How long is an MLS game?


As a soccer enthusiast or someone new to the sport, understanding the duration of a game is essential. 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

Two halves and stoppage time

Standard 45-minute halves

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.

Stoppage time

At the end of each half, 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.

Half-time break

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.

Factors Affecting Game Duration

Injuries and on-field treatment

Injuries during the game can cause delays, as players may require on-field treatment or be stretchered off. Depending on the severity of the injury, this can add a few minutes to the overall match duration.

Disciplinary actions (yellow and red cards)

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.

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 takes a few minutes.

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.

Penalty shootouts

If the game remains tied after extra time, a penalty shootout takes place to decide the winner. Players from each team take turns shooting at the goal from the penalty spot, and the team with the most successful kicks wins.

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

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.

Pre-game and post-game coverage

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

Scheduling implications for fans and broadcasters

Understanding the typical length of an MLS game (approximately 2 hours, including stoppage time) helps fans and broadcasters plan their schedules accordingly. However, it is essential to account for potential extra time and penalty shootouts during knockout matches, which can extend the game’s duration.

Comparing MLS Game Length to Other Soccer Leagues

The MLS game structure closely resembles that of other soccer leagues worldwide, with two 45-minute halves, stoppage time, and a 15-minute half-time break. The use of VAR and other factors affecting game length are also similar across leagues, although the implementation may vary.

While the basic structure of soccer matches remains consistent globally, specific rules and regulations may slightly affect game duration. For example, some leagues may have different approaches to extra time or penalty shootouts in knockout matches.