based games which, if level after two matches, are decided by away goals (but only for goals scored in normal time). Whoever makes it through progresses to the MLS Cup Final, a single match hosted by the team that made it there with a better record, so playoff dominance is important. It does not simply play out like European Cup competitions such as the F.A. Cup or Champions League where previous knockout matches' results aren't taken into consideration.
In 2015, Portland Timbers won the MLS Cup Final when they beat Columbus Crew SC 2-1, with the quickest goal in MLS Cup history being scored by Diego Valeri after a horrendous goalkeeping error. Rodney Wallace added a second before the interval, and despite conceding to MLS playoffs record goalscorer Kei Kamara (4 goals), Portland Timbers hung on to close out their first ever MLS Cup final victory. The Timbers actually finished third in the Western Conference in the 2015 behind Vancouver and F.C.Dallas, who topped the conference.
The team that wins the MLS Cup Final, unless Canadian based, goes on to play in the CONCACAF Champions League during the following season. If a Canadian club wins it all, the honor goes to the best US team.
Best MLS Playoff Sportsbook Odds
All manner of sportsbook opportunities exist for the passionate MLS bettors, from success in each of the two conferences to the playoffs themselves. Here's a look at the best game odds.
What Are The MLS Playoff Standings Today
Have a look at the playoff matchups and standings so you can bet with confidence. Analyse the season standings and take an in-depth look at the playoff fixtures.
How To Make Money Betting On MLS Playoffs
Each playoff match gives you an opportunity to earn a profit, but following form going into the playoffs should be judged with a keener eye than finishing positions. Momentum in soccer is a huge deciding factor.
The most successful team in MLS Cup Final history is L.A. Galaxy, with five trophies. But with Seattle Sounders - the defending champions - and Portland Timbers - 2015 champions - and sides like New York City F.C. emerging as challengers, the MLS playoffs are becoming more unpredicatble as the years progress.
Seattle finished fourth in Western Conference standings during the 2015-16 campaign, yet won the MLS Cup by beating Toronto FC in the final on penalties. While it's crucial to solidify your playoff position in the regular season, it shows that's all that really matters. Sure, it's usually beneficial to gain a bye in the first round, but otherwise, the main priority is finishing in the first four spots in the conference.
The top two seeds sit pretty with a bye in the first round while #3 plays #6 and #4 battles #5. It's a one-game showdown so having home field advantage in this round is crucial. Overall, pretty much every MLS team performs significantly better at home. But once the first round is over, seeding become less important as the semifinals are two-leg aggregate series where both teams get to play at home once.
Seattle were in prime position to seemingly upset the field. They played brilliantly in the second half of the season, when it mattered most, and finished as one of the top four seeds. Firing on all cylinders going into the playoffs bodes well for a championship run.
The Western Conference has dominated playoff proceedings for nearly a decade. They are more battle tested and play a more structured, defensive type of game. The Eastern Conference run-and-gun style isn't conducive to successful playoff campaigns, as things tighten up markedly in the postseason, a fact that Western Conference teams thrive on.
Sporting KC, who are now a part of the Western Conference, were the last Eastern Conference champions. Colorado, Real Salt Lake, Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle have, before another Eastern Conference team has won the cup, since the crown on behalf of the Western Conference.