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Sports >  Seattle Sounders

Playoff changes and more: Three things to know before Sounders open 2023 season

Feb. 25, 2023 Updated Sat., Feb. 25, 2023 at 4:57 p.m.

By Jayda Evans Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Here are three things to know before the Sounders open their 2023 season Sunday at Lumen Field against the Colorado Rapids.

Possible samba football

The spine of the Sounders could take on a Brazilian look at points this season. Seattle signed forward Heber in December. He joins young winger Leo Chu and midfielder Joao Paulo as the team’s Brazilian ties. The trio has bonded over dinners at Joao Paulo’s home and each has the flair the Brazilian national team calls “samba” because of its sway and links to their culture. With striker Raul Ruidiaz questionable due to injury, Heber may see more minutes than originally expected to open the season. Heber returned from a knee injury with New York City FC last season, starting in 14 of his 40 appearances through all competitions and scoring 11 goals.

Playoff format changes

Last year, the Sounders didn’t reach the postseason for the first time since joining MLS in 2009 – breaking a run of a league-record 13 consecutive appearances. The league introduced a new format this year that will see 18 of the 29 teams advance. But if applied last year, Seattle still wouldn’t have earned a berth after finishing 11th in the Western Conference with a club-record 17 losses.

Under the new playoff design, nine teams from the Eastern and Western conferences will get a berth. The eighth and ninth seeds will have a “play-in” match and the first round will be a best-of-three series. If the matches in either round end in a draw after regulation, the winner will be decided by penalty kicks. No extra time will be played.

The conference semifinals, conference finals and MLS Cup will be single-elimination games. If any end in a draw after regulation, there will be two 15-minute halves. If still deadlocked, the game will be decided by penalty kicks.

There’s a two-week break between the first round and conference semifinals due to a FIFA men’s international window. The MLS Cup is slated for Dec. 9 at the highest seed’s home stadium.

Revamped Leagues Cup

The Sounders lost to Liga MX side Club Leon 3-2 in the Leagues Cup final in 2021, the last time it was played as a traditional tournament. The event that pits Mexico’s top-flight league against MLS is back and will feature all 47 clubs between the two leagues.

Seattle was seeded in West 2 of the World Cup-style tournament and will play group-stage matches against Real Salt Lake and CF Monterrey. Exact dates and times have not been released, but Leagues Cup will run July 21-Aug. 19.

The top two finishers in each group will advance to the knockout round of 32. No matches can end in a draw in group play. If level after regulation, the winner will be decided by penalty kicks. Complete rules for the tournament haven’t been released.

The top three finishers in the overall tournament will receive an automatic berth to the expanded 2024 CONCACAF Champions League, the precursor for the FIFA men’s Club World Cup.

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