MLS Playoff History: Evolving Formats 1996-2004

Toby Canham

The Timbers have now played their first game in the MLS Playoffs and to celebrate that we are taking a look back at the playoffs in years past.

Major League Soccer has been remarkably inconsistent in their format used for the playoffs over the years and, as Timbers fans, we have not had the joy of seeing some of the stranger ones in action. Here is a quick rundown of the first nine years of the league and just how the playoffs were handled in ye olden times.

1996

Qualifiers: Top 4 from each conference.

Rounds: Conference Semifinals (Best of Three), Conference Finals, Cup Final (Single Match).

Winners: DC United 3-2 over the LA Galaxy at Foxboro Stadium in Foxborough, MA.

In the league's first year, MLS had ten teams in two conferences, the East and the West. The league also went to a 35 yard shoot out after regular time expired, rather than allowing ties to occur.

1997

Qualifiers: Top 4 from each conference.

Rounds: Conference Semifinals (Best of Three), Conference Finals, Cup Final (Single Match).

Winners: DC United 2-1 over the Colorado Rapids at RFK Memorial Stadium in Washington D.C.

1998

Qualifiers: Top 4 from each conference.

Rounds: Conference Semifinals (Best of Three), Conference Finals, Cup Final (Single Match)

Winners: Chicago Fire 2-0 over DC United at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA.

This year saw the Miami Fusion join the league in the Eastern Conference and the Chicago Fire join in the West, bringing the League up to twelve teams.

1999

Qualifiers: Top 4 from each conference.

Rounds: Conference Semifinals (Best of Three), Conference Finals (Best of Three), Cup Final (Single Match).

Winners: DC United 2-0 over the LA Galaxy at Foxboro Stadium in Foxborough, MA.

2000

Qualifiers: Top 8 on single table.

Rounds: Quarterfinals (First team to five points from 3 games advances, with extra time in the event of a 4 point draw), Semifinals, Cup Final (Single Match).

Winners: Kansas City Wizards 1-0 over the Chicago Fire at RFK Memorial Stadium in Washington D.C.

This was the first year that MLS allowed ties, rather than going to their variation of penalty kicks. It was also the first year that MLS switched over to a three conference system, rather than the previous East-West format.

2001

Qualifiers: Top 8 on single table.

Rounds: Quarterfinals (First team to five points from 3 games advances, with extra time in the event of a 4 point draw), Semifinals, Cup Final (Single Match).

Winners: San Jose Earthquakes 2-1 over the LA Galaxy at Columbus Crew Stadium in Columbus, OH.

This was the league's first intra-conference final, a quirk that would occur again in 2008, 2009, and 2010.

2002

Qualifiers: Top 8 on single table.

Rounds: Quarterfinals (First team to five points from 3 games advances, with extra time in the event of a 4 point draw), Semifinals, Cup Final (Single Match).

Winners: LA Galaxy 1-0 over the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA.

This year the Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny were contracted, causing MLS to drop to ten teams and switch back to a two conference system.

2003

Qualifiers: Top 4 from each Conference.

Rounds: Conference Semifinals (Home and Away), Conference Finals (Single Match), Cup Final.

Winners: San Jose Earthquakes 4-2 over the Chicago Fire at the Home Depot Center in Carson, CA.

2004

Qualifiers: Top 4 from each Conference.

Rounds: Conference Semifinals (Home and Away), Conference Finals (Single Match), Cup Final.

Winners: DC United 3-2 over the Kansas City Wizards at the Home Depot Center in Carson, CA.

This was MLS's final year as a ten team league, with the impending additions of Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA in 2005.

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