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2023 MLS Format

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With Lionel Messi joining the Major League Soccer (MLS), the American League has gained a lot of new supporters. This has been a major coup for a league that had developed several top talents in the last few years but was looking for a major signing to push them a level or two above. The signing of Messi provided them with exactly that.

However, the Major League Soccer (MLS) differs from several of the other top leagues in several ways. From their schedule of an entire season to their league structure, the MLS has been hugely inspired by other American leagues such as the National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Baseball (MLB), and the National Football League (NFL)

.And so, for a new fan of the league, this complicated system can be overwhelming to be understood in its entirety. So, how does the MLS differ from the other football leagues? We explain.

MLS League stage 

The Major League Soccer (MLS) has 29 teams, but unlike all the major football leagues, the teams are divided into two groups, the Easter Conference (15 teams) and the Western Conference (14 teams). Each team across the two conferences plays 34 games in total during the regular season. This means that a team in the Eastern Conference will play 28 games in their own half (two games against the other 14 teams), and the rest is games against the teams from the Western Conference. 

Meanwhile, a team in the Western Conference will play 26 games in their own half (two games against the other 13 teams) and the remaining eight games against a team from the Eastern Conference.  

Furthermore, the entire season of the MLS starts in February and ends in November and December. The current 2023 season began on February 25, with the regular season finishing on October 25, followed by the playoffs.

The team that tops their respective conference then wins the Supporters Shield.

MLS playoffs 

The concept of playoffs is not entirely alien to European football, with the Belgian Jupiler League Pro following the same pattern. However, the MLS playoffs are much more complicated.

According to the new rules of the league that will apply from the current season, the top seven teams from each conference will qualify directly for round one. In contrast, the eighth and ninth-placed teams from both conferences play a best-of-three series called the Wild Card matches to join the other teams.

So, in the end, 16 teams will reach Round One, where they will play in a direct knockout competition. However, these 16 teams will be divided into two groups of eight maintaining the difference between the Eastern and Western Conference. 

The higher seed team will host the first game, while the second game will be hosted by the lower seed team. If the game is tied at the end of the regulation time of match 2, it will go to penalties to determine the winner.

In the end, the final two teams that win their respective conference in Round One will face in the MLS Cup Championship finals. Los Angeles FC are the current champion, having won their inaugural title in 2022, while LA Galaxy remain the most successful team with five titles to their name.

The economics behind Lionel Messi’s move to MS

The US Open Cup 

Apart from the Supporters Shield, the MLS also has a US Open Cup, which is also a cup competition. It is a single elimination format where teams from USL Championship, USL League One and National Independent Soccer Association, the Premier Development League (now USL League Two), National Premier Soccer League, the United States Adult Soccer Association, and US Club Soccer take part along with the team from the MLS.

Promotional and relegation in MLS

One of the unique features of the MLS is that there are no promotions and relegations in the league. It is because there are not enough clubs to form a multi-tier league system that would support a relegation and promotion scenario. 

From time to time, though, the league opens up new slots for teams, with St. Louis being the newest team paying a fee of $200 million to join.

*This article is sponsored by Fastrack, which brings you the best sports watches in funky, trendy, and cool designs.

Saumy Deepak Tripathi
A Bayern Munich fan who is deeply in love with football statistics. Has a soft spot for goalkeepers! (well only he knows why). You’ll find him vibing on 70’s classic songs and spends an abnormal amount of time cooking.

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