MLS Explained: Seductive Soccer

The MLS began in 1996 with 10 teams and will grow to 30 in 2022. The stadiums are the third-highest attended games in the US and it is the fastest-growing sport in the country. The MLS is able to attract the best names across the world with the designated player rule.

Major League Soccer began in 1996, this was two years after the USA hosted the 1994 World Cup Finals. The women’s league began a few years later in 2013 and they have been going from strength to strength.

With so many sports events that take place across America, there was doubt if soccer could take place in this sporting nation. It has proved itself by becoming the fifth biggest sport in the States from TV viewing, and the fourth most played sport.

Forbes has predicted that soccer will become the third most favorite spectator sport – showing the ever-increasing growth of the global game. The highest attended games are at a whopping 69,301 for Atlanta United FC. The MLS is the third-highest attended sporting events in the US.

What’s the meaning of MLS?

MLS is the soccer association in the USA and stands for Major League Soccer.

This article will explain all you need to know about the MLS to have a great understanding of how it all works.

MLS Explained – Rules

Here is a breakdown of the MLS rules for you to know the game;

  • 17 games at home and away
  • Clubs play 10 non-conference sides
  • Top 7 from East and West qualify
  • 18 players for each game roster
  • 45 minutes played per half = 90
  • Added stoppage minutes added to the end of the half
  • Collage breaks added if temperature 82 Fahrenheit plus
  • Playing field 70 yards wide by 110 yards long
  • 1 yellow card = caution – 2 x yellow card = sent off
  • 5 games without a yellow/red card = minus 1 yellow card (3)
  • 5 yellow cards = suspension
  • 1 red card = suspension (length depends on type)
  • League tie-break based on 1. Number of wins 2. Goal difference 3. Goals for 4. Fewest disciplinary points

MLS Season

The soccer season for the MLS begins in February or March and finishes off in November with the climax of the MLS Playoffs. When East meets West, to decide the countries best soccer team. The start date is varied due to the Football associations schedule with other competitions when the players will be occupied, for World Cup qualifiers and the Gold Cup.

There is a mid-season break where the All-Stars are in action. The players are selected from a selection of votes from the fans, manager and league commissioner. All players are selected from the MLS league, no matter the nation and are placed against a different international side each year.

The All-Stars have been playing since the introduction of the league and have faced tough competition over the years, but have been equal to the challenge. Whilst the European teams are on their offseason, they have met the most times, with top teams such as Manchester United, Real Madrid and Bayer Munich.

MLS All-Stars Results

YearHomeScoreAway
2009MLS All-Stars1-1Everton
2010MLS All-Stars2-5Manchester United
2011MLS All-Stars0-4Manchester United
2012MLS All-Stars3-2Chelsea
2013MLS All-Stars1-3Roma
2014MLS All-Stars2-1Bayern Munich
2015MLS All-Stars2-1Tottenham Hostspur
2016MLS All-Stars1-2Arsenal
2017MLS All-Stars1-1Real Madrid
2018MLS All-Stars1-1Juventus
2019MLS All-Stars0-3Athletico Madrid

MLS Ownership

Unlike most of the leagues around the world, the players are in contract with the clubs and the clubs are financially independent of the league. The MLS players signs contracts with the league itself and not the team.

The clubs are a franchise and the estimated cost of a club rose on average from $34 million in 2008 to $103 million according to Forbes. The club valuations by Forbes estimates in 2019 the highest club valuation Atlanta United at $500 million and the lowest valuation to be Colorado Rapids at $190 million.

MLS Operating profits per team 2019
MLS Franchise Operating Profits/Losses – Statista

The entrance fee for a franchise in the MLS for the 28th and 29th team is $200 million and the 30th team will pay $325 million. Although in the graph below, most teams are not making a profit, the league is growing and with the inclusion of further teams, it is likely to bolster the profits.

MLS Players

Each MLS team is allowed up to 30 players in their roster, with the use of 18 on a game day, 11 substitutes and 7 on the bench. The top 20 players are on the senior roster, allowing for an additional 10 players in the reserve/youth team.

MLS Salary Cap

The teams in MLS have a budget for the salary of 20 players in each team. The current budget in 2020 is $4.9 million. The maximum salary for a single player is $612,500. The money that is spent on the other 10 players outside of the roster of 20 is not included in the salary budget.

Minimum salary for MLS players in slots 21-30;

A full list of all the player’s salaries is available to view from the MLS here.

  • Players 21-24 $81,375
  • Players 25-28 $63,547
  • Players 29-30 $63,547 – Homegrown players only
2011_MLS_Cup_Final
MLS Cup Final 2011 – LA Galaxy vs Houston Dynamo – Courtesy of Wikimedia

Designated Player Rule

The Designated Player rule is also known as the Beckham Rule was introduced in 2007. This allows for teams to compete in the international transfer market, so they are able to attract players from around the world by offering higher salaries that compete with the international market.

