MLS to Use Points Per Game for Playoff Seeding, Standings

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An atypical MLS season will have its standings sorted in an atypical way.

Due to a number of games that had to be postponed–and won't be made up–due to coronavirus cases, the league will have its playoff picture decided by points per game, with not all of the 26 teams finishing with the same number of games played. The league will not extend its regular season beyond the scheduled Nov. 8 Decision Day set of finales, and there isn't a way to fit in all the games that would need to be made up in order to have all teams finish with 23 games played. The Colorado Rapids, who remain in playoff contention, had five games that won't be made up and will only complete 18.

"Prior to resuming the season following the MLS is Back Tournament, MLS stated in early August the league would use points per game as opposed to total points to determine playoff qualifiers in the case clubs played an uneven number of games," the league wrote in Thursday's announcement. That is indeed the situation in which MLS finds itself.

This season's playoffs have been expanded to 18 teams, with Nashville temporarily moved to the Eastern Conference to accommodate the groups at the MLS Is Back tournament and creating an imbalance in the conferences (that wound up being needless, because Nashville was one of two teams, FC Dallas being the other, to not take part in the Orlando competition due to coronavirus cases). With the Eastern Conference having 14 teams and the Western Conference having 12, 10 of the 18 will come from the former, and the remaining eight from the latter. The final four seeds in the East will have a play-in round to determine which ones make the 16-team bracket.

Eight of the 10 Eastern Conference playoff spots are already spoken for (Philadelphia Union, Toronto FC, Columbus Crew, Orlando City, NYCFC, Nashville, New York Red Bulls, New England Revolution), while five of the eight in the Western Conference are set (Seattle Sounders, Sporting Kansas City, Portland Timbers, Minnesota United, LAFC).

The intrigue is on the playoff line in the West, where the Rapids have a tentative hold on the last spot despite having fewer total points (19) than the Vancouver Whitecaps (24), Real Salt Lake (22) and Houston Dynamo (21). They've played five fewer games than RSL and six fewer than the Whitecaps and Dynamo.

In the East, the Chicago Fire have a grasp on the 10th and final spot, with a slightly higher points per game total despite being even on points (21) with Inter Miami and D.C. United.

The tiebreakers get a bit messy but are as follows in order: Total number of wins per match; Goal Differential per match (Goals For per match minus Goals Against per match); Goals For per match; Fewest Disciplinary Points per match; Away Goals Differential per Away match (Away Goals For per Away match minus Away Goals Against per Away match; Away Goals For per Away match; Home Goals Differential per Home match (Home Goals For per Home match minus Home Goals Against per Home match); Home Goals For per Home match; Coin Toss (tie of two clubs) or Drawing of Lots (tie of three or more clubs).