The league’s expansion and success have been fueled by its unique season structure, which keeps fans engaged and excited throughout the year. This article aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of the number of games in an MLS season, discuss the factors that can influence the season’s format, and compare it to other prominent soccer leagues worldwide.
History of the MLS season format
In 1996, MLS kicked off with 10 teams, each playing a 32-game regular season. Since then, the league has seen considerable changes in its structure, driven primarily by its expansion and growing fan base. Over the years, the number of teams in the league has increased, necessitating adjustments to the schedule and the number of games played per season. As a result, MLS fans have witnessed several different season formats in the league’s short history.
Current MLS season structure
MLS comprises 29 teams, divided into two conferences: the Eastern Conference, with 14 teams, and the Western Conference, with 15 teams. Each team plays a total of 34 games during the regular season, with 17 home games and 17 away games. The breakdown of matches includes playing against each team within their conference twice (once at home and once away) and a varying number of games against teams from the other conference.
Following the regular season, the top seven teams from each conference qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs, leading to a total of 14 teams competing for the championship. The playoffs consist of single-elimination matches, with the higher-seeded team hosting each game. The playoffs culminate with the MLS Cup Final, where the Eastern and Western Conference champions face off to determine the overall league champion.
Factors that can affect the number of games in a season
Expansion of the league
As the league continues to grow and add new teams, the number of regular-season games per team may change to accommodate the new additions. This adjustment could result in an increased or decreased number of games in a season, depending on the league’s scheduling decisions.
Changes in the league format or scheduling
MLS has a history of altering its format and scheduling to optimize fan engagement and competition. These changes may include the introduction of new tournaments or adjustments to the playoff structure, both of which could impact the total number of games in a season.
International competitions and their impact
The scheduling of international competitions, such as the FIFA World Cup, CONCACAF Champions League, Copa America, and Gold Cup, can influence the number of MLS games in a season. To accommodate these tournaments, MLS may adjust its schedule or the number of regular-season games per team.
Comparison with other soccer leagues
European soccer leagues, such as the English Premier League, La Liga, and Serie A, follow a different season structure than MLS. These leagues typically have a larger number of teams, playing home and away matches against each team in the league, resulting in a higher number of regular-season games. Additionally, European leagues do not have playoffs, as the team with the most points at the end of the season is crowned the champion.
The current MLS season structure consists of a 34-game regular season, followed by the playoffs, which feature 14 teams competing for the championship. This format, coupled with factors such as league expansion, changes in scheduling, and international competitions, can impact the total number of games in an MLS season.