How Soccer Leagues Work (MLS, EPL, ECL, WC) (Explained)

A soccer league works by giving points to teams, 3 for winning, and for 1 drawing. At the end of the season, the league position determines if they’re champions, competition qualifiers, or relegated.

Soccer teams in leagues normally play each other over the course of the season twice, home and away.

If the league is only small they will play three, or even four games against each other.

This is a brief overview of soccer leagues, but they don’t all work like that – as we have a look at the MLS later on.

There are different systems across the world and there are differences in cup competitions and leagues that are not the top ones.

Knowing how soccer leagues work creates a better atmosphere, the game has added intensity when there’s something on the line.

  • A win gives the team 3 points and a draw gives each team 1 point for a league match, but during a knock-out stage, the aggregate (total) score over two games is what matters.
Chivas USA vs. Houston Dynamo Match
Chivas USA vs. Houston Dynamo Match

How do soccer leagues work?

leagues work over a season of soccer and are played over the space of a year. The games/points determine what position of the league the team is in. For competition and fairness, teams are promoted and relegated.

There’s only one winner of a league, and sometimes three teams are relegated to the league below for the following season – this enables three new teams to be promoted.

For a cup competition, there are no teams relegated. If they end up at the bottom of the league or near there, they’ve put out of the competition,

How do soccer fixtures work?

The fixtures of who plays who are decided before the start of the season, so the teams can prepare. The season is split into two, and a team will play half of their games at home and a half away.

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Fixtures for cup games and competitions are not decided until the competing teams are decided.

The draws normally take place a month or two before the games are due to begin.

MLS Soccer Final - MLS All-Stars vs Real Madrid
MLS Soccer Final – MLS All-Stars vs Real Madrid(U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Anthony L. Taylor/Released)

How do the Major League Soccer work?

The MLS has 26 competing teams and is set to increase to 30 in 2020. During a season, the leagues are split into two, the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference.

Due to the traveling distance between the two areas, they don’t compete until the end of the season if they reach the playoffs.

How does the MLS cup work?

Seven teams from each conference division will reach the cup playoffs to try and win the MLS Cup.

Those teams are at the top of the table based on points and if level, wins, goal difference, then total goals scored.

  • The two top teams are not required to play the first eliminator game, so they’re given a bye and wait for the next round.

There’s only one match per tie played until the semi-final and those matches are played at the home of the highest-seeded team.

The final is contested between the winners of the semi-finals in a one-game match hosted at the highest seeded team’s stadium.

Does the MLS have relegation?

Unlike the majority of leagues around the world, MLS does not have a relegation system in place.

This is because the league is a franchise with a set amount of teams competing.

This allows for all teams to compete next season but it loses some of the magic for a battle to stay up.

Do different soccer leagues play each other?

Only for a pre-season friendly or if they’re drawn against each other in a cup game.

EPL City ○ Soccer Blade
LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 2, 2020: Heung-Min Son of Tottenham and Kevin De Bruyne of City pictured during the 2019/20 Premier League game between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

How does the English Premier League work?

The premier league format is similar to most others around the world. During a season each team plays each other team twice, home and away.

The team with the most points at the end of the season, at the top of the table, is the winner of the league.

The EPL consists of 20 teams and each team plays a total of 38 games.

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EPL relegations and promotions

After all the games are played, the bottom three teams will be relegated to the Championship, which is the 2nd tiered league.

Two teams from the Championship will be promoted automatically to the Premier League leaving one place to be decided in playoffs between four teams.

SPAIN, MADRID - SEPTEMBER 18, 2012 UEFA Champions League Matchday 1, Real Madrid CF - Manchester City FC, 32, on September 18, 2012 in Madrid, Spain —
SPAIN, MADRID – SEPTEMBER 18, 2012 UEFA Champions League Matchday 1, Real Madrid CF – Manchester City FC, 32, on September 18, 2012, in Madrid, Spain —

How does the Champions League work?

The Champions League begins with leagues – four teams in each. Each team plays each other home and away, and after six games the winner of the group progresses to play the runner-up of another team from a different league.

The leagues are decided with a seeding system. This is to make sure there’s an even distribution of the best teams amongst the leagues.

These next games are the knockout stages of the competition and after playing home and away.

The winner is decided on the team who scores the most goals on aggregate over two matches – with more weight added to the team that scores more away from home.

Kylian Mbappe of France with the World Cup trophy after France defeated Croatia in their final match during the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Moscow Russia 15 July 2018.
Kylian Mbappe of France with the World Cup trophy after France defeated Croatia in their final match during the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Moscow Russia 15 July 2018.

How does the World Cup work?

The World Cup works the same way as the Champions League. Teams in divisions of four with the top two teams progressing to the next stage.

There’s, of course, no relegation, just an exit from the competition for the two lowest placed teams.

The two progressing teams will face teams from another league in the playoff rounds. The first-placed team will face a second-placed team from another division winner.

  • Playoff games are played over 90 minutes with an extra time of 30 minutes played if the scoreline is still level.

Then onto a penalty shootout if there’s still no decider after the added time.

That’s how soccer leagues work – a slight variation to each one. The team at the top of the league wins unless there are playoffs.

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Soccer Rules FAQ

How long is a soccer game?

Soccer games include two 45 minute halves, which is 90 minutes of play. Those who have ever watched a game know that, like many sports, real-time is longer than the match time.
In real-time, the length of a soccer game varies immensely. At the bare minimum, it will be 90 minutes of play + 15 minutes of halftime for a total of 105 minutes.

What is offside in soccer?

The offside rule in soccer is to stop player ‘goal hanging’ – standing near the opposition goal. This also stops soccer from being a long ball game, balls hit from one goal to another.

What are yellow card offenses?

+ Charging an opponent – caution if reckless.
+ Holding an opponent – When the ball is in play and the holding continues.
+ Handling the Ball – When a player handles the ball to break up attacking play. If an attacker + uses their hand to attempt to score a goal.
+ Dangerous play – If a player makes an action that can risk an injury to another player.
+ Impeding the progress of an opponent – If a player holds another player back or blocks a player on purpose, that prevents an attack.
+ Breaking up an attack - where there is the possibility of creating a scoring chance.
+ Simulation - where a player tries to con a referee into thinking that they are injured in order to punish the opponent. If a player tries to make out that they have been fouled.

What are the red card offenses?

+ Serious foul play
+ Violent conduct
+ Spitting at a person
+ Deliberate handball – denying a goal-scoring opportunity
+ Denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity
+ Offensive, aggressive, abusive language or gesture
+ Receiving a second caution

Soccer field size, size of goal, number of players and minutes played per age;

+ u17-u19 - Halves 2 x 45 minutes - Number of players 11 vs 11 - Goal Size 8 x 24 - Field size 50-100 by 100-130 yards
+ u15-u16 - Halves 2 x 40 minutes - Number of players 11 vs 11 - Goal Size 8 x 24 - Field size 50- 100 by 100-130 yards
+ u13-u14 - Halves 2 x 35 minutes - Number of players 11 vs 11 - Goal Size 8 x 24 - Field size 50-10 by 100-130 yards
+ u11-u12 - Halves 2 x 30 minutes - Number of players 9 vs 9 - Goal Size 7 x 21 - Field size 45-70 by 70-80 yards
+ u9-u10 - Halves 2 x 25 minutes - Number of players 7 vs 7 - Goal Size 6 x 18.5 - Field size 35-45 by 55-65 yards
+ u6-u8 - Quarters 4 x 10 minutes - Number of players 4 vs 4 - 4 x 6 Goal Size - Field size 15-25 by 25-35 yards

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