Rules and Gameplay
Soccer is a game that is played with 11 players per side playing with a ball that is f 68–70 cm (27–28 in) circumference. The game is played on a rectangular field, and the main goal, no pun intended, is to score more goals than your opponent.
In terms of the size of the soccer field, often called a pitch, the ranges allowed under soccer laws are broad, but MLS standards require a size of no less than 110 yards long by 70 yards wide.
There are 11 players on the field, and the positions are forward, midfielders, defenders, and a goalie. The goalie is the only player that can touch the ball with his hands, and all of the other players are trying to push the ball forward on the field to score a goal while keeping the other team from doing the same.
There is a goal box on either side of the field, which is 20 yards wide by six yards deep. In the box is the only area the goalie can use his hands in an MLS game, and any foul by the defending team or handball in the box awards the attacking team a penalty shot.
The players on the field can move the ball by dribbling it with their feet, passing to a teammate, or taking shots on the opposing goal. The opposing team can take the ball away by intercepting a pass, taking the ball away from a dribbling player, or tackling a player with the ball. However, excessing physical contact between players is restricted, and it can result in a foul.
In soccer games, the play only stops when the ball goes out of the field of play or if there is a foul. The team tries to possess the ball by dribbling or passing, moving forward to score. There are eight ways of returning to action when the ball is out of play.
- Kick-off: At the beginning of the game or after a goal is scored.
- Throw-in: When the ball is touched out of bounds by a team, a player for the opposing team throws the ball in from the sidelines.
- Goal Kick: When the ball has crossed the goal line with no goal scored, the goalie gets to kick the ball back in play.
- Corner Kick: The ball passed the goal line with no goal scored, but the ball was touched last by the defending team. The kick comes in from the corner, and the team has a solid scoring chance.
- Indirect free kick: The opposing team gets the start the play with a kick on the field as a result of a non-excessive foul or time stoppage. A player cannot score a goal on an Indirect free kick unless another player touches the ball.
- Direct free kick: A free-kick is given to a team because of a more excessive foul, and a layer can score a goal from a direct free kick without another player touching the ball.
- Penalty kick: Awarded to a team is a foul is in the opponents’ goal box. A penalty kick is just the player kicking the ball and the goalie, and no other players can be involved until the ball is struck.
- Drop ball: The ball is dropped between two players if the referee stops the game for some reason but not a foul on a team.
There are fouls in MLS games where the play is stopped. The referees have discretion if the foul is excessive, and if it is, he can give the player that committed the foul a yellow card.
A yellow card is a warning, and if a player receives two yellow cards, they are given a red card and are out of the game. A player can get an automatic red card by a very excessive foul, and if a player, other than the goalie, uses their hands to keep a ball from going in their goal.
If a player receives a red card, they are thrown out of the game, and another player cannot be substituted in for them. In a regular MLS game, there are substitute players where the manager can insert other players on the field, taking another player’s place. Once a player is taken off the field because of substitution, they cannot come back in the game.
There is also the off-sides rule in MLS games and soccer. Offside is called when any player’s body parts, except the hands and arms, are in the opponents' half of the field and closer to the opponent's goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent, not the goalie. If offside is called, the opposing team gains control of the ball through a free-kick.
An MLS game lasts 90 minutes with two 45-minute halves with a break after the first half. The time clock never stops, so if there is a penalty, game stoppage, or substitution, the ref times the break and adds that time to the end of the half. For example, after 45 minutes of the second half, there are three minutes of stoppage time where three extra minutes are added.
How The Teams Work
The teams work together to push the ball forward with the main object to score a goal. A player can score a goal by kicking or heading the ball past the goal line and into the goal. A goal can also be scored if the ball hits any part of the body, besides hands or arms, then goes into the goal.
The goalie is the anchor of the defense, with the defensemen mostly playing on the defensive side of the field to protect the goal. However, defensemen can push forward and score as well.
The midfielders are the instigators trying to get the ball to the forwards, and they also drop back and play defense. The midfielders can go all over the field, and besides helping the defense, they can score as well.
The forwards are the main players who score, as they are usually always on their opponents’ side of the field. They are the ones that look to score and put the pressure on the opposing team.
The goalie is the anchor of the defense, but they also move players around on the defensive side of the field. This is especially the case when the opposing team has a free kick in their territory with a shot on goal.
Strategy and Tactics
Soccer is a game with no lack of strategy, and that is the case for MLS matches. Teams can play an attacking style or a defensive style depending on the strength of the club. Also, these two tactics can be determined by what is happening in the match.
For example, if a team goes up a goal or two, they may want to play a more defensive tactic to hold the lead. Conversely, if a team goes down in a game, they will play a more offensive tactic to get back into the game.
The manager comes up with the tactics depending on the players that he has, their skill sets, and how the match is unfolding.
Strategies and tactics are also crucial for those looking to bet on MLS games. This is especially the case if you plan on handicapping MLS matches to get an edge on what the winning bet will be.
