How important is home advantage in MLS Cup?

  • The home teams have dominated MLS Cup since 2012
  • LAFC won at home at BMO Stadium last year
  • Columbus will host MLS Cup for second time in club history

The Crew play host to LAFC in MLS Cup
The Crew play host to LAFC in MLS Cup / Emilee Chinn/GettyImages

Columbus Crew are set to play host to reigning champions LAFC in the 2023 MLS Cup final at Field.

In the regular season, everyone in the MLS world knows that home field advantage is king. It's very rare for an MLS side to crack double-digit wins away from home and the Eastern Conference semifinalists Orlando City led the league in road wins this year with nine.

The formula to winning in the North American league is to win most of your home contests and snatch a few wins and draws here and there on the road, and you'll set yourself up with a chance to host MLS Cup or at least finish in the top four.

This begs the question: How successful have the home teams been in previous MLS Cups?

All the way back to 1996

SOCCER - CONCACAF Gold Cup 2011 - Quarter Final - Jamaica v United States of America
The first ever MLS Cup final was in 1996 / Matthew Ashton/GettyImages

MLS' first season came back in 1996 when the league had just 10 clubs (there will be 30 teams in the league starting in 2025 when San Diego FC join), and the first 17 MLS Cups were played at neutral sites. Because of this, teams had no home field advantage in the final like they do in today's era.

DC United would go on to capture the first-ever MLS Cup, 3-2 over LA Galaxy at Foxboro Stadium after extra time. The idea of playing at a neutral venue was somehow appealing for the Black and Red, as they conquered MLS again in 1997 with a 2-1 triumph over Colorado Rapids before their third title in 1999 with a 2-0 victory over the Galaxy once more.

However, the Galaxy would eventually experience their share of glory, winning three of their five total MLS Cups before the league changed the host formatting for the final with the legendary David Beckham leading the way in 2011. Houston Dynamo also enjoyed playing at neutral site, winning two consecutive titles in 2006 and 2007, both against New England Revolution. San Jose Earthquakes were able to pick up two MLS Cups as well in 2001 and 2003.

Everything changed in 2012

The Galaxy played 2012 MLS Cup at their home ground / ROBYN BECK/GettyImages

MLS decided to go down a different route ahead of the 2012 season and make a huge change in where would host MLS Cups. From 2012 onward, out of the two teams that qualified for the final, the team with the higher points total would host the contest. If the two teams were level on points accumulated, then the process would move on to wins and eventually goal difference, if needed.

The Galaxy, with Beckham and Landon Donovan leading the charge, won the first MLS Cup played at a home ground at Dignity Health Sports Park in December of 2012. The team went on to capture the title again in 2014 to bring their MLS Cup haul count to five, which still remains the most in the league.

Since MLS made the venue switch in 2012, the home teams have won all but one of the finals - the 2021 contest between Portland Timbers and New York City FC is the exception. The two sides were unable to find a winning goal, locked at 1-1 apiece and headed to extra time. The stalemate continued in extra time, and the visiting Blues would prevail in a penalty shootout 4-2 to win their first MLS Cup and become the first away side to do so.

With the home teams combining for a 10-1 record in MLS Cups, one club (alongside the Galaxy) has taken advantage of playing at their home ground on multiple occasions in the final. Seattle Sounders claimed two MLS Cups at Lumen Field in 2016 and 2019, against Toronto FC both times, with the former victory coming in a dramatic 5-4 penalty shootout.

The stats and results from the previous 11 finals all point to the Crew lifting their third MLS Cup, and they definitely have the means of doing so. However, LAFC (who won their first-ever MLS title last season at their home, BMO Stadium) cannot be underestimated, as the game is setup to fall into how they want to play: Columbus dominating possession at home, with the Black and Gold looking to make the most of their limited chances with lightning-quick counter attacks.

The two sides collide for the final MLS contest of the season on December 9 at Field in Columbus, Ohio, with Cucho Hernandez and Golden Boot winner Denis Bouanga leading the way for their respective teams.

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