The importance of seeding in the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs

Miguel Almiron, Yangel Herrera - Atlanta United FC, New York City FC - Close up

The Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs are almost upon us, with only Decision Day presented by AT&T in the way, and with 11 of the 12 spots already clinched it's time to look at what many teams will be focusing on: seeding.

If you need a full breakdown of how the playoffs work and when they will be played, be sure to check this out first.

The only two clubs that are currently locked into their seeds are Toronto FC (No. 1) and the New York Red Bulls (No. 6), who take up two of the six spots in the East. The remaining four teams could end up in any of the four remaining seeds (Nos. 2-5).

Out west nothing is decided. San Jose, Dallas and Real Salt Lake are fighting for the No. 6 seed while Vancouver or Portland will end up as the No. 1 seed. After that it gets a bit trickier with Sporting KC and Houston getting into the mix for possible home playoff matches.

So what's the importance of these seeds? Of course, no team would ever let previous history define them but it is interesting to note that only one No. 1 seed has reached MLS Cup since 2011, when the Knockout Round was introduced.

Since then the seed that has most frequently reached MLS Cup has been the No. 2 seed.

# of MLS Cup appearances since 2011
1 (2011 LA)
6 (2011 HOU, 2013 SKC, 2013 RSL, 2014 LA, 2014 NE, 2015 CLB)
2 (2015 POR, 2016 TOR)
2 (2012 LA, 2016 SEA)
1 (2012 HOU)

Reaching (and winning MLS Cup) is the ultimate goal for every team but securing a home match might be just as crucial. We all remember Montreal's almost-Cinderella run to MLS Cup last year, but they started as only the third team to win a Knockout Round matchup on the road.

Teams to win Knockout Round matches on the road

2011 New York Red Bulls (vs. FC Dallas) - Lost in Conference Semifinals
2012 Houston Dynamo (vs. Chicago Fire) - Lost in MLS Cup
2016 Montreal Impact (vs. D.C. United) - Lost in Conference Championship

Home teams have won the 13 other matches in the Knockout Round. This puts a premium on grabbing the No. 3 or No. 4 seeds to ensure that you will not have to travel immediately after Decision Day.

What's better: Knockout Round or bye?

Once you get past the Knockout Round, opinions are split on whether you would rather have built up momentum with a win or had been resting and waiting for a week. History does not offer a clear answer.

Over 16 Conference Semifinal matchups, there is an even split on who has advanced to the Conference Championship. Eight times the team who advanced from the Knockout Round got past the No. 1 or No. 2 seed while the higher seed has also won eight times. Last year both MLS Cup finalists advanced all the way from the Knockout Round.