Breaking down the new format for the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs

For the third season in a row, the Seattle Sounders have qualified for the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs as the No. 2 seed out of the Western Conference. In each of the last three seasons, the team reached the Western Conference Semifinals, with the Rave Green advancing all the way to the MLS Cup Final in 2016 and 2017.

That was all under the previous format, in which teams played two-legged fixtures, with aggregate scoring and away goals determining the winner. This year the league has moved to a single-elimination format, in which the higher-seeded team hosts, placing even greater importance on the regular season. One wrinkle in the format is that the Western and Eastern Conferences will compete in a fixed-bracket structure, as there is no re-seeding after each round of matches.

Seattle will host FC Dallas, a team they boast a 9-1-2 all-time record against at CenturyLink Field in the regular season, in Round One on October 19 at 12:30 p.m. PT. If the Sounders manage to defeat the Texas side, they’ll advance to the Western Conference Semifinals, where they would host the winner of Real Salt Lake – Portland Timbers on October 23 at 7:00 p.m. PT.

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.

A win in the Semifinals would see Seattle travel to Banc of California Stadium to take on Supporters’ Shield winners LAFC, if they advance to that point. Should Minnesota United or the LA Galaxy progress to the Western Conference Final, the Sounders would then host at CenturyLink Field on October 29.

Depending on which team emerges from the Eastern Conference, the Sounders could host the MLS Cup Final for the first time in club history. If either New York City FC or Atlanta United wins the East, then the Rave Green would be the away team for the final. However, if any other Eastern Conference team progresses to MLS Cup, the match would be played in Seattle on November 10.

In previous editions of the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, the two-legged fixtures were interrupted by FIFA international windows, leading to stalled momentum and prolonged competition.

Under the new format, the postseason will only least three weeks, which should lead to less severe Winter weather. Moreover, the fact that Seattle clinched the No. 2 seed in the West – and fourth overall in the league table – will lead to more opportunities for the Sounders to flex their significant home-field advantage in the games that matter most.