MLS playoffs expand to 18 teams

An opening “wild card” round will feature matches between the eighth- and ninth-seeded teams in the Eastern and Western conferences at the stadium of the higher seed.

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LAFC celebrates its victory in last season’s Western Conference final.

LAFC celebrates its victory in last season’s Western Conference final.

John McCoy/AP

Major League Soccer is expanding its playoffs to include the nine top finishers from each of its two conferences, 62% of the league’s teams.

An opening “wild card” round will feature matches between the eighth- and ninth-seeded teams in the Eastern and Western conferences at the stadium of the higher seed.

The first round will be a best-of-three series, with the top finisher in each conference facing the winner of the wild-card match. The second seed will play the seventh, No. 3 will play No. 6 and No. 4 will play No. 5. The higher seed will host first, with the series moving to the lower seed for the second game, and then back to the higher seed’s home if necessary.

The conference semifinals, finals and MLS Cup championship will all be single games, hosted by the higher seed.

In the previous format, only the top seven teams from each conference made the playoffs. The top seeds each had a first-round bye to the conference semifinals.

Decision Day, the final day of the regular season, is set for Oct. 21, with the wild card round scheduled for Oct. 25-26. The MLS Cup final will be played on Dec. 9.

The regular season begins Saturday. The Fire opens their season on March 4 against New York City FC at Soldier Field.

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