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Major League Soccer (MLS) returns for the 2024 edition with 29 teams. It is the top football league in the United States and will be the 29th edition after it was inaugurated in 1996.

Unlike the leagues in European countries, there is no promotion or relegation in the MLS. All teams have a fixed set of matches, but the fixtures list will not see them face all teams in the competition as the format is different from those followed in the European leagues.

MLS Structure and Format

Lionel Messi playing football in MLS dress

MLS (Major League Soccer) is one of the leagues in the world that does not determine the champion based on the points collected in the league table. Instead, the full season is divided into two phases — the league phase, known as the Regular Season, and the knockout stage, known as the MLS Cup.

In the Regular Season, the teams are divided into two, and they play 34 matches each — 17 at home and 17 away. Before their fixtures are determined, the location of the club plays a crucial role in who they face.

Thirteen teams on the eastern side of the United States and the two sides from Canada — CF Montreal and Toronto FC — face off in the Eastern Conference. These clubs face all teams in their conference twice and six opponents from the Western Conference once.

The fourteen teams in the Western Conference, which consists of one Canadian team — Vancouver Whitecaps — face each other twice in the regular season. However, things get a bit complicated as some teams will end up facing up to two opponents thrice in the season while also taking on six or seven teams from the Eastern Conference once.

The complication arises as there are an odd number of teams in MLS, and they all need to play 34 matches in the Regular Season. All teams get three points per win and one for a draw, while the losing side gets nothing from the game.

At the end of the Regular Season, the top seven teams in both conferences qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs Round One. The teams who finish 8th and 9th will face off in a knockout match, known as the Wild Card game, with the winner qualifying for Round One.

Round One of the MLS Cup is a best-of-three series with table toppers facing the Wild Card game winners, the second-placed side taking on seventh, the third facing sixth, and the fourth-placed side facing the side who finished right below them. The club that finished ahead in the league phase will host the opening game and also the third match if needed.

Every game will be played for 90 minutes and added time, but there will be a penalty shootout in case of a draw. There is no extra time in any of the games, and the winners of the round will qualify for the Conference semifinals.

Also Read: Where to watch MLS: season pass details and other streaming platforms

The semifinals and finals are played in a single-game knockout format, but extra time is used in case of a draw after normal time. Penalty shootouts are the final deciding factor in case the match ends in a draw after the extra 30 minutes.

Eastern Conference final winners will face the winners of the Western Conference in the MLS Cup final. Extra time and penalty shootouts are used to determine the winners in case of a draw.

In all games, from the first match of the Regular Season to the MLS Cup final, each team can name a maximum of 20 best MLS players in their matchday squad. All teams can use five substitutes but will be allowed up to two substitutes in case of concussion. However, should a side use their concussion substitute, the opponent will be given an additional substitute and the opportunity to introduce a new player, even if they have used regular substitutions.

Cautions and Suspensions

Players in the MLS face a fine on top of their suspensions once they start accumulating yellow cards. The league begins leveeing the fines and suspensions once the player has reached five yellow cards, with additional penalties for every third card.

Regular Season fines and suspensions:

5 Yellow Cards: $250 fine and 1 match suspension

8 Yellow Cards: $500 fine and 1 match suspension

11 Yellow Cards: $750 fine and 1 match suspension

13 Yellow Cards: $1000 fine and 1 match suspension

Additionally, MLS have noted that for every two yellow cards after the player’s fourth suspension, the player will be suspended for one match while his fine will be doubled.

However, a player’s yellow card count will be reduced by one should he go five consecutive matches without a booking. The ‘Good Behavior Incentive’ by MLS begins from the first booking a player receives and will be automatically applied up to three times in the Regular Season.

In case of a red card, the player is suspended for one match regardless of whether it was a direct sending-off or a second yellow card.

Yellow cards do not carry over from the Regular Season to the MLS Cup Playoffs, but suspensions will remain.

MLS players salary

MLS have determined a salary cap for all teams and also the maximum wages that can be offered to a player. For the 2023 season, the league had set all teams a base salary cap of $5,210,000, with the salary cap for a rostered player being $651,250.

MLS introduced a ‘Designated Player Rule’ in 2007 to help the clubs lure best MLS players from around the world. The rule allows the clubs to offer up to three MLS players wages over the salary cap, and it began with LA Galaxy signing David Beckham from Real Madrid.

Additionally, clubs have ‘General and Targeted Allocation Money’ to sign players. All clubs are given $2.7 million in TAM and $1.9 million in GAM to offer their players if they do not have a ‘Designated Player’ spot or are looking to save it for another player.

Also Read: Al Nassr vs Inter Miami ends in 6–0 demolition by hosts as Aymeric Laporte scores sensational goal

FAQ’s

Q- What is MLS?

MLS stands for Major League Soccer. It is the top football league in the United States.

Q- How does MLS work?

MLS is one of the leagues in the world that does not determine the champion based on the points collected in the league table. Instead, the full season is divided into two phases — the league phase, known as the Regular Season, and the knockout stage, known as the MLS Cup.

Q- How many games in MLS season?

In the Regular Season, the teams are divided into two, and they play 34 matches each — 17 at home and 17 away.
Q- Will MLS ever be in UEFA Champions League?

MLS teams will never play in the UEFA Champions League.

Q- Is MLS owned by FIFA?

FIFA does not own MLS, but the United States Soccer Federation runs it

Source- MLS- Everything you need to know about Major League Soccer

 
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