MLS matches can end in draws. Unlike the league’s early days, when they used a (pretty cool) penalty shootout to determine a winner of every match, now they’ll just end in a tie. The problem with that comes in the MLS Cup Playoffs, when a winner has to emerge. You can’t have a draw when you’re deciding whose season is over and who is moving on.
So how does MLS handle breaking ties in the playoffs?
First things first: the conference semifinals and conference finals of the MLS Cup Playoffs are played as a two-legged series. That means each team hosts a match and the aggregate score of the 180 minutes is used. That’s the total number of goals. So if a team wins the first match 2-0, then loses the next 1-0, they still advance because the aggregate score is 2-1.
If the aggregate score is tied after the two legs, the league uses away goals to break the tie. Whichever team scored more goals away from home advances, so if a team wins the first leg at home 1-0, then loses the second leg away 2-1, the aggregate score would be tied 2-2, but that team would advance because they scored one away goal to their opponents’ zero.
And what if the aggregate score and away goals are tied (meaning the scorelines were identical in the first two legs with different teams winning)?
Extra time and, if necessary, penalty kicks.
Away goals don’t count in extra time so that’s thrown out the window as soon as extra time starts. It gives the team with the better regular season record, who hosts the second leg, an advantage because now it’s a 210-minute tie and they got 120 of those minutes at home.
In extra time, there are two 15-minute halves and the teams play them to completion of extra time regardless of who scores. But if extra time can’t separate the teams, they go to a regular penalty shootout, with each team taking five kicks from the penalty spot.
So to review:
• Better aggregate score
• Away goals
• Extra time
That’s how MLS decides who advances in the MLS Cup Playoffs, at least for the conference semifinals and conference finals.
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