MLS Cup Playoffs 101: Everything you need to know about the 2019 postseason

In a flash, the 2019 regular season is in the books for all 24 Major League Soccer teams. That paves way for the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs, with seven teams from each conference (Eastern and Western) set to duke it out for the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy from now until Nov. 10.

As that takes shape, here’s all you need to know about the playoff format. There have been significant changes from 2018, so this should serve as an update for newcomers and longtime fans alike.

Who qualifies?

The 2019 season coincides with an expanded playoff field, as the top seven teams from each conference qualify. To earn a spot, teams from the Eastern and Western conferences had to finish in the top seven in points. That's up from six teams last year.

Here’s what the expanded field – from 12 to 14 teams this year – looks like across both conferences:

Eastern Conference

  1. New York City FC
  2. Atlanta United
  3. Philadelphia Union
  4. Toronto FC
  5. D.C. United
  6. New York Red Bulls
  7. New England Revolution

Western Conference

  1. LAFC
  2. Seattle Sounders
  3. Real Salt Lake
  4. Minnesota United
  5. LA Galaxy
  6. Portland Timbers
  7. FC Dallas

How do I watch?

All 13 games in the playoffs will be available live on national television. Here are some networks carrying the matches domestically: ESPN, ESPNews, FS1, UniMas, TUDN TSN and TVAS. Beyond the US and Canada, the games will be broadcast in over 170 countries around the world.

The MLS Cup final will air on Sunday, Nov. 10 on ABC, Univision, TUDN, TSN and TVAS. The location will be determined as teams advance through the knockout rounds, with the highest remaining overall seed set to host.

Knockout rounds

RELATED: Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs Bracket

Seeding was always important in the playoffs, but things reached another level this season. That’s because the No. 1 team in each conference received a bye to the conference semifinals, receiving an extra four days of rest during a crucial period. That will benefit Supporters’ Shield winners LAFC in the West and New York City FC in the East.

The knockout rounds also operate differently in 2019, as two-legged affairs are gone. In their place, the league has adopted a single-elimination format that awards the home match to the higher seed all the way through to the final. Gone are the days where teams can recover from a poor showing in the first leg, and there’s an increased reward for finishing higher up the regular-season table.

Either way, there’s a quick turnaround for teams as they advanced through the knockout rounds. Round No. 1 and the conference semifinals are only four days apart, before anywhere from five to seven days could separate the semifinal and final. There’s then just under two weeks off before MLS Cup.

Also of note throughout the playoffs: If the match is tied after regulation play, two extra 15-minute periods will be played without the golden-goal rule. Should the game remain tied afterwards, both teams will take five penalty kicks (and continuing into sudden death) until a winner has been determined. Lastly, the away-goals tiebreaker no longer applies.

Eastern Conference Round 1

Western Conference Round 1

Re-seeding goes away

Last year, the playoffs reseeded teams as the knockout rounds carried on. In other words, the matchups are locked in and there’s no rotating across the bracket.

No. 1 seeds LAFC and New York City FC are guaranteed to play the respective winners of the No. 4/5 matchups in their respective conferences. And so forth.

2019 MLS Cup - Nov. 10

After three weeks of narrowing down the 14-team field, two will remain. A champion will be determined at Sunday, Nov. 10 at 3 pm ET on ABC, Univision, TUDN, TSN and TVAS.

The format – a winner-takes-all match that ends with championship honors and a Concacaf Champions League spot to the victors – should be familiar by now. The same rules apply here with extra time and penalty kicks.

Once the winner is decided, that team will lift a trophy and the celebrations will begin – quite possibly on their home field. The higher remaining seed will host the match, after all.

As this concludes, the page will quickly turn to the 2020 season – all a month earlier than last campaign. But don’t worry, the offseason promises to keep things plenty interesting, especially with the introduction of Inter Miami and Nashville SC as expansion franchises.

Series: 

LIVE YOUR COLORS: Download the free MLS app - The official MLS app gets a major update for 2020, making it easier than ever to keep up with your favorite club, check standings, watch videos and much more.