How does MLS work? Format, conferences, salary caps and franchises

Major League Soccer (MLS) is more like leagues in other North American sports than classic European soccer leagues. And it so happens that in the United States, in 1996, in the first season of MLS, soccer, or “soccer ball,” began to be played in a regulated and professional manner.

Since then, the North American league has not stopped growing, and with new stars entering the competition, MLS is already aiming to be one of the best leagues in the world for attracting young talent.


MLS consists of teams from the United States and Canada divided into two conferences: the Eastern and Western Conferences.

The two special features of this league are that there are no promotions or relegations and that the champion is not determined in the regular league, but the teams have to go through a playoff to be voted the best team in the league.

In the first phase, teams from both conferences compete and each club plays 34 regular league games. Home and away matches against all teams in their conference and the rest against teams from the opposite conference, selected by lottery.

After this phase, the top 7 qualifiers from each conference advance to the next postseason round via a single playoff game. In each conference, the first-place finisher goes directly to the semi-finals, while the rest play in the previous rounds (2nd vs 7th, 3rd vs 6th, and 4th vs 5th).

The winners play that conference finals also to a single party and that will give them access to the grand final of the MLSnamed as MLS Cup, where the champions of each conference meet and where to get that league champion a full season.

The MLS Cup is also a singles game and will be played at the stadium of whoever scored the most points during the regular season.

Of course, in addition to the great title, the MLS also awards a trophy called the MLS fan shield to the team that scored the most points in the regular season between the two conferences.

Currently, the MLS has 29 teams, but the proposed expansion plan sees the league having 30 clubs split between the two conferences shortly.

MLS Eastern Conference Teams:

  • Atlanta United
  • Chicago Fire
  • Charlotte F.C
  • FC Cincinnati
  • Columbus Crew
  • DC United
  • InterMiami
  • Impact on Montreal
  • Nashville SC
  • New England Revolution
  • NYC
  • New York Red Bull
  • Orlando City
  • PhiladelphiaUnion
  • Toronto F.C

MLS Western Conference Teams:

  • Austin FC
  • Colorado Rapids
  • FC Dallas
  • Houston Dynamo
  • Los Angeles F.C
  • Los Angeles Galaxy
  • Minnesota United
  • Portland Timbers
  • Royal Salt Lake
  • Earthquake in San Jose
  • St Louis City SC
  • Seattle Sounders
  • Sporting Kansas City
  • Vancouver Whitecaps


To form the squad, the American competition has adopted an innovative and dynamic method of building its teams: the combination of “Draft” elements, a free hand, and direct negotiations.

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First, you need to distinguish between two lists: senior and supplement. The first consists of 20 players (ranging from 1 to 20), all of which count towards the salary budget, although the club is not required to fill all the places. In other words, there is no need to have the numbers 19 and 20 as the budget would be split between the remaining 18. If you have less than this amount, MLS will charge the franchisee an additional budget fee.

The “Supplement Team” is made up of players between the ages of 21 and 30, and as the name suggests, they are supplementary players and therefore do not count towards the valuable budget that all franchises must meet. Now Messi, Busquets, Jordi Alba, and Co. enter the stage There is an international list with a maximum quota of 8 players.

This list includes everyone who has neither US citizenship nor US citizenship. Unlike the traditional summer and winter market, MLS has the main transfer window from January 31 to April 24 and the secondary window from July 5 to August 2.

Previously was the Annual SuperDraftHere, teams have the opportunity to select emerging young talent from universities across the country.


MLS has strict rules regarding salary caps and advertising revenue. The league limits the uniforms (all of the same brand) and the same number of sponsors on the jerseys as well as the minimum requirements to be able to play in a stadium.

Unlike most leagues around the world Soccer players’ salaries are not paid by the team they play in, but by the league. To regulate this situation the MLS founded a Total Wage Limit that every club needs to know how to allocate players among their squad members, and that by 2017 on average $3 million per team per year.

The character of the “franchise player” was introduced with the arrival of David Beckham at LA Galaxy in 2007. To make the competition more interesting and encourage the arrival of stars from abroad, Three players from each team are now allowed to exceed the salary cap, to make the competition more even for everyone.


The dates for the competition are different from the European football season, namely in the MLS  The regular season begins in late February or early March and ends in October of the same year, which usually means a break of about 3 months after the end of one season and the start of the next.

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