Major League Soccer (MLS) brought high-level professional soccer to North America following the 1994 World Cup in the United States. MLS teams are divided into Eastern and Western Conferences with top teams competing for playoff spots. The league attracts talent from around the world to teams in the U.S. and Canada.
The first MLS season took place in 1996 with 10 teams stretching from Los Angeles to Tampa Bay. In its early years, MLS experimented with rules like four substitutions rather than the global three-sub rule and penalty shootouts to avoid ties. After the U.S. men’s national team experienced success in the 2002 World cup, MLS aligned rules with international standards to prepare for expansion. The league went from 10 teams to 24 teams in its first two decades.
The league’s first decade saw expansion, contraction, and team movements. MLS added the Chicago Fire and Miami Fusion in 1998 but saw Miami and the Tampa Bay Mutiny stop operations in 2002. Expansion into markets with enthusiastic fan bases like Atlanta, Portland, and Seattle took place in the league’s second decade. Important trends in the league’s history included a move toward soccer-specific home stadiums and expanded resources for international signings.
In the league’s early years, U.S. national team members like Eric Wynalda and Brian McBride were the faces of MLS. The acquisition most credited with pushing the league to new heights was David Beckham. Beckham, an English superstar, joined the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007 and brought global attention to MLS. His acquisition led to the creation of the Designated Player rule that allowed each team up to three players who didn’t count against their salary caps. In the years since Beckham’s transfer, stars like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney have continued their careers in MLS.
MLS fans and clubs create lively atmospheres from the preseason through the playoffs. Supporter groups for home clubs create tifos that celebrate past successes and mock rivals. Teams also offer seats to away team supporters to raise the stakes for each match. The team’s most vocal supporters lead chants and drum beats in support of their teams throughout the match. An MLS game typically takes less than two hours from kickoff to final whistle.
MLS teams in the U.S. participate in the U.S. Open Cup, a national tournament featuring professional and semi-professional teams. The league’s involvement typically spans from the fourth round in June through the title match in September. The MLS All-Star Game has gone through various iterations including conference all-stars and a combined MLS team against a global power like Arsenal or Bayern Munich. Rivalry matches like the Cascadia Cup between Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver add exciting atmospheres to the regular season.
The MLS regular-season schedule spans from March to October. Each MLS team plays 34 games with 24 fixtures divided between home matches and away matches against conference opponents. The remaining 10 matches are played against teams in the other conference. As MLS has progressed, it has scheduled breaks in play to coincide with training camps for men’s national teams. The team with the most points in the regular season takes the Supporters Shield, which replicates the winner-takes-all format of other soccer leagues.
MLS is among the few soccer leagues in the world that use a postseason playoff to determine a champion. Throughout its history, MLS teams have competed within their conferences for a spot in MLS Cup. The league has used a home-and-away format for playoff rounds following a one-game wild-card match in each conference. MLS later implemented a single-elimination playoff bracket for each conference to shorten the length of each season.
MLS typically releases its regular-season schedule in early January to coincide with the MLS Draft. As tickets are sold, SeatGeek provides an easy way to find deals on MLS matches for the upcoming season.
MLS matches represent a great deal for soccer fans, families, and professional sports lovers. The typical MLS match ticket costs $48, according to SeatGeek data, though this can vary depending on the match location and individual seating section.