Happy playoffs week everyone! As you well know, Austin FC will not only make their first ever appearance in the MLS Cup Playoffs, but they will do so at home against Real Salt Lake. This article is not a preview of RSL. We already know two very obvious things about them after two matches this year:
- They can’t score on Austin unless ATXFC has only 10 men on the field.
- They like to give up hat tricks to Moussa Djitte.
Instead, this piece is meant to prepare you, my Verde family, for what’s to come in the MLS Playoffs. And we’re going to do that via Q&A.
What is the format for the MLS Cup Playoffs?
It’s a single elimination knockout tournament. The #1 seeds in each conference get a bye in Round 1, while the 2-4 seed will host the 5-7 seeds. There is no “re-seeding” after each round. The matchups are already set, much like the how the NCAA Basketball tournament works. The higher seeded team will host each match until the MLS Cup Final, which will be hosted by the team with the most points during the regular season.
What happens if the game is a draw after 90 minutes?
More soccer! The teams will play 30 minutes of extra time. If the game is still level after the 30 minutes is completed, then the game will move to a best-of-5 penalty kick shootout. Pew pew!
How many games could Austin FC play at home?
We know that Austin is in line to play a minimum of two games at Q2 Stadium during the playoffs. If the Verde & Black defeat RSL this weekend, Austin FC will host Round 2 the following week against the winner of FC Dallas/Minnesota United.
However, it is possible for Austin to host more games of this playoff run at Q2 Stadium. If LAFC were to lose in Round 2, the next highest seed would host the Western Conference Finals. Austin FC would be next in line if they made it that far in the bracket.
And then there’s MLS Cup. Austin FC finished 4th in the Supporters’ Shield standings, meaning that they would need LAFC, Philadelphia, and Montreal to all lose before the MLS Cup Final in order to host the championship match at Q2 Stadium.
OK, but how likely is it that one of the Top 3 teams won’t make it to the final?
Actually, it’s not uncommon. Last year, the #4 seed in each conference made the final. In 2019, Seattle was in the exact position that Austin FC finds themselves in and not only hosted the MLS Cup final, but won it. Those also happen to be the only two years that the current format has been used.
What does home field advantage really mean?
Not a ton, except for the first round. In 2021, 5-of-6 home teams won in Round 1. The only upset was pulled by (gulp) RSL, who beat #2 seed Seattle on penalty kicks.
Is there anything else I should keep in mind?
Just remember that this is MLS, a league built on parity. There are no “easy” games in the playoffs and teams often change tactics this time of year. Expect a lot of gritty, hard-nosed soccer with little margin for error. By the end of every match, you’ll feel like Ron Burgundy in a phone booth.