If FC Cincinnati Makes the Playoffs Again, the Team Will Deal with a Different Format

Major League Soccer has added several games and rounds to the 2023 playoffs.

TQL Stadium in Cincinnati's West End - Photo: Francisco Huerta Jr.
Photo: Francisco Huerta Jr.
TQL Stadium in Cincinnati's West End

FC Cincinnati just made it to the playoffs for the first time in 2022, but Major League Soccer already is changing postseason action from what the team experienced.

On Feb. 21, MLS announced a new expanded playoff format for the 2023 season and beyond, adding several games and rounds likely in an effort to build fan interest and a broader subscriber base for broadcaster Apple TV. Nine teams in both the Eastern and Western conferences now will see playoff action, the most of any non-special season in MLS history (there were 10 teams per conference in 2020, a season shortened and altered due to the COVID-19 pandemic). Eighteen teams in all will compete in the playoffs.

The previous playoff system – the one that FC Cincinnati had played under in 2022 – had been single-elimination only.

The playoffs will begin after Oct. 21's Decision Day, the final day of the regular season. The top seven teams in each conference will automatically qualify for round one's new best-of-three series, with each team getting at least one home game.

Immediately prior to that, seeds eight and nine in each conference will compete in a single-elimination wild card round; that winner then will advance to round one to play the conference's No. 1 seed. Essentially, the highest-ranking team of the season will face the lowest-ranking team, setting up a "David vs. Goliath" round.

Round one for each championship will compete as follows, with the higher seed hosting the first (and third, if necessary) game:
  • seed one vs. wild card winner
  • seed two vs. seed seven
  • seed three vs. seed six
  • seed four vs. seed five
Wild card matches are scheduled for Oct. 25 and 26, while round one games will be staged Oct. 28-Nov. 12. Round one games cannot end in a tie.
The conference semifinals, conference finals and championship game will proceed per usual as single-elimination matches. Semifinals and finals will be played Nov. 25-Dec. 3, and the championship will take place Dec. 9.

FC Cincinnati will debut its new river kit during the home opener against the Houston Dynamo FC on Feb. 25 at TQL Stadium. It will be the team's first-ever season opener at home.

FC Cincinnati had a banner 2022 season, including its first-ever MLS Cup postseason berth, a postseason win against a higher seed and a club record for consecutive scoring games. Cincinnati went 12-9 with 13 draws in the regular season, clinching its spot in the playoffs with a win over D.C. United during the final game Oct. 9. The Orange and Blue followed that up with an MLS Cup playoff victory against the New York Red Bulls, with the season coming to a close on Oct. 20 with a playoff loss to Eastern Conference top seed Philadelphia Union. The 2022 season also marked the first time Cincinnati did not finish in last place in the Eastern Conference. 
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