A Guide to Major League Soccer

Major League Soccer is an ever-growing league in popularity. Full of talented players and historic clubs, this league is one that deserves more attention from both European and American sports fans. However, for those who do not engage with the league, it can feel daunting to begin learning. That is why we have created this guide, to help unpack all there is to know about Major League Soccer.

soccer field
Photo by Vienna Reyes on Unsplash

What Is Major League Soccer

Major League Soccer, or the MLS for short, is the top professional soccer league in the United States and Canada. Established in 1993 and commencing play in 1996, MLS has grown to become a prominent fixture in North American sports culture. The league consists of teams from various cities across the two countries, with expansion continually adding new franchises to the mix.

When Does Major League Soccer Run From

The MLS season typically runs from early March to late November. The exact dates can vary slightly from year to year due to scheduling considerations such as international competitions and stadium availability. However, the regular season typically begins in early March and concludes in late October or early November, followed by the playoffs, which culminate in the MLS Cup Final, often held in late November.

How Does Major League Soccer Work

In the MLS, there are 29 teams split between 2 leagues, the Western and Eastern Conference. The Eastern Conference is home to 15 teams, whereas the Western Conference has 14. Every team plays a game against every other team in the league, once home and away, with 5 more being played against random teams from the other Conference. After this is finished, the team with the most points across both conferences wins the Supporters Shield. After this, there is a break followed by a post-season knockout tournament featuring the top 9 teams from both leagues. The winner of this competition will be awarded with the MLS Cup.

The MLS uniquely uses a salary cap system to ensure competitive balance among teams. Teams can sign players within the cap limit, which prevents richer clubs from dominating the league with high spending. However, there are mechanisms like Designated Players and Allocation Money that allow teams to sign star players beyond the cap limit.

The league also employs a draft system to distribute young talent. This includes the SuperDraft for college players and various other drafts for specific player categories. Teams can also sign players from their academies or from international markets.

Finally, MLS employs a single-entity structure, meaning the league centrally owns the contracts of players rather than individual teams. This structure aims to maintain financial stability and prevent bidding wars for players. However, teams operate independently in terms of marketing, ticket sales, and day-to-day operations. This also means that there is no promotion or relegation for clubs, something very different from European clubs.

Teams Within Major League Soccer

The MLS is home to many impressive teams, each having its own unique history and some even joining the league at different times. The most successful club in Major League Soccer is LA Galaxy, as they hold the record for most MLS Cups with 5 and tie the record for most Supporter Shields with 4. D.C. United are the 2nd most successful, with 4 Supporter Shields and MLS Cups. In recent history, LA FC has become a force in the MLS. Having only joined the league as little as 6 years ago, they have managed to win 3 trophies in this time, 1 MLS Cup and 2 Supporters Shields. There are many other great clubs in the MLS, however, with all the clubs currently featuring in this league being:

Eastern Conference:

Western Conference:

As of 2025, a new club called San Diego FC will be joining the MLS as the 30th club in Major League Soccer. San Diego FC will join the Western Conference as the 15th club in that division.

Notable Players in Major League Soccer

The MLS has seen its fair share of notable players over the years, with many international stars making their mark in the league. David Beckham, a global icon, arrived at LA Galaxy in 2007, bringing unprecedented attention to MLS and elevating its profile both domestically and internationally.

Landon Donovan, widely regarded as one of the greatest American players of all time, had a storied career primarily with LA Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes. Donovan holds the record for the most goals scored in MLS history and has won multiple MLS Cups.

On top of this, many legends have spent time in the MLS, such as Lampard, Gerrard, Ibrahimovic, Chiellini, Thierry Henry, Pirlo, Kaka and Wayne Rooney. Nowadays, the MLS is home to players such as Kei Kamara and Josef Martinez, who are 3rd and 9th on the all-time goal-scoring list currently, as well as the likes of Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Luis Suarez, and even Lionel Messi.

Major League Soccer And Sports Betting

MLS has embraced sports betting as it becomes legalized in various states. The league has partnered with sports betting operators to provide fans with betting opportunities, including match predictions and in-game wagering. This partnership aims to enhance fan engagement and create new revenue streams for the league. As a result of this matched betting in USA has also become more popular with players looking to lock in profits from free bets and promotions offered by bookmakers.