Teams can use the extra allocated money to spend on up to $4.9 million on 3 players. The three players are from the chosen from the requirements below;

  • U.S.A Men’s National Team players.
  • U.S.A Youth National Team players.
  • Players transferred for $500,000 from outside of the MLS

So although the fund is $4.9 million, David Beckham was paid $6.5 million for a season. The total money was gathered together using DP, TAM, and GAM.

Targetted Allocated Money – TAM

Each club in the league is given money each season for bringing in new players or keeping their current ones. The money has increased over the last few years, allowing clubs to trade more freely. In 2016 they were given $100,000 per team and that has increased to $2,800,000 for 2019.

MLS Transfer View

MLS Logo
MLS Logo – Courtesy of Wikimedia

The teams are allowed to trade the allocations for money which is given to the rest of the teams, making for a fairer league. The system on a whole allows for clubs who finish bottom of the league one year to possibly win it the following year with smart trading.

Although the system, in theory, is beneficial for the league and a competitive one, there are so many rules in place that it is difficult for the fans to understand what is what. The system is something that is only fully understood by lawyers, but it is a fans game and should be simplified for easy understanding and transfer debates.

MLS Transfer Window

Player transfers can be arranged prior to the set dates, although the completion must take place during the transfer windows. Each year the dates are roughly the same, but with slight variation for weekends and vacations. For 2020 the transfer window is;

  • February 12th to May 5th
  • July 7th to August 5th

MLS Teams

As of 2020, there are 26 MLS team, 13 on the east and 13 on the west of the US. From 2022 there will be 30 competing teams. The new clubs that will be joining the league are;

  • 2021 Austin FC + Charlotte
  • 2022 Sacramento Republic FC + St. Louis

The teams from the East and West that make the complete league of the MLS are;

TeamCapacityJoined
Atlanta United FC42,5002017
Chicago Fire FC24,9951998
FC Cincinnati32,2502019
Columbus Crew SC19,9681996
D.C. United20,0001996
Inter Miami CF18,0002020
Montreal Impact19,6192012
Nashville SC69,1432020
New England Revolution20,0001996
New York City FC30,3212015
New York Red Bulls25,0001996
Orlando City SC25,5002015
Philadelphia Union18,5002010
Toronto FC28,3512007
Team CapacityJoined
Colorado Rapids18,0611996
FC Dallas20,5001996
Houston Dynamo22,0392006
LA Galaxy27,0001996
Los Angeles FC22,0002018
Minnesota United FC19,4002017
Portland Timbers25,2182011
Real Salt Lake20,2132005
San Jose Earthquakes18,0001996
Seattle Sounders FC37,7222009
Sporting Kansas City18,4671996
Vancouver Whitecaps FC22,1202011

There are 50 States across the US and in a couple of years nearly half of them will have a soccer team and this is from only 10 in 1996. So the progression of the league is growing rapidly.

Here is a map of the position of the teams across the States;

MLS Teams Map_of_USA_and_Canada
MLS Teams Map_of_USA_and_Canada

MLS Playoffs

The MLS playoffs are like no other around the world. Most leagues decide the winner of the season by the team that finishes the highest in the league. With the MLS format, it gives all teams a chance and a target for the season.

Some may think it is unfair that the table toppers don’t win the league, but it keeps the excitement going. New to the system is giving the league winners a bye to the next round which allows for a break to reserve their energy.

MLS Playoff Rules

  • Round One
  • First place has a bye
  • Positions 2 vs. 7 – 3 vs, 6 – 4 vs. 5
  • 90 minutes + 2 x 15 minutes if level + Penalties if level
  • Semi-Finals
  • 2 games – home and away
  • Position 1 vs. game 4 vs. 5
  • Position game 3 vs. 6 plays 2 vs. 7
  • 90 minutes + 2 x 15 minutes if level + Penalties if level
  • Conference Finals
  • 1 game playoff
  • Higher seed vs. lower seed
  • 90 minutes + 2 x 15 minutes if level + Penalties if level
  • MLS Cup
  • Hosted by the team with most league points
  • If points are level decide from 1. Number of wins 2. Goal difference 3. Goals for 4. Fewest disciplinary points
  • 90 minutes + 2 x 15 minutes if level + Penalties if level
MLS_Cup_Playoff_History Winners and Teams - 2015
MLS Cup Play-off Records from 1996 to 2015

There we have it, the MLS explained. The MLS is only growing in the States and continues to do that with the newly added teams each year. The transfer system is evolving to attract the best players from around the world, so much so it is becoming one of the best leagues in the world. For more useful guides, see the articles below or visit our home page.

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