The Philadelphia Union and Los Angeles FC kicked off the new-look first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs by protecting their home stadiums with big wins. Ryan Hollingshead and Denis Bouanga both picked up braces as LAFC defeated the Vancouver Whitecaps 5-2 while Daniel Gazdag opened the scoring for the Union, who were ahead by three goals by halftime as the they rolled to a 3-1 victory over the New England Revolution. There is a bit of worry for both teams as Julian Carranza and Carles Gil left the match with injuries but with 11 days between both matches, there may be time to recover ahead of game two.
With the new playoff format, the first round of the playoffs will be a best-of-three series with the first team to two wins moving on. There is no extra time so if a game is level at the end of regulation, it will go straight to penalties to determine the winner which isn’t something that the Vancouver Whitecaps will want to hear after Ryan Gauld missed not one but two penalties which would have secured a top four spot and homefield advantage in the first round for the Whitecaps.
After the first round, it will flip back to a single-elimination format for the remainder of the playoffs. Hosting rights for MLS Cup come down to points gained during the season so despite St. Louis City FC winning the West, they won’t host MLS Cup if they’re pitted against FC Cincinnati, Orlando City or the Columbus Crew.
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All times Eastern, all matches can be streamed on MLS Season Pass
Wildcard round: Wednesday, Oct. 25
New York Red Bulls 5, Charlotte FC 2
Sporting Kansas City 0, San Jose Earthquakes 0 (Sporting win 4-2 on penalties)
Round one schedule
Saturday, Oct. 28
Philadelphia Union 3, New England Revolution 1
Los Angeles FC 5, Vancouver Whitecaps 2
Sunday, Oct. 29
Houston Dynamo FC vs. Real Salt Lake, Shell Energy Stadium (6 p.m.)
FC Cincinnati vs. New York Red Bulls, TQL Stadium (8 p.m.)
St. Louis City SC vs. Sporting Kansas City, CITYPARK (10 p.m.)
Monday, Oct 30
Orlando City SC vs. Nashville SC, Exploria Stadium (7 p.m.)
Seattle Sounders vs. FC Dallas, Lumen Field (9 p.m.)
Wednesday, Nov. 1
Columbus Crew vs. Atlanta United, Lower.com Field (7:30 p.m.)
Saturday, Nov. 4
New York Red Bulls vs. FC Cincinnati, Red Bull Arena (7 p.m.)
FC Dallas vs. Seattle Sounders, Toyota Stadium (9 p.m.)
Sunday, Nov. 5
Sporting Kansas City vs. St. Louis City SC, Children’s Mercy Park (5 p.m.)
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Los Angeles FC, BC Place (7:30 p.m.)
Monday, Nov. 6
Real Salt Lake vs. Houston Dynamo, America First Field (9 p.m.)
Tuesday, November 7
Atlanta United vs. Columbus Crew, Mercedes-Benz Stadium (7 p.m.)
Nashville SC vs. Orlando City SC, GEODIS Park (9 p.m.)
Wednesday, Nov. 8
New England Revolution vs. Philadelphia Union, Gillette Stadium (7 p.m.)
Game 3’s if needed
Thursday, Nov. 9
Los Angeles FC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps, BMO Stadium (10 p.m.)
Friday, Nov. 10
Seattle Sounders vs. FC Dallas, Lumen Field (10 p.m.)
Saturday, Nov. 11
FC Cincinnati vs. New York Red Bulls, TQL Stadium (2 p.m.)
Houston Dynamo vs. Real Salt Lake, Shell Energy Stadium (4 p.m.)
St. Louis City FC vs. Sporting Kansas City, CITYPARK (6 p.m.)
Sunday, Nov. 12
Philadelphia Union vs. New England Revolution, Subaru Park (3 p.m.)
Orlando City SC vs. Nashville SC, Exploria Stadium (5 p.m.)
Columbus Crew vs. Atlanta United, Lower.com Field (7 p.m.)
Conference Semifinals: Nov. 25-26
Schedule and broadcast info TBD
Conference Finals: Dec. 2-3
Schedule and broadcast info TBD
MLS Cup: Saturday, Dec. 9 (4 p.m.)
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With their stoppage time victory over Nashville SC, the New York Red Bulls not only jumped above the red line to host a wild-card round match but they also made history. Not only do the Red Bulls own the longest active streak of playoff appearances in all of American sports but they now also hold the longest streak of consecutive playoff appearances ever in MLS with 14. For a season that has included many ups and downs including needing to move on from head coach Gerhard Struber, it’s an impressive accomplishment for the Red Bulls to make it and considering their form recently, teams won’t want to face them.
Welcome to the show
In only their second season in the league, Charlotte FC are now in the playoffs and they did it the hard way by handing Miami their first league defeat in a match that Lionel Messi has started. Scoring an early goal before surviving on heroics from keeper Kristijan Kahlina, this is the progress that Charlotte needed after dropping a midweek match away to the Herons. It feels even better to book your place in the playoffs when Messi had to be defeated to get there.
What a turnaround
It seemed like Sporting Kansas City and the longest tenured coach in the league Peter Vermes would be left on the outside looking in at the playoff picture but in a statement win over Minnesota United, Sporting was able to make it to book a place in the wild-card round. No one will want to face this side in the playoffs, especially St. Louis who lost to the Seattle Sounders on the final day. Sporting will still need another win to make it out of the wild-card round but getting there was half the battle.