The 2022 Major League Soccer season is set to kick off, as 28 teams vie for the 27th title in MLS history.
The regular season will take place from late February all the way through early October, with the playoffs unfolding between October and November. The MLS Cup final is scheduled to take place 16 days before the start of the 2022 World Cup, but it usually happens every December.
A new addition to the league begins play as Charlotte FC joins as an expansion team, bringing each conference to an even 14 squads. Each team will play a 34-game regular season, with 26 matches within its own conference and eight matches against teams from the opposite conference.
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Here’s a full primer to take you through how Major League Soccer works, how the competition is built, and how to watch the action.
How to watch MLS
In the United States, MLS games air across a number of networks and platforms for the 2022 season, including ESPN, Fox and Univision. In Canada it’s TSN, TVA Sports and DAZN with the bulk of the action. And the league also airs in regions around the world.
MORE: How to watch MLS in USA, Canada and around the world
An online guide is available with broadcast assignments for every match.
- Dates: February 26, 2022 – October 9, 2022
- USA TV channels: ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, Fox, FS1
- USA Spanish-language TV: ESPN Deportes, Fox Deportes, Univision, UniMas
- USA Streaming: fuboTV, ESPN+, Twitter
- Canada TV channels: TSN, CTV
- Canada French-language TV: TVA Sports
- Canada Streaming: DAZN
How MLS works
Major League Soccer is different from most leagues around the world in that every team follows the same roster and budget rules. Each club ultimately makes its own decisions on how it builds its roster and spends its money, but it must do so within the guidelines set forth by the league.
The owners of every team come together to make collective league decisions, including specific details of the competition structure and the roster and budget rules. If they feel a change is warranted at any time as the league evolves, they can vote among themselves to implement it.
MORE: MLS roster & salary rules, and competition guidelines
Among the rules are maximum salary budgets that prevent clubs from paying individual players over a certain amount of money, though exceptions exist like the ‘designated player’ roster spot. Teams can pay designated players a salary that exceeds the regular maximum limits.
MLS teams can also use specific amounts of ‘allocation money’ (general or targeted allocation money) to pay down a player’s salary so that it fits within the budget. There are rules for how general allocation money and targeted allocation money can be used and how much of it teams have every season.
Welcome to Chicago, @XS_11official! 🔥 #cf97
— Chicago Fire FC (@ChicagoFire) February 9, 2022
When it comes to building a squad, there are various mechanisms for signing domestic talent, international players, young internationals or academy players. These are all designed in a way to ensure that there is competitive balance and that teams have an equal opportunity at acquiring players. The annual college player draft is one of those examples.
Unlike many top-flight leagues around the world, MLS does not have promotion or relegation even though lower division leagues exist in the USA and Canada. As a closed league, the same MLS teams compete every year, no matter their position in the standings the season prior. However, teams that finish in the bottom positions typically receive the top picks in the various player selection drafts the following year in the spirit of competitive balance.
MORE: Every club’s updated MLS player roster
MLS teams and expansion
Occasionally, MLS decides to open new spots in the league for either brand new clubs or lower-league clubs to apply for membership. New clubs pay an expansion fee to join the league and the newest club, Charlotte FC, paid a record $325 million.
Charlotte FC officially joins in 2022 for its inaugural campaign. The club was accepted into MLS in late 2019, and while it was originally scheduled to begin play in 2021, its inaugural season was pushed back a year by the COVID-19 pandemic.
You don’t have to be from here to be a game-changer.
Mint History with us.#NewlyMinted pic.twitter.com/caWSasvryt
— Charlotte FC (@CharlotteFC) February 14, 2022
Last season, another brand new club Austin FC joined the league and played its first season of existence.
Lower league clubs do occasionally get added as well, such as in 2020 when Nashville SC made the jump from the USL Championship.
Thanks to recent expansion, MLS is at an all-time high 28 teams which are divided into two conferences: the Eastern Conference and Western Conference. The league is aiming to reach 30 teams with St. Louis City SC joining in 2023 and another team yet to be named joining shortly after.
MORE: Expansion teams in MLS
MLS trophies: Supporters’ Shield & MLS Cup
Major League Soccer awards two major titles every season, and while one is certainly more coveted than the other, both serve as major league silverware for clubs to add to the trophy case.
The team that garners the most points throughout the regular season, regardless of conference, finishes as the regular season champion and earns the Supporters’ Shield. Last year’s regular season champion was the New England Revolution.
While many feel this recognizes the best overall team over the course of a 34-match regular season, it is not thought of as the most coveted award, and the Supporters’ Shield winner is not typically referred to as the MLS “champion.”
THE SHIELD IS OURS 🛡#NERevs | #VamosNERevs pic.twitter.com/pcGqZVHkqL
— New England Revolution (@NERevolution) October 23, 2021
That title is reserved for the team that emerges from the MLS playoffs and wins MLS Cup, which is the main prize on offer every season.
The MLS playoffs are essentially a seeded, single-elimination knockout tournament contested at the conclusion of the regular season. The top seven teams in each conference secure a berth in the playoffs, while the bottom seven are eliminated. The No. 1 team in each conference earns a bye to the conference semifinals, while the other six teams are matched up by table finish in the first round. Regular season finish determines the host of every playoff match.
The last team standing at the end of the knockout bracket wins MLS Cup and is generally considered the MLS champion. Last year’s MLS Cup winner was NYCFC. It’s proven quite rare that the MLS Cup champion was also the Supporters’ Shield winner and it has only happened seven times since the league was founded in 1996.
New York on top. 👑@NYCFC are your 2021 #MLSCup champions! pic.twitter.com/apuAS5W92l
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) December 11, 2021
MLS All-Star Game
During the summer, Major League Soccer puts on an All-Star Game that has evolved over the course of the league’s existence.
While the league used to invite other worldwide clubs to come play a friendly against the MLS All-Star squad (other worldwide leagues are often in their offseason during the summer, allowing for the opportunity to set up an exhibition match), last year the format was altered to see the MLS All-Stars take on the Liga MX All-Stars.
This season, the match will be played in Minnesota on August 10, however the format and opponent have yet to be determined.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism