MLS Explained (Must-Read!)

Reading Time: 7 minutes

To explain, 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’s the fastest-growing sport in the country.

The MLS can attract the best names worldwide with the designated player rule. Major League Soccer began in 1996, two years after the USA hosted the 1994 World Cup Finals.

The women’s league began a few years later in 2013, and they’ve been going from strength to strength.

With so many sports events that take place across America, there was doubt that soccer could occur in this sporting nation.

Ibrahimović playing in the MLS taking on a player
Ibrahimović playing in the MLS, taking on a player

How good is MLS?

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 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 event in the US.

This article will explain all you need to know about the MLS to understand how it all works.

MLS game between the Portland Timbers and the Los Angeles Galaxy
CARSON, CA. – April 23: Portland Timbers defender Rodney Wallace #22 tangles up Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder David Beckham #23 during the Major League Soccer game between the Portland Timbers and the Los Angeles Galaxy at the Home Depot Center. The Galaxy went on to defeat the Tibers with a final score of 3-0.

MLS Soccer Rules Explained

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

  • 17 games at home and away
  • Teams play 10 non-conference sides
  • The 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 are added if the temperature is 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. Several wins 2. Goal difference 3. Goals for 4. Fewest disciplinary points
Major League Soccer Game - David Beckham Competing For MLS Galaxy
Major League Soccer Game – David Beckham Competing For MLS Galaxy

MLS Season – When they play

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 association’s schedule with other competitions when the players will be occupied, for World Cup qualifiers and the Gold Cup.

See also  How Much Do Soccer Referees Get Paid? (Salary Revealed)

There’s a mid-season break where the All-Stars are in action. The players are selected from the fans, manager, and league commissioner votes.

How is MLS different?

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.

While the European teams are in their offseason, they’ve met the most times, with top teams such as Manchester United, Real Madrid, and Bayer Munich.

MLS All-Stars Results

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 – How it’s different

Unlike most leagues around the world, the players are in contract with the teams, and the teams are financially independent of the league.

The MLS players signs contracts with the league itself and not the team.

According to Forbes, the teams are a franchise, and the estimated cost of a team rose on average from $34 million in 2008 to $103 million.

The team valuations by Forbes estimates in 2019 the highest team 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 the inclusion of further teams will likely bolster the profits.

Number of 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 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 spent on the other 10 players outside the roster of 20 is not included in the salary budget.

Minimum salary for MLS players in slots 21-30;

A full list of the players’ salaries is available from the MLS here.

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

MLS Designated Player Rule

The Designated Player Rule, also known as the Beckham Rule, was introduced in 2007.

This allows for teams to compete in the international transfer market, so they’re able to attract players from around the world by offering higher salaries that compete with the international market.

See also  Is Soccer So boring? (Why It Can Be!)

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

Targeted Allocated Money – TAM

Each team 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 teams to trade more freely.

In 2016 they were given $100,000 per team, which has increased to $2,800,000 for 2019.

MLS Transfer View

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 the whole, allows for teams who finish bottom of the league one year to win it the following year with smart trading.

MLS Logo
MLS Logo – Courtesy of Wikimedia

Although the system, in theory, is beneficial for the league and a competitive one, there are so many rules in place that it’s difficult for the fans to understand what is what.

Lawyers only fully understand the system, but it’s a fan’s game and should be simplified for easy understanding and transfer debates.

MLS Transfer Window

Player transfers can be arranged before the set dates, although the completion must occur 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 teams, 13 on the east and 13 on the west of the US. From 2022 there will be 30 competing teams.

The new teams 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 is;

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, from only 10 in 1996. So the progression of the league is growing rapidly.

See also  Soccer Vs. Football (Differences - Which Is Better!)

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.

The MLS format gives all teams a chance and a target for the season. Some may think it’s 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, allowing 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 the most league points
  • If points are level, decide from 1. Several 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

The transfer system is evolving to attract the best players from around the world, so it’s becoming one of the best leagues in the world.

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.

There’s no doubt that soccer and the unique MLS format is growing and becoming more popular and rightly so.

Soccer Analyst and Publisher at Soccer Blade | Soccer Blade | + posts

Joel is a seasoned soccer journalist and analyst with many years of experience in the field. Joel specializes in game analysis, player profiles, transfer news, and has a keen eye for the tactical nuances of the game. He played at various levels in the game and coached teams - he is happy to share his insight with you.

Sharing is caring :)

Related Posts

[wp_show_posts id="13928"]

/// Awesome Adidas Cleats ///

Product: Updated 2024-04-12 | Images: Amazon Product Advertising API | #ad - is an Amazon Associate

Product: Updated 2024-04-12 | Images: Amazon Product Advertising API | #ad - is an Amazon Associate

Product: Updated 2024-04-12 | Images: Amazon Product Advertising API | #ad - is an Amazon Associate

Soccer Lifestyle FAQ

How Much Do Soccer Referees Get Paid?

The salary for a referee ranges from $27 to $50 per youth game. The MLS pays $900 per game and the highest-paid referees are in Spain, they get $6,354 per game!

How much does a stadium cost?

Professional soccer stadiums can cost from 250$ upwards to 1.5 billion dollars. With capacities from 25,000 to 60,000 as an average.

How To Avoid Stomach Cramps While Playing Soccer

Avoiding nasty stomach cramps while playing soccer can be achieved by proper hydration methods, ensuring that your body has all the correct minerals, and properly stretching before the game.

How much do players get paid in the MLS?

The highest-paid player is Carlos Vela, who earns $6.3 million per year playing for Los Angeles FC.
However, the average base salary for a senior roster, a non-designated player in the league is $398,725. While this is a lot of money, it is significantly less than Vela’s whopper wage.

What are the most common scores in the English Premier League?

The most common score in the Premier League is a 1-0 home win, followed by a 2-0 home win, and finally a 2-1 home win. The away victories follow, with 2-1 victories being more prevalent than 1-0 victories.

Thanks for reading our articles - we hope you've enjoyed them - have fun playing, coaching, and or watching soccer.

Disclosure: Soccer Blade is an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases., at no extra cost to you.