History of MLS
While the game of soccer dates back centuries, the origin is debated, the MLS was established in 1995. In 1988 the United States Soccer Federation pledged to create a Division 1 pro soccer league considering that it was a condition for the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) to award the 1994 World Cup to the United States.
1996 was the inaugural season for MLS when there were ten teams in the league. In 1998 there were 12 teams in the league, and in the beginning, there were problems in the league, which was losing money and did not have an immediate big fan base. After the 2001 season, two teams folded because of financial reasons.
2007 saw the MLS increase in popularity with FC Toronto joining the league and establishing the Designated Player Rule and SuperLiga. The Designated Player Rule helped MLS bring international stars into the league, and it helped right off the bat when David Beckham made his debut for the MLS.
His arrival was huge, and since then, many stars have come to the MLS, such as Kaka, Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Didier Drogba, David Villa, and Zlatan Ibrahimović.
The SuperLiga pitted the best teams in the MLS against the top teams from Mexico.
Since the early problems, the MLS has rebounded, and as of 2020, there are 26 teams in the league. Many of the teams played in football stadiums, but with more soccer stadiums being built, more fans came, and now there is an average attendance of over 20,000 per game.
That is the third-highest attendance average in the United States after the NFL and MLB, making it the seventh-highest of any soccer league in the world.
The MLS plans to expand to 30 teams in the next few years with Austin FC in 2021, Charlotte FC in 2022, Sacramento Republic FC, and St. Louis in 2023.
The MLS is broken into the Eastern and Western Conferences with the top seven teams from each conference advancing to the playoffs. In terms of the MLS playoffs, the top seven teams from each conference are the ones with the most points. In MLS soccer, a team is awarded three points for a win, one point for a draw (tie), and zero points for a loss.
In the MLS playoffs, the top team from each conference receives a bye. The MLS playoffs are a single-elimination format with the top two teams from each conference vie for the MLS Cup. The higher seed team in the MLS playoffs have home-field advantage until the finals. For the final, the team with the most points during the regular season hosts the game.
(The playoff system was tweaked in the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.)
Here are the teams in the MLS as of 2020 by conference:
- Atlanta United FC
- Chicago Fire FC
- Columbus Crew SC
- FC Cincinnati
- D.C. United
- Inter Miami CF
- Montreal Impact
- New England Revolution
- New York City FC
- New York Red Bulls
- Orlando City SC
- Philadelphia Union
- Toronto FC
- Colorado Rapids
- FC Dallas
- Houston Dynamo
- LA Galaxy
- Los Angeles FC
- Minnesota United FC
- Nashville SC
- Portland Timbers
- Real Salt Lake
- San Jose Earthquakes
- Seattle Sounders FC
- Sporting Kansas City
- Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Wall of Fame
Unlike other leagues, the MLS does not have a hall of fame as of 2020. However, there is the National Soccer Hall of Fame, which is for international and club, pro and amateur, men's and women's soccer, and in Frisco, Texas.
In many circles, Landon Donovan is the best MLS player of all time. He is a Six-time MLS Cup winner, 2009 MLS MVP, and Goal of the Year winner, seven-time MLS Best XI.
However, when talking about the MLS, the league has seen big international stars, such as David Beckham and Robbie Keane. Still, many of the top international players came to the MLS in the twilight of their careers.
Some of the other players that are considered the best in the MLS are Chris Wondolowski, the all-time leader in goals scored, Jaime Moreno, Keane, Dwayne De Rosario, Marco Etcheverry, Diego Valeri, Nick Rimando, Jeff Agoos, and Eddie Pope.
The main distinctive element about the MLS is that it is a very popular soccer league in North America. While soccer is the most popular sport globally, it is not in North America. But the MLS has thrived for nearly two decades, even having to compete with the other leagues of the NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL.
One of the other distinctive elements is that many big players from overseas come to MLS. Often the big stars come to the MLS in the later stages of their careers, but it still brings the big names to the league.
Many of the teams in the league, as well as MLS itself, are active in the community. This is especially the case for the teams itself and the players on their teams, which are very active in their respective communities to try to better them.
Soccer is a sport where statistics are not weighed as much as other sports like baseball, basketball, and football. There are team and player stats, and those are also used by soccer bettors that want to wager on MLS matches.
A few of the key MLS team statistics are win percentage, home and away win percentage, goals per game, and goals against per game. There are stats for players, but the most important ones tend to be for goalies, such as save percentage and clean sheets.
Popularity and Cultural Impact
MLS is the most popular soccer league in North America. While soccer is down the list of the most popular sports in North America, the MLS has thrived and has a solid fan base. Many international soccer stars are some of the world's biggest, but that is typically not the case in the states or Canada.
The cultural impact of soccer is vital since North America is still a melting pot with many immigrants. Soccer is the most popular sport for immigrants nowadays, and MLS has given them a legit soccer league with great competition.
With over 20,000 fans on average for MLS games, you can see the league is here to stay in North America, and that did not look the case only a few years after the league was established.