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MLS Cup Playoffs: What happens in case of a tie in the conference finals?




After nine-and-a-bit long months, the MLS 2023 season is reaching its conclusion, with four teams still in the hunt to be crowned MLS Cup winners: Los Angeles FC, Houston Dynamo, FC Cincinnati and Columbus Crew.

LAFC bidding for back-to-back MLS Cups

The Conference Finals will be played on Saturday, with Carlos Vela’s LAFC hoping to progress to the season’s showpiece game and become the first team since city rivals Los Angeles Galaxy to win back-to-back MLS Cups (2011 and 2012).

Houston Dynamo have also achieved that feat, quite incredibly in their first two seasons in MLS back in 2006 and 2007. They haven’t won the MLS Cup since then but incidentally were the beaten finalists in those LA Galaxy triumphs.

FC Cincinnati in first Conference Final

FC Cincinnati, who have only comPeted in MLS since 2019, won the 2023 Supportes’ Shield with Games to spare and have reached their first ever Conference Final, which just happens to be a Hell is Real derby in Ohio.

Their opponents will be MLS charter club Columbus Crew, who are three-time Supporters Shield winners and two-time MLS Cup champions, most recently in 2020.

With the post-season playoffs bringing together the best teams in the country, there is always a reasonable chance of matches ending in a tie, which several already have done this year. Depending on the round, different tiebreakers are used, especially in the early part of the knockout stages.

Different tiebreakers in Wild Card round and Round One

In the one-off Wild Card matches, for instance, matches which finished level after 90 minutes skipped extra time and went straight to a penalty shootout (as happened in the Western Conference clash between Sporting Kansas City and San Jose Earthquakes).

Round One was a best-of-three series, with each match in the series producing a winner. Again, games that were tied after 90 minutes had no extra time and went straight to penalties. This year, Conference Finalists Cincinnati and Houston Dynamo both won Round One matches from the spot, with the Texans also losing one against Real Salt Lake.

Conference Semifinals, Finals and MLS Cup tiebreaker rules

For the Conference Semifinals, the Conference Finals and the MLS Cup itself, the tiebreaker rules are the same. In these rounds, matches that are all square after 90 minutes to go to extra time, which is played across two periods of 15 minutes. If the teams in question still can’t be separated, a penalty shootout will follow to determine the winner.

Columbus Crew are the only one of this year’s Conference Finalists to have played extra time in the playoffs, defeating Orlando City 2-0 in the Semifinals after a goalless 90-minute Game.