Major League Soccer has always taken a different approach to soccer than traditional leagues. There is no clearer evidence of this than in the way the league crowns its champion every season. MLS crowns their winner in the open and entertaining format of playoffs, known to the league as the MLS Cup Playoffs.
At the conclusion of the regular season the top six teams of each conference are seeded one to six in order of their final regular season standings. The top two seeds will avoid having to play in the first round
The first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs features the third seed hosting the sixth seed and the fourth seed hosting the fifth seed in each conference. All pairings in this MLS Cup Playoff round are decided by one game with the winner advancing.
If a match is tied after regulation in the first round, teams will play two 15 minute halves of extra time. If there is still no winner by the end of extra time, winners will be decided by penalty kicks.
The second round of the playoffs is known as the Conference Semifinals. This round pairs the first seed with the lowest seed and the second seed versus the remaining club in the conference. The Conference Semifinals are played with teams playing a series of two matches home and away.
The Conference Semifinals are decided by aggregate scoring. Aggregate scoring means the team that scores the most goals after two matches advances to the next round. If teams score the same amount of goals, the team with more away goals will advance. If both teams are tied on away goals then extra time and penalty kicks will be played as in the opening round.
The third and final round of the conference playoffs is known as the Conference Finals. The Conference Final round mirrors the same format of the Conference Semifinals with teams playing home and away matches with aggregate scoring deciding who advances. Extra time and penalty kicks will be played as need as in the previous rounds.
The culminating round of the MLS Cup Playoffs is known as the MLS Cup. This match featuring the Western Conference and Eastern Conference finalists is hosted by the team with the best regular season record. This match reverts back to the format of the first round of the playoffs with one game deciding the cup winners. Extra time and penalty kicks will be used as needed.
The team to win the MLS Cup is the MLS Champion for that season and will compete in the CONCACAF Champions League the following year.