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How long is an MLS game?

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As a soccer enthusiast or someone new to the sport, understanding the duration of a game is a basic bit of knowledge that you can’t really get by without. This article aims to explore the various factors contributing to the length of an MLS game and provide an overview of what to expect when watching a match.

The Structure of an MLS Game

An MLS game is divided into two halves, each lasting 45 minutes. The clock continuously runs during play, and there is no stoppage for out-of-bounds balls, fouls, or other interruptions. This uninterrupted flow of play is one of soccer’s unique aspects, contributing to the game’s fluidity and excitement.

At the end of each half, however, the referee may add stoppage time to compensate for time lost due to injuries, substitutions, or other delays. Typically, stoppage time ranges from 1 to 5 minutes but can be more if there were significant interruptions during the half.

Between the two halves, there is a 15-minute half-time break, allowing players to rest, receive tactical instructions from their coaches, and make any necessary adjustments. This break also provides fans with an opportunity to grab refreshments, socialize, or catch up on highlights from other games.

Substitutions may be made at half time too.

Factors Affecting Game Duration

MLS Stoppage Time

Although all soccer matches officially run to 45 minute halves and 90 minutes for a full game, in actuality, the length of each game will be slightly different due to the stoppage time added on, as touched on above.

Let’s look at each of these possible events a little more deeply.

Injuries and On-Field Treatment

Injuries during the game can cause delays, as players may require on-field treatment or may even be stretchered off. Depending on the severity of the injury, this can add anything from 30 seconds to a few minutes to the overall match duration. The amount of time added on to compensate won’t always be exactly the same as the time the injury took to treat, but it will be taken into consideration.

Disciplinary Actions

When players receive disciplinary actions such as yellow or red cards, the game is momentarily paused. While these brief stoppages do not significantly impact the game’s overall length, they can add a few minutes to the total duration, especially if there was a particularly vicious challenge or a scuffle that needed to be calmed down.

Video Assistant Referee (VAR)

The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system was introduced in MLS to assist referees in making crucial decisions during matches. VAR reviews incidents such as goals, penalty decisions, direct red cards, and cases of mistaken identity. The main objective of VAR is to minimize errors and ensure fair play.

The use of VAR can sometimes prolong the game, as referees pause the match to review footage and make decisions. The added time can vary but generally adds a few minutes to each game.

Extended Matches

In knockout stages of competitions like the MLS Cup Playoffs or the U.S. Open Cup, matches that end in a draw after regular time require extra time to determine a winner. Extra time consists of two 15-minute periods played back-to-back.

The 30 minutes of extra time can significantly extend the overall length of the game. However, it is important to note that extra time does not apply to regular-season matches in MLS. Extra time is not the same as stoppage time.

Penalty Shootouts

If the game remains tied after extra time, a penalty shootout takes place to decide the winner, prolonging the game further. Players from each team take turns shooting at the goal from the penalty spot, and the team with the best of 5 wins.

If it’s a draw after 5 penalties each, the shootout goes to sudden death, so penalty shootouts can add another 10 to 15 minutes to the game’s total duration, depending on the number of rounds needed to determine a winner.

Broadcast and Scheduling Considerations

MLS Pre-Game Analysis

Unlike other sports, soccer does not have designated commercial breaks during play. Advertisements typically occur during the pre-game, half-time, and post-game periods, which can extend the overall broadcast time but do not impact the actual game duration.

Television broadcasts often include pre-game and post-game analysis and interviews too, adding to the total viewing time. These segments offer valuable insights into team strategies, player performances, and other noteworthy developments.

Understanding the typical length of an MLS game from a broadcasting perspective rather than as time on the pitch, means you can expect it to run for approximately 2.5 hours, including stoppage time.