The MLS is one of the fastest-growing leagues in America despite heavy competition from the NHL, NFL, and whatnot. With the league attracting hordes of European stars to the United States, interest in football (or soccer as it is known in these parts) has peaked over the past few years. What was previously perceived as a ‘retirement home’ for global superstars to wind down their careers is now playing host to multitudes of big-name players in their primes on a week in week out basis. Let us take a closer look at what MLS really is.
The MLS comprises of 24 teams, 21 from the United States and 3 from Canada, each of whom are subsequently congregated into the Eastern and Western conferences depending upon their locations. Each team in the league tallies 34 games over the course of a season that runs from March to October.
Every team from a particular conference engages in battle with its fellow members twice, once at home and once away, totaling 24 games. Also, every team plays one game against a team from the opposite conference adding 10 more games to the already present total of 24.
The team with the highest points in each conference takes home the Supporters’ shield. A postseason knockout tournament called the MLS cup is held with 14 teams, 7 from each conference, participating in it on the basis of the regular-season points tally. The top seed from each zone is given a bye to the semifinals and the other 12 teams, separated into brackets of 6 each, sweat it out in order to make the semis. The winner of the final, which is a two-legged tie is then awarded the MLS cup.
The MLS is unlike the European footballing leagues in the aspect that it has a different set of rules governing its operation. Each team in the league can possess a squad of up to 30 members. In addition there a few other rules:
a. Salary Cap: The league sets a cap on player wages in order to establish a level playing field for all those involved.
b. Designated Player Rule: The Designated Player Rule, or the Beckham rule as it is informally known, allows MLS teams to sign up to three players outside their salary cap. Unsurprisingly, David Beckham was the first player to be signed under this rule.
c. International slots: Every team in the MLS is allocated eight international slots, meaning they can recruit eight players from anywhere around the world. The other slots will have to be filled by domestic players based in the United States or Canada.
d. Allocation Money: On top of the salary budget, each team is given some additional money, called allocation money which is sort of considered as the transfer budget for the team. This money is put to use in obtaining the signature of players or in order to allocate the salary cap.
e. Allocation Ranking: This system is applicable for current or former USMNT players returning to the country to take part in the MLS. Teams in the league are awarded an allocation ranking which depends on their position in the table and this ranking dictates the priority in which these players can be picked by the teams.
f. Trades: Clubs can trade players amongst themselves as long as all squad criteria are met after the trade
Currently, the title of defending champions for both, the MLS Cup and the eastern conference winners belongs to Atlanta United FC, while the western conference’s bragging rights are within the hands of Portland Timbers. D.C. United holds the record for the most titles within the Eastern spectrum and L.A. Galaxy possesses the same on the other side with 5 and 8 respectively. The team from Los Angeles also happen to hold the record number of MLS cups, tallying 5 in their years of existence.