Major League Soccer’s playoff format changes this season, just in time for Minnesota United’s first appearance in its three league seasons. Change has come to include more teams, reward regular-season performance, eliminate a FIFA international break that disrupted recent playoffs and end the season with the MLS Cup nearly a full month earlier. “Some of it I agree with, some of it not so much,” United coach Adrian Heath said. “If you make the playoffs, everybody deserves the chance to play at home. … But it is what it is. Hey, American sport, playoffs, let’s go!” Two regular-season games remain for all teams. The playoff bracket will be known on “Decision Day,” the regular season’s finale next Sunday. Here’s a look at what’s to come:
Who makes it in?
This season, 14 of MLS’ 24 teams qualify, seven in each conference. That’s two more than a year ago.
No more two-game series determined by aggregated goals. The entire bracket is knockout: Win or go home.
Quote: “Personally, I don’t like it because I prefer home and away. This gives advantage to the team that plays better in the regular season. That is a good point, too. But I prefer to give more of a chance to both teams.” – United veteran and perennial playoff performer Ozzie Alonso
The seeding and matchups
The team that earns its conference’s best record gets a first-round bye. The second place team, as the No. 2 seed, plays No. 7, No. 3 plays 6 and No. 4 plays 5. The top three teams get a first-round home game.
There will be no bracket reseeding in case of upsets. If the No. 7 seed defeats No. 2, it will still play the winner of No. 3 vs. No. 6.
Will United play at home?
The Loons will clinch at least one game at Allianz Field if it defeats LAFC there Sunday or if Real Salt Lake doesn’t defeat Houston on Sunday. Or if United ties LAFC and RSL doesn’t win.
What if teams’ regular-season records tie?
The tiebreakers for playoffs seeding: 1. Total victories. 2. Goal differential. 3. Goals for.
What if a playoff game is tied after 90 minutes?
Two 15-minute, extra-time periods will be played in their entirety. If the score remains tied, each team will take five kicks from the penalty mark. If still tied, sudden-death kicks will proceed until a winner is determined.
Oct. 6: “Decision Day” when all 24 teams play a 3 p.m. Central game that will decide who’s in and who’s out of the playoffs and who plays who.
Oct. 19-20: Saturday-Sunday first round of playoffs. Last year there were only three days between the regular season’s end and the start of the playoffs. Now there is nearly a two-week gap to accommodate the first of two nine-day FIFA international fall breaks.
Don’t forget: United has scheduled a St. Thomas-St. John’s college football game at Allianz Field on the afternoon of Oct. 19.
Oct. 23-24: Conference semifinals. If a No. 2 seed wins its first-round game, it will host a second home game. So will each top seed that received a first-round bye.
On a high finish: “Now it really is important to finish as high as possible. In football, you’re only 90 minutes away from knocked out. It’s not a foregone conclusion LAFC is going to win all the way. They got beat by Salt Lake last year. Who’s to say it couldn’t happen again? Who knows? We finish second and we could have all our games at home, which would be great.” — coach Adrian Heath
Oct. 29-30: Conference finals.
Nov. 10: MLS Cup. Two teams will play for the championship a year after Atlanta defeated Portland to win it on Dec. 8 in its domed stadium, nearly a month later than this season. The second fall FIFA break that disrupted past playoffs now comes after the MLS Cup.
Decent weather, please: “We’re one of those climates, can you imagine playing MLS Cup at Allianz Field in December? I can’t. I don’t think you’re going to get the best product on the field and I think the league saw that. We want our biggest game on the biggest stage hopefully played in somewhat decent weather.” – United veteran midfielder Ethan Finlay