The playoffs are here and FC Dallas has exceeded pre-season expectations by earning home-field advantage in the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2018.
This Monday, Los Toros will take on Minnesota United in a late evening kick-off. You can find the full 2022 MLS Cup Playoff bracket and schedule at MLS Soccer.
One question that is often asked, just how important is home-field advantage in the playoffs? I decided it’s time to turn back the clock and see what hosting playoff matchups has meant for MLS clubs over the last 9 years.
Note: all data is from 2013-2021 and does not include the 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs.
First, a quick review on the different playoff formats we have seen over the past decade:
Playoff Formats from 2013 – Present
Playoff Format 1: 2013 – 2018
This playoff format consisted of six playoff teams in each conference. The first round of matches were knockout rounds between 3rd and 6th place and 4th and 5th place, hosted by the 3rd and 4th place teams. The Conference Semifinals and later matches were home-and-away aggregate-goal format. This led to the 1st and 2nd-place teams earning byes into the Conference Semifinals.
Playoff Format 2: 2019 – Present
The current playoff format consists of seven playoff teams in each conference. The first round of matches are knockout rounds between 2nd and 7th place, 3rd and 6th place, and 4th and 5th place teams, with higher seeds hosting. The Conference Semifinals and later matches are also knockout rounds, with higher seeds hosting (and better record hosting MLS Cup final). This leads to the 1st-place teams earning a bye into the Conference Semifinals.
Temp Playoff Format: 2020 (COVID)
In 2020, MLS held a special playoff format due to the COVID pandemic causing some regular season matches to be postponed and later canceled in favor of starting the playoffs at their scheduled time. This format consisted of eight playoff teams in the Western conference. The entire playoffs were knockout rounds, beginning with the quarterfinals between 1st and 8th, 2nd and 7th, 3rd and 6th, and 4th and 5th, with higher seeds hosting throughout the playoffs.
Home playoff advantage has proven to be quite meaningful in the 50 first-round matches played since 2013.
- Home teams have won 51% and earned draws in an additional 25% of regular season matchups over the last decade. Away teams won 24% of these matchups.
- In the same timeframe, first-round playoff hosts have won 72% of matches with Away teams only winning 28% of the time.
- In the MLS Regular Season since 2013, home teams have averaged 1.73 goals/match. In the same timeframe, away teams have averaged 1.16 goals/match.
- In first-round playoff matches since 2013, hosts have averaged 2.02 goals/match with visitors averaging 1.22 goals/match.
Below you can see home/away win percentage broken down by season over the time period:
In 64 Conference Semifinal matches since 2013 (more than first-round matches due to bye’s and home-and-away formats detailed above), the margins have been a bit closer.
- Conference Semifinal hosts have won 58% of matches and drawn 12.5% of the time. Away teams have taken the other 29.5% of matches.
- Conference Semifinal hosts have averaged 1.62 goals/match since 2013. Visitors in these matches have averaged 1.05 goals/match.
Below you can see a breakdown of win percentage over the nine years for Conference Semifinal matchups:
In 30 Conference Final matches since 2013, home teams have seen similar success to Conference Semifinal hosts.
- Conference Final hosts have won 57% of the matches and drawn 17% of the time. Away teams have taken the other 27% of matches.
- In Conference Final matchups, hosts have scored an averaged of 1.63 goals/match. The visitors in these matches have notched an average of 1.07 goals/match.
Below is a split of home/away wins over the timespan for Conference Final matchups:
The granddaddy of them all requires teams to have a better record than their cross-Conference opponent in order to host. Home teams have fared better than away teams in MLS Cup matches as well.
- MLS Cup hosts have won 67% of the 9 matches played since 2013, leaving Away teams winning 33%.
- MLS Cup matches since 2013 have demonstrated that defense wins championships in this league. Home teams have averaged 1.67 goals/match, with visitors averaging only 0.67 goals/match.
Below shows the home/away winners of MLS Cup since 2013:
An Opportunity for Glory
It pays to host your playoff matches! FC Dallas has earned a great advantage by winning enough regular season bouts to host in the first round.
With home teams faring even better in playoff matches than MLS regular season matchups, it shows that even when the stakes are raised, the effects of travel, crowd noise, and confidence at home all play a big part in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
In 6 playoff matches the team has hosted since 2013, FC Dallas has won three times, drawn twice, and lost their most recent match – a 2018 first round loss to Portland Timbers.
Monday night will provide another opportunity to take advantage of hosting privileges. With a rock-solid defense, an offense that appears to be clicking at the right time, and an energized crowd, FC Dallas will have a strong chance at success in their first round matchup against Minnesota United.