How Do The MLS Conference Semifinals Work?

Nov 2, 2018, 8:32 PM
Real Salt Lake starters huddle before taking the field against LAFC in the knockout round of the ML...
Real Salt Lake starters huddle before taking the field against LAFC in the knockout round of the MLS Cup Playoffs at Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles.

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Real Salt Lake advanced to the Western Conference Semifinals of the MLS Cup Playoffs following a 3-2 win over LAFC in the knockout round. They will face No. 1-seed Sporting Kansas City.

Now that the knockout round is over, what is the format for the semifinals? It is different than the one game playoff. The two teams will play a home-and-home series with the team who scores the most goals in the two game series advancing to the next round.

Aggregate System

The lower seeded team will host the first leg of the series, then the return trip to the higher seed. The advantage for the higher seeded team hosting the second leg gives the team an idea of what they need to do at home, if they are trailing, tied or leading on aggregate.

When they won MLS cup in 2009, RSL was the last team to make the playoffs. They won the first game at home 1-0, eventually knocking off top seed Columbus 4-2.

In 2011, RSL won the first leg with a 3-0 score at home against Seattle. The Sounders won 2-0 in the second leg but Real advanced with a 3-2 aggregate score.


If at the end of the second leg, both teams have scored the same amount of goals, the tiebreaker goes to the team that scored the most goals on the road in the two game series.

If both teams scored the same amount of goals on the road, in the second leg, they will play two 15 minute extra time periods. If a winner hasn’t been determined after extra time, the game goes to penalty kicks. The extra time is not a ‘golden goal’ format. If a team scores in one of the 15 minute periods, the other team has a chance to tie the game.

For example, RSL played the Portland Timbers in the Western Conference Finals in 2013, Real scored four goals in the first leg at home with Portland adding two goals. If Portland scored two goals in the second leg at home and kept RSL scoreless, they would have advanced because they had more goals on the road.

The first leg between Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City will be played on Sunday, November 4 at Rio Tinto Stadium. First kick is at 8 p.m. and can be seen on FOX Sports 1.

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How Do The MLS Conference Semifinals Work?