ST. LOUIS – Only one game remains before St. Louis CITY SC turns the page to the MLS Cup Playoffs. St. Louis has surprised many in its inaugural season and will enter the playoffs as the top seed in the MLS Western Conference.
Coincidentally, as St. Louis joins the playoff field for the first time, the MLS is preparing for the first year of a changed playoff format. Had St. Louis joined the league one year earlier and had the same success under last year’s format, they would have entered the big dance with a bye through the conference semifinals. However, that is not the case for this fall.
Eighteen MLS teams will qualify for this year’s playoffs. There are five unique playoff rounds. St. Louis has an opportunity to play up to six games between the final four playoff rounds.
Here’s what to know about the playoffs setup as it pertains to St. Louis CITY SC.
Wild Card round
Approximate dates: Oct. 25-26
The No. 8 and No. 9 seeds of the Western and Eastern Conference will play a single-elimination match, with the higher seed hosting the one-and-done. No other playoff-qualifying teams will play in this round.
Come match day, if the score is tied beyond regulation, the game will be decided on a penalty kick shootout. The winners will take on St. Louis and FC Cincinnati in their respective conferences.
The match will consist of two of these five teams: Portland Timbers, FC Dallas, San Jose Earthquakes, Sporting KC and Minnesota United FC. Two teams out of this group will miss the playoffs, and one will end up with the No. 7 seed. The other two will play in the Wild Card match. There are still several scenarios in play, but those won’t be determined until the Decision Day matches end.
Between the No. 8 and 9 seeds, whoever advances out of the Wild Card Round will move on to play CITY SC in the next round, the only best-of-three format throughout the playoffs.
Approximate dates: Oct. 28-Nov. 12
This is when St. Louis CITY SC will play its first playoff games. CITY is guaranteed at least two matchups and at least the first one at home. Their opponent will be the No. 8 or No. 9 seed that wins the Western Conference Wild Card match.
Like the Wild Card round, if a match is tied beyond regulation, it will be decided by a penalty kick shootout. St. Louis will indeed host Game 1 of this series. If it’s tied after two matches, they will return home to host the winner-take-all Game 3.
Conference Semifinals & Finals
Approximate dates: Nov. 25-Dec. 3
After every best-of-three series has been decided, the playoff pool will shrink to eight teams. The conference semifinals and finals will return to single-game elimination matches.
The winner of each 1 vs. 8/9 matchup will face the winner of 4 vs. 5 matchup in their respective conferences. The winner of each 2 vs. 7 matchup will face the winner of 3 vs. 6 matchup in their respective conferences. It’s structured like March Madness, so seeding doesn’t change within each bracket.
Slightly different from previous playoff rounds, if a conference semifinals or conference finals match is tied beyond regulation, there will be two 15-minute extra time periods to play in their entirety. If the score is still tied beyond that, the match will be decided by a penalty kick shootout.
In the case that CITY SC advances out of its opening playoff round, they would play the 4 vs. 5 winner next. If St. Louis wins its semifinals matchup, it sets up the conference finals with the last remaining Western Conference team.
Scheduled date: Dec. 9
The MLS Cup is the final game of the 2023 MLS season and ultimately decides the league’s champion. The team with more regular-season points or tiebreakers in their favor will host the match.
Like the conference semifinals and beyond, if the match is tied beyond regulation, there will be two 15-minute extra time periods to play in their entirety. If the score is still tied beyond that, the match will be decided by a penalty kick shootout.
If St. Louis wins the Western Conference Final to advance to the MLS Cup, they would take on the Eastern Conference champion and could potentially host a home match against anyone besides FC Cincinnati or Orlando City.
What else to know
St. Louis CITY SC has one more home match scheduled for Saturday against the Seattle Sounders. This match comes as part of MLS Decision Day, which is traditionally important for deciding seeding and the final teams that crack the playoff picture.
With the top seed of the Western Conference locked up, the game doesn’t really mean anything for CITY SC standings-wise. Seattle does have a chance to finish right behind St. Louis for No. 2 in the Western Conference, so CITY SC will likely be motivated to treat it as a playoff game.
St. Louis is currently 17-5-11 on the season with 56 points. A draw on Saturday would help them tie the MLS record for most points among expansion teams. A win would help them take sole possession of that record.
As mentioned before, keep an eye on the Portland, Dallas, San Jose, Kansas City and Minnesota games this weekend to understand what CITY SC’s first playoff series might entail.
For more information on the MLS Cup playoffs and this year’s structure, click here.