Major League Soccer's playoff system differs from the rest of world soccer leagues


The 24th MLS regular season is in the books and the playoff brackets have been decided. The top seeds in the East and West, NYCFC and LAFC, get a bye for the first round and the rest of the teams will compete in a series of knockout rounds. Here’s a look at the playoff schedule.

To casual American soccer fans, the MLS playoff system is similar to the other major sports of baseball, football, basketball, and hockey. For those that are used to following other leagues throughout the world, the MLS playoff system seems odd.

In other countries, the team that finishes at the top of the table at the end of the season is declared the champions. It is always the team that has accumulated the most points and outperformed the rest of the teams in the league. In other words, the best team is rewarded for having been the best over the course of the season.

If this system was applied to Major League Soccer, LAFC would be declared the champions with 72 points. Instead, LAFC has to outlast 13 other teams to truly be named champions. The problem is that knockout rounds can always produce upsets and the most deserving team may not be rewarded for its full-season efforts. For example, the New England Revolution finished seventh in the Eastern Division with 45 points. They could potentially get hot during the playoffs and be the last team standing. They would then be declared champions with 45 points, while LAFC would be also-rans despite having more than 25 points more than the “champions”.


In MLS, the top team wins what is known as the supporter’s shield, but is not necessarily named champions.

MLS is still young and continues to grow. However, to truly gain equal footing with the rest of the world’s domestic leagues, MLS should consider scrapping its playoff system to declare which side is crowned champions. Maybe there should be two trophies; one for the champions and one for the winner of the MLS playoffs.

What are your thoughts on the MLS playoffs and the league’s status compared to other leagues throughout the world?