Everything you need to know about MLS Cup Playoffs
✏️ The setup
Half of MLS’ 28 teams — seven from the Eastern Conference and seven from the Western Conference — qualified for the playoffs after best-in-show regular season displays. All eyes are now on the big prize — the MLS Cup.
Teams will participate in four rounds of win-or-go-home matches, with the top teams in each conference enjoying a first-round bye. Winners in the first round will head to the conference semis, hoping to progress to the conference final and then to the big dance — the MLS Cup final on November 5th.
- The postseason kicks off today at 12 p.m. ET when the New York Red Bulls host FC Cincinnati. Check out the full schedule and fill out those brackets ASAP.
➡️ The teams: Beasts in the East
No. 1 Philadelphia Union: 2022 marks the Union’s fourth straight top three regular season finish in the East, thanks to long-time stalwarts enjoying career-best seasons. Goalkeeper Andre Blake leads the league in clean sheets with 15, while midfielder Dániel Gazdag scored 22 goals and defender Kai Wagner racked up 15 assists. Firing on all cylinders.
No. 2 CF Montréal: Canada’s lone playoff contender rebounded nicely from last year’s 10th place conference finish, landing just two points behind the Union. Forward Romell Quioto was key to Montréal’s regular season success, scoring 15 goals, while Quebecer Samuel Piette kept the team balanced in the center.
No. 3 New York City FC: The reigning MLS champs come into the postseason without two important figures from last year’s championship run — head coach Ronny Deila and 2021 Golden Boot winner Taty Castellanos. The team hasn’t quite recovered from their midseason departures yet, though goalkeeper Sean Johnson remains reliable as ever with 14 shutouts in 2022.
No. 4 New York Red Bulls: Despite an inconsistent season, the Red Bulls hold the league’s longest playoff streak, making their lucky number 13th straight appearance this year. Midfielder Lewis Morgan leads the young team in the attack with 14 goals, while 20-year-old John Tolkin is a fan favorite in defense. The kids are alright.
No. 5 FC Cincinnati: Cincy booked its first-ever playoff berth thanks to impressive seasons from offensive talent. Midfielder Lucho Acosta led the league in assists with 19, while forwards Brandon Vazquez and Brenner scored 18 goals each in 2022.
No. 6 Inter Miami CF: The team’s playoff run will serve as a swan song for aforementioned Argentine legend Gonzalo Híguain, who will hang up his boots at the end of the season. He closed out his final regular season in stellar form with 16 goals, while midfielder Gregore is once again the team’s backbone after winning Miami’s MVP award in 2021.
No. 7 Orlando City SC: After an inconsistent year, the U.S. Open Cup winners snuck into the MLS Cup playoffs on the final day of the regular season. Orlando’s successful days usually coincide with Facundo Torres’ — the forward scored nine goals and notched 10 assists during the regular season.
⬅️ The teams: Best of the West
No. 1 LAFC: A new head coach didn’t hinder LAFC from reaching MLS heights — the team won the Supporters’ Shield (top regular season honors). Their attack-first mentality sealed the deal, with forwards Cristian Arango and Carlos Vela scoring 16 and 12 goals, respectively. Fitting for a team that boasts USWNT legend Mia Hamm Garciaparra as an owner.
No. 2 Austin FC: The city’s lone pro sports team is feeling alright, alright, alright after booking its first-ever playoff berth. Attackers are stealing the show in the Lone Star State too — forward Sebastián Driussi scored 22 goals this season, while midfielder Diego Fagúndez recorded 15 assists.
No. 3 FC Dallas: Also representing Texas? Dallas, who are back in the postseason after missing out on last year’s fun. The team’s main MVP candidate is forward Jesús Ferreira — a contender for the USMNT’s World Cup squad — after he scored 18 goals this regular season.
No. 4 LA Galaxy: One of MLS’ best teams returns to the postseason this year thanks in large part to a stellar display from Javier “Chicharito” Hernández. The forward received the attack-minded Western Conference memo and scored 18 goals during the regular season, while midfielder Riqui Puig has settled in nicely since arriving from FC Barcelona in August.
No. 5 Nashville SC: The Music City team enters the playoffs with MLS’ top goalscorer Hany Mukhtar, who picked up this year’s Golden Boot after scoring a whopping 23 goals. Sean Davis played a crucial role in midfield during his first year with the club, while USMNT player Walker Zimmerman stayed consistent on defense.
No. 6 Minnesota United FC: The Loons snapped a six-match winless streak on the final day of the regular season, and will hope that’s just the start of a deep playoff run. The team will need midfielder Emanuel Reynoso to be at his best after he became MLS’ first player to record double digit goals, assists and yellow cards. A triple threat.
No. 7 Real Salt Lake: Like Minnesota, RSL returned to winning ways on the final day of the regular season, but now face an uphill battle in the playoffs. The team conceded more goals than it scored during the regular season, and need to ensure goalkeeper Zac MacMath — who recorded 10 clean sheets — isn’t deserted on an island.
🏆 Picks and predictions
You don’t make it to the top without proving your worth. Supporters’ Shield winners LAFC have a strong argument with one of the league’s most glittered attacking units, and would pick up their first MLS Cup in the process. Plus, the team is the oddsmakers’ favorite to take home the damn thing.
- But you can’t count out the City of Brotherly Love. Another would-be first time champ, the Union has one of the most balanced squads in MLS, plus they’re healthy and heading into the playoffs in fine form.
It isn’t the playoffs without underdogs though, and a few teams could play spoiler. Montréal kept pace with Philadelphia throughout the regular season and are true contenders for the MLS Cup, while few should bet against Nashville, as long as Mukhtar continues scoring golazos. Let the games begin!