MLS announces new tiebreakers, playoff dates

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With less than three months before the MLS playoffs start, the league Wednesday announced new tiebreakers to determine which teams will make the postseason and how they will be seeded.

Under the new rules, total goals scored will be the first tiebreaker — a change from the league’s previous head-to-head tiebreaker and a choice that also spurns the common practice globally of using goal differential.

Teams’ coaches and technical directors were informed of the new tiebreakers in January, and they again were told when the rules officially were passed by the Board of Governors in April.

Here are the tiebreakers:

1) Goals for
2) Goal differential
3) Fewest disciplinary points
4) Road goals
5) Road goal differential
6) Home goals
7) Home goal differential
8) Coin toss (two teams) or drawing of lots (three or more)

The new tiebreakers obviously place an emphasis on attacking soccer, with teams that commit fewer fouls and receive fewer cards also being rewarded by the disciplinary points tiebreaker (third in the pecking order).

This is pretty good news for D.C. United, who are tied with Houston and Montreal for second in the Eastern Conference with 35 goals scored. (New York leads the conference with 38 goals.) United also have the second-best disciplinary record in the conference.

Now that the league uses an unbalanced schedule, the head-to-head tiebreaker has been removed from the equation entirely.

If the season were to end today, United (11-7-3) would make the postseason at the Eastern Conference’s No. 4 seed, meaning they would host a wild-card playoff game with a berth in the conference semifinals on the line. But United have two games in hand on Houston, Kansas City and New York, the three teams in front of them.

Also announced Wednesday was the full playoff schedule, listed below:

Wild-card matches: Wednesday, Oct. 31, or Thursday, Nov. 1.
Conference semifinal first legs: Saturday, Nov. 3, or Sunday, Nov. 4
Conference semifinal second legs: Wednesday, Nov. 7, or Thursday, Nov. 8
Conference final first legs: Saturday, Nov. 10, or Sunday, Nov. 11
Conference final second legs: Saturday, Nov. 17, or Sunday, Nov. 18
MLS Cup: Saturday, Dec. 1

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