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The highest level of soccer in the United States and Canada is known as Major League Soccer, commonly referred to as MLS. MLS consists of teams located both in the continental U.S. as well as Canada.
The MLS schedule is constantly changing, in large attribution to the expansion the league has seen in recent years. Clubs such as Austin FC, Charlotte FC, and Inter Miami have all been recently added to the MLS.
Not only expansion, but soccer, in general, is constantly changing its calendar for other events. A good example of this is the recent 2022 World Cup being played in the Winter. Many leagues had to pause their season to accommodate for the tournament.
In 2023, MLS will have to pause its season during the late summer to accommodate the 2023 Leagues Cup. There are some international fixtures scheduled for the fall season as well, in which MLS will pause a second time.
How Many MLS Teams are there & And How do They Apply?
There are currently 29 clubs in MLS, as St. Louis City SC was just added for the 2023 season. As stated above, MLS is constantly adding teams that impact a consistent schedule. Of the 29 clubs, only three of them are actually in Canada (Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal).
Teams, much like the NBA or the NHL, are separated into two conferences – the Western Conference and the Eastern Conference. Based on geographical location, clubs are put into one of the two conferences.
Nashville SC has jumped around in both conferences but is now back in the Eastern Conference with the addition of St. Louis City SC. St. Louis will head to the Western Conference which will have 14 total teams as opposed to the Eastern Conference’s 15 club count.
How Many Games Do Teams Play in a Season?
There are 34 matches played within an MLS regular season, as each club plays 17 home and away matches. Due to the uneven number of clubs per conference, the schedule is a bit tricky. Eastern Conference clubs play two matches against one another, along with six matches against a Western Conference club.
The Western Conference clubs must play each other twice as well, only they will have six or seven matches against an Eastern Conference club. They will also have an additional few intra-conference matches to play.
How Do MLS Playoffs Work?
The MLS Playoffs, also known as the MLS Cup Playoffs, features 14 clubs in a bracket-style tournament. The top seven teams from the Eastern and Western Conferences move on, with the first-place club in each conference earning a direct qualification for the quarterfinals.
The tournament is a single-elimination event, meaning there is no aggregate which is common in soccer tournaments. There is also no re-seeding in this event, as some sports elect to reseed after each round of a tournament. The last team standing wins the MLS Cup, which is between the Eastern & Western Conference champions.
Who Plays in the MLS All-Star Game
The MLS All-Star game is an annual exhibition match where selected players take on an international club or selected players from the Mexican league known as Liga MX. There have been instances where the MLS East faced off against the MLS West, but that hasn’t been the case since 2004.
MLS All-Star teams have faced off against Manchester United, Atletico Madrid, Celtic, AS Roma, Arsenal, Juventus, etc… Recently, MLS All-Stars have gone up against Liga MX All-Stars and won both times (once in a shootout).
There is also a skills challenge where three-player teams compete in various mini-games. These mini-games include passing/shooting challenges, accuracy contests, and touch-and-volley showcasing.
Players are selected to compete in the All-Star game based on the number of votes received from the media, fans, and other players. The top 11 players within a 4-1-2-3 formation get to play in the game which includes: a goalie, a right back, a left back, two center backs, a defensive midfielder, two attacking midfielders, and three wingers.
An Overview of the MLS System & Rules
As does every soccer league, the MLS has its own unique rules and system.
In most soccer leagues, teams that finish below a certain point in the table (standings) are relegated to a lower-tiered league (minor league). That is not the case in MLS, as there is no penalty for clubs who finish at the bottom of the table. Many have argued that MLS needs a relegation system to counter the oversaturation of recent clubs.
The point system for MLS is quite simple to follow. Clubs that win a match get three points, while clubs that lose a match get zero points. If two clubs draw in any match then each club is awarded one point.
Official Match Rosters
The official match roster for any MLS club must not exceed 20 players. This allows for 11 starters on the pitch along with nine players for substitutions. Despite nine subs on a team, MLS clubs can only use five substitution moves per match. The moves must be made within three windows, however, so you couldn’t make five different sub-moves at five different times.
In 2023, the base salary cap for MLS is $5.2 million, with an additional $1.9 million in General Allocation Money and $2.7 million in Targeted Allocation Money. Most European leagues don’t have a set salary cap as MLS does.
Clubs can also not spread their budget across 20 senior team players, but must for a minimum of 18. Salaries devoted to players on a supplemental roster (slots 21-30) don’t count toward the club’s salary cap.
Some, but not all soccer leagues have a playoff system. MLS does but the Premier League doesn’t. MLS having any sort of postseason is already different from most soccer leagues, but the single-elimination format makes it even more unique. Most soccer tournaments see an aggregate of some sort, even the World Cup has Group Stage matches prior to a Knockout Round.
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