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MLS playoff format 2023 explained: How does the new system work and how many teams qualify?

Major League Soccer has once again made changes to the league's playoff system, merging some aspects of the old postseason format with the one that has become popular over the last few seasons.

Ahead of the 2023 season, the league has announced a new postseason format and the schedule for this year's playoffs. The format combines the recent single-elimination setup and the past best-of-three system to create a postseason that will feature up to 24 total matches, up from 12 in 2022.

So what is the new MLS playoff format, how many teams will qualify and when will the postseason begin? GOAL has you covered with all of the answers.

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What is the 2023 MLS playoff format?

The expanded MLS format will kick off with two Wild Card matches featuring the eighth and ninth-place teams in each conference, with the winners of those matches entering Round One of the playoffs, which will now be a best-of-three series.

Every game in the Wild Card and Round One will have a winner, with no ties and no aggregate score kept. In Round One, Match 1 will be hosted by the higher seed, Match 2 by the lower and, if necessary, the series will return to the higher seed's stadium for Match 3.

If a Round One match is tied at the end of regulation, the match will go straight to penalties to determine a winner, with the first team to win two matches advancing to the Conference Semi-finals.

From there, the playoffs will remain a familiar single-elimination format, with the higher seed playing host all the way to MLS Cup. Ties will also once again be broken in extra time and, if needed, penalties, should two teams remain level after 90 minutes.

How is it different from past seasons?

MLS has experimented with a number of different formats in recent years, including two-leg ties and single-elimination.

Since 2019, the league has used the single-elimination format, with the highest seed hosting each match. Part of that format will live on in this new system, with the three-game series tacked on for the first round as the league looks to create more matches of consequence.

What other formats did MLS consider?

The new format wasn't the only one considered by those at MLS, as the league also looked at several other systems for the postseason.

One was a World Cup-style format featuring a group stage, which would provide a higher number of games. However, that format also leaves the possibility of one or two teams having nothing to play for by the final match of the group, which would bring in low viewership totals.

The other format was a return to a two-legged tie, which the league opted against due to the lack of jeopardy in the opening leg. Instead, the league looked at the new three-game system as a way to give each game distinct meaning, creating high stakes for each match of the series.

How many teams will make the 2023 MLS playoffs?

In total, 18 of the 29 MLS teams will make the postseason, with the bottom four of those 18 featured in the Wild Card round.

The two winners there will then join the other 14 for Round One's best-of-three format.

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