Major League Soccer (MLS) 101
Everything you need to know about the biggest soccer league in the US.
Headquartered in Midtown Manhattan and established in 1993, Major League Soccer (MLS) is the biggest men’s professional soccer (globally referred as “football”) league played in the US, sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federation. With an average attendance of over 20,000 fans and supporters per game, MLS has the fourth-highest average attendance of any professional sports league in the US and Canada.
Unlike its European counterparts like the English Premier League (England), Bundesliga (Germany), La Liga (Spain), etc. the MLS does not use a promotion and relegation process for its membership - similar to most sports leagues in the US and Canada, the MLS has a fixed membership. Instead of operating as an association of independently owned clubs, Major League Soccer is a single entity in which each team (club) is owned by the league itself and individually operated by the league's investors.
Structure of MLS
MLS comprises 28 teams (25 American teams, 3 Canadian teams), but plans to expand to 29 teams for the 2023 season. Teams (also called “clubs”) are geographically divided into two groups: the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference.
Currently, the ‘Regular’ season runs from February or early March to October and follows a league format season. Each club ends up playing a total of 34 games during the Regular season: two games (home and away) against every other team within its own conference (26 games), and one game against some of the teams from the other conference (8 games).
At the end of the Regular season, the top 7 teams from each conference (14 teams in total) advance to play the knockout tournament to determine the league champion. Teams compete in the first round of the knockout tournament on the basis of their ranking in their respective conference’s league table (points table) - the team that finishes at the top of the points table in each conference skips directly to the semi-final game within the conference’s knockout tournament.
Teams advance within their conference’s tournament to be claimed as conference winners, and finally the winners from each conference fight for the MLS championship title to become league champions.
Famous Players in the League
The MLS boasts several goalkeepers of great quality who will be part of the 2022 World Cup roster, and many others who deserve a chance but will probably not make it for this World Cup. Tim Howard, Andre Blake and Dayne St. Clair are some of the most prominent goalkeepers to have played in the MLS.
The MLS is often criticized for the poor defending standards showcased during games. That being said, there are several defenders who have made their mark on the league by displaying extraordinary skill. These include names like Chad Marshall, Jack Elliot, and Miles Robinson.
Frank Lampard and Bastian Schweinsteiger are widely recognised as legendary midfielders who had extremely illustrious careers in Europe before moving to the MLS. While Lampard played for New York City FC, Schweinsteiger played for Chicago Fire. Carles Gil, Maxi Moralez, and Joao Paulo are currently some of the top midfielders in the MLS.
The MLS has been home to a long list of iconic strikers who have proven themselves at the highest level of world football. World renowned players such as Javier Hernandes, Gonzalo Higuain, Wayne Rooney, David Villa, Kaka, and Zlatan Ibrahimović have all played in the MLS towards the latter stages of their careers.
In the MLS, D.C. United, the Washington D.C. team made history by becoming the first team to win the MLS Cup during the league’s inaugural season and extended their reign by successfully defending their title the following year.
The Western Conference giants, LA Galaxy, are known for their famous list of players including David Beckham, Chicharito and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The LA Galaxy stand as the most successful club in league history, lifting more titles than any other team in the MLS. Some of the other top performing clubs in the MLS include Atlanta United, San Jose Earthquakes, Seattle Sounders, and Houston Dynamo.
While football/soccer is the most popular sport in the world by a huge margin, it is still picking up in the US. However, the emergence of the MLS and its surging popularity has induced a large fan following for the sport in the country. Furthermore, with more and more successful players coming to the MLS from Europe, the quality of play in the MLS has improved significantly and many more youngsters are being drawn to the sport.