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New York Red Bulls maintain the longest active playoff streak in US pro sports

Major League Soccer’s playoff matchups were set after a chaotic Decision Day across the league on Saturday.

The postseason opens on Wednesday with a pair of wild-card games. Eighth-seeded Sporting Kansas City will host the ninth-seeded San Jose Earthquakes in the Western Conference. In the East, the eighth-seeded New York Red Bulls will host ninth-seeded Charlotte, which made the playoffs for the first time.

Games in each of the league’s conferences were played simultaneously Saturday with the Eastern Conference kicking off three hours before the West. There were five playoff spots still up for grabs when the games began.

Dénis Bouanga scored in LAFC’s 1-1 draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps at BC Place to win the league’s Golden Boot with 20 goals in his first full MLS season. He is the third LAFC player to win the award for the league’s leading regular-season scorer in the last five years, joining Carlos Vela in 2019 and Diego Rossi in 2020.

The New York Red Bulls made the playoffs in dramatic fashion: John Tolkin scored on a penalty in stoppage time for a 1-0 victory over Nashville SC. The Red Bulls have advanced to the postseason for 14 consecutive seasons, the longest active playoff streak in US pro sports.

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“Honestly when I was stepping up I was just so nervous for my mom because I knew she was probably having a heart attack back at home,” Tolkin said.

If the Red Bulls advance, they’ll face the East’s top seed, Cincinnati, which had earlier clinched the Supporters’ Shield for the league’s best record, in the opening round of the playoffs. Cincinnati, which played to a 2-2 draw Saturday with Atlanta United, will get home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

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The East’s second-seed, Orlando City, will host seventh-seeded Nashville. Third-seeded Columbus will play sixth-seeded Atlanta, and fourth-seeded Philadelphia will host fifth-seeded New England.

Under a new format this season, the opening round is a best-of-three series. The games will start Saturday and go until 12 November. The conference semi-finals are set for 25-26 November, with the conference finals played 2-3 December. The MLS Cup will take place on 9 December.

St. Louis City had already clinched the top seed in the Western Conference, becoming the first expansion team to finish in the top spot in league history. But City fell a point short of LAFC’s expansion record for points (57) after a 2-0 loss to the Seattle Sounders.

The West’s second seed, Seattle, will host seventh-seeded Dallas in the opening round. Third-seeded LAFC will host the sixth-seeded Vancouver Whitecaps, and fourth-seeded Houston will host Real Salt Lake.

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The 2023 Audi #MLSCupPlayoffs bracket is set.

— Major League Soccer (@MLS) October 22, 2023

Inter Miami was already eliminated going into the final match, but Lionel Messi played a full 90 minutes in his team’s 1-0 loss to Charlotte.

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NYCFC defeated the Chicago Fire 1-0 but will miss out on the playoffs for the first time in eight years.

The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner who spurred Messi Mania in the United States by joining MLS will now turn his attention to Argentina’s World Cup qualifiers against Brazil and Uruguay in November.

Former USMNT captain Michael Bradley retired from soccer after Toronto’s 2-0 loss to Orlando on Saturday. The 36-year-old midfielder scored 17 goals in 151 international appearances from 2006-19. He has played for Toronto since 2014 and helped the team win the 2017 Major League Soccer title.

Four other teams – Minnesota United, the Portland Timbers, CF Montréal and Chicago Fire – also came up short Saturday in their bids for a postseason berth.

This article and headline were amended on 1 November 2023. An earlier version said that the New York Red Bulls had maintained the longest active playoff streaks in pro sports; this should have said US pro sports.