Charlotte FC made history on Saturday night, clinching the Club’s first-ever playoff spot with a win over Inter Miami at Bank of America Stadium. Kerwin Vargas’s 13th minute goal – and Kristijan Kahlina’s late heroics – booked CLTFC’s place in front of over 66,000 fans.
The Crown starts their playoff run with the Wild Card match away at the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday night. Win that, and they get one guaranteed home game in the Round One Best-of-3 series against FC Cincinnati before a slew of single-elimination away matches stands between them and MLS Cup.
Read on for a full breakdown of CLTFC’s road warrior path through the playoffs.
The Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs kick off with two Wild Card matches on Wednesday night – one for each conference. The 8 and 9 seeds in each conference play each other in a single-elimination match, hosted by the higher seed, for the right to enter the Round One Best-of-3 series against the 1 seed.
Importantly, if the Wild Card match is tied at the end of regulation, no extra time will be played. Instead, the match will move immediately to a penalty kick shootout to determine the winner.
Charlotte FC’s Path
CLTFC starts their playoff journey in this Wild Card match. They will travel to the New York Red Bulls for a 7:30 p.m. ET kickoff at Red Bull Arena.
On Decision Day, the Red Bulls vaulted up to 8th place with their last-gasp penalty kick winner against Nashville. Charlotte FC won their match over Miami and both Montreal and Chicago lost, putting The Crown in the playoffs at 9th place.
Round One Best-of-3
Major League Soccer introduced a new wrinkle to the playoff format in 2023. Rather than single-elimination matches through the whole bracket, the first round now features a Best-of-3 format.
The higher seed hosts the first match and the decisive – if needed – third match, giving those teams that performed well in the regular season a distinct advantage. Lower seeds host only the second match of the three-match series.
This series-style approach guarantees all teams that qualify for playoffs (except for the 9 seeds, who must travel for the Wild Card match) will have at least one match in front of their home fans.
It also means that the result of each match has standalone importance. The first team to win two games wins the series. It’s as simple as that.
This is very different from the aggregate two-legged scoring system that MLS utilized from 2003-2018, where the scores of the two games would be added together. This essentially meant the result at the end of the first game did not hold as much meaning, and teams were not incentivized to go for the win.
In this year’s system, a winner must be determined in each game. However, just like the Wild Card, if one of these matches is tied at the end of regulation, no extra time will be played. Instead, the match will move immediately to a penalty kick shootout to determine the winner.
Charlotte FC’s Path
If CLTFC beat the Red Bulls on Wednesday, they will advance to this round against FC Cincinnati, the 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Game 1 would be away at TQL Stadium on Sunday, October 29th before Charlotte FC get their one and only home playoff match in Game 2 on Saturday, November 4th. If a Game 3 is necessary, CLTFC would return to Ohio on Saturday, November 11th.
Conference Semifinals // Conference Finals // MLS Cup
After all the First Round Best-of-3 series finish, the playoff bracket features single-elimination matches the rest of the way.
There will be four Conference Semifinal matches (two in each conference) and two Conference Final matches (one in each conference) to determine the two teams in MLS Cup.
The higher seed always hosts, once again giving the advantage to teams who finished higher in the regular season.
MLS Cup is NOT a neutral venue final. The higher seed also earns the right to host MLS Cup at their home stadium. This is determined by overall Supporter’s Shield standings.
Unlike the Wild Card and Round One Best-of-3 series, there will be two 15-minute extra time periods if these matches are tied at the end of the regulation (no golden goal). If still tied, a penalty kick shootout will determine the winner.
Charlotte FC’s Path
CLTFC would be playing exclusively on the road after the First Round Best-of-3 series, all the way through MLS Cup.
For reference, below is the hosting priority for the entire playoff field. Charlotte FC has less points than the worst team in the Western Conference, San Jose, and so have no possibility to host MLS Cup at Bank of America Stadium.
The Eastern Conference Semifinal would be against the winner of Philadelphia (4) vs. New England (5).
The Eastern Conference Final would be against one of the following four teams: Orlando (2), Columbus (3), Atlanta (6), or Nashville (7).
MLS Cup would be against the eventual winner of the Western Conference side of the bracket.
WE'RE IN | AUDI 2023 MLS CUP PLAYOFFS
The Crown has secured their spot in the playoffs! Learn everything you need to know at our Playoff Hub ahead of our Wild Card match on Wedneday, October 25.