The Major League Soccer. Better known as MLS. The current home of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney. An impressive list of players. It gets even better if you look at who used to play in the MLS; Kaká, Andrea Pirlo, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Didier Drogba, Alessandro Nesta and even Johan Cruyff and Pele.
Even though they have, and had, all these big names, the MLS isn’t a league that many people choose when starting a new career in Football Manager. And that’s mainly because of all the unknown rules. In this article we will try and explain all of the rules for you.
MLS Set up
There are currently 23 teams in the Major League Soccer, 20 from the US and 3 from Canada. The regular season in the league runs from March to October, with each team playing 34 league games.
MLS League structure
If we take a look at the league structure, we see that the Major League Soccer is split up into two conferences; the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference. But there’s also an overall standing for all MLS teams.
As the names of the conferences suggest, teams from the east play in the Eastern and teams from the west play in the Western. This to reduce travel time. That doesn’t mean you only play in against teams in your conference, though. Several games will be against an opponent of the opposing conference. Which teams and how many teams you face them will differ every season.
Atlanta United FC
New England Revolution
NYCFC (New York City FC)
New York Red Bulls
Orlando City SC
Los Angeles FC
Real Salt Lake
San Jose Earthquakes
Seattle Sounders FC
Sporting Kansas City
Overall League Standing
Back to the overall standing. This is your regular standing that every European league has. The team with the most points will be at the top of this standing and will win the Supporter’s Shield.
Conference leagues & play-offs MLS Cup
The place you finish inside the conference will determine if you will or won’t advance to the play-offs. In the US, play-offs at the end of the season are very common. All American sports end in a major event like the World Series, Super Bowl or the Stanley Cup. For the MLS it’s the MLS Cup. Not to be confused with the American equivalent of a regular cup, like the FA Cup: the US Open Cup.
Back to the play-offs. The top six of each conference will advance, but the winners and runners up will get an advantage and skip the first round. After that the winners of the first round will face the winner and runner up of the conference, with the winner getting the advantage of playing against the winner of the match between the numbers 5 and 6.
After that, the winners of the second round will face each other for a spot in the MLS Cup final. That final consists of the winner of the Eastern play-offs and the winner of the Western play-offs. They will then decide who the wins the MLS Cup and the Major League.
Major League Soccer Draft
Another thing most players have zero experience with; the draft. The MLS has three different types of draft. Beside the SuperDraft and Re-Entry Draft for the current teams, there’s also an Expansion Draft for new teams entering the competition.
Let’s start with the SuperDraft, the easiest of all the drafts. This draft is equivalent to the youth intake you get in European competitions. Except, in the SuperDraft you can scout the players and then select the ones you want. But not all of them, since in the draft teams take turns selecting players. So you have to hope that another team doesn’t draft the player you want.
The draft has a certain order. The new teams (expansion teams like Los Angeles FC last year) have the first pick, followed by the non-play-off teams in order from worst to best. Then the play-offs teams follow in order of their round of elimination: the winner of the MLS will be the the last team to pick. The SuperDraft has four rounds, so in a regular draft you get to pick four youth players. So choose wisely.
The next draft is the Expansion Draft. And this draft is for the new teams that have been added to the MLS. In 2011 Montreal Impact was added, 2014 saw NYCFC and Orlando City joining the league, Atlanta United and Minnesota United were the lucky ones in 2016 and last year Los Angeles FC was added to the MLS. In 2019 the league will grow even more with FC Cincinnati joining, while David Beckham’s Inter Miami will do the same in 2020.
Only the new teams will join the Expansion Draft. In this draft the expansion teams will be able to choose five players who played in the MLS the season before to join their team. They can pick five players from the other teams, but they can’t select just any player. Other teams can select a number of players in their squad who are unavailable for the Expansion draft.
Last is the Re-entry Draft. This takes place after the season has ended. This is the draft for players who have an expiring contract and have not been offered a new deal at their current club. In the re-entry draft they will have the option to sign a contract with a different team. This draft has 3 rounds:
- Round 1: In this round you can select any player you want. However, you will not be able to negotiate the player’s wages, as the player will be offered the same wage he earned at his old club.
- Round 2: In round two you can negotiate wages with the players.
- Round 3: In this round you can select the players that failed to find a club in the first 2 rounds. You don’t have to select a player in this draft and most teams don’t select one. The overall quality isn’t that high, but you could find the occasional gem from time to time.
Another difficult, but important, part of the Major League Soccer are the rules for squad registration.
Maximum Salary Cap
The first rule is maximum salary cap, which all teams have to follow. In FM19 the salary cap was set at 66K a week. Your squad can be as big as 30 players. But only the salary of the first 20 players count towards the salary cap. The other 10 players are ‘off-budget players’ and need special contracts.
Senior minimum player and Homegrown
4 players must be a senior minimum salary player, who have contracts of 1.1k a week. The other six have to be homegrown players, so players that are from the US.
This can be seen as a regular contract for your starting eleven players. The salary counts as normal towards the salary cap.
Generation Adidas players
This is a special one, since a club can’t offer a player this contract. The MLS itself offers those contract to highly rated college players that can be select in the Superdraft. This is used to raise the level of young footballers in the US. In order to provide the best environment for those players, the salary of players with a Generation Adidas doesn’t count towards a team’s salary cap.
Then we have the Designated Players, the players that make the MLS. Examples of these designated players are Zlatan, Rooney and Villa.
These players are special, as their contracts won’t count completely towards your salary cap. No matter how high their wages are, only 8k will count towards the salary cap. That amount is even halved if a player joins halfway through the season.
Every team will have a maximum of three Designated Players.
If a DP is younger than 24 years old, he’ll be called a Young Designated Player. The amount of salary that counts towards the salary cap will then depend on the age of the player, but will always be less than 8K.
Next to the salary cap rules, there’s also a limit on the amount of international players (foreign players without a green card.) A squad can’t register more than eight. Players with American as a second nationality won’t take up an international player spot.
Transfers are done differently in the MLS. Teams don’t only buy and sell players like we are used to in Europe, but there are several other options. Let’s take a look at all the options.
There are two types of trading in the Major League Soccer. You can trade players, but you can also trade money. It’s not regular money you will receive on your bank account, but a ‘special kind’ of money’. These are General Allocation Money or Targeted Allocation Money.
These are mainly used to reduce the total wages for (designated) players, trading it to other teams and signing new and current MLS players and homegrown players.
The round picks you have in the SuperDraft (4 in total), can also be traded for players or even other (better) draft picks. Trading draft picks are very common in the MLS. A good draft pick can be crucial for a team. So when you want to buy one, you’re going to have to pay.
You can buy and sell draft picks. So, it could happen that you are selling/trading a draft pick you bought/traded from another club. You can buy and sell draft picks of the upcoming three drafts.
The maximum amount of foreigners in one team is set at 8, but if you want to register more you could trade for a spot. The team that trades you an international spot will – of course – give up a spot, and could want something interesting in return.
Player rights are the last thing on the list of things that can be traded. If a player leaves on a free transfer, or completes a transfer outside of the MLS, a team could still have the ‘sell rights’ to a player. That means that if another team wants to sign him, they will have to buy the player rights before they could complete a transfer.
I hope that this article helped you understand the rules of the Major League Soccer and I wish you all the best in your future MLS save!
Make sure to check out our Football Manager 2019 content