The MLS season is officially done and over with and now all of us diehards are just waiting for the Cup final to come around. Then it’s the hardest three months of your life as you wait for March and First Kick to finally happen. And while it may be the end of the season, I’m sure all the news about MLS Cup and the crazy playoffs have generated more interest in the league.
In case you didn’t know, MLS has been booming.
2012 has been an amazing season of growth for MLS. I’m sure there are quite the number of new fans who love the teams and players, but really aren’t all that knowledgable about the league. Most blogs would wait til March to give readers a break down of the league, but where’s the fun in that? Besides, I like doing things bass ackwards sometimes – here is my latest endeavor. I thought what better way to close out the season with a “Getting to Know You…” post on the league we adore: Major League Soccer. It’s a crash course, really. But don’t worry, there’s no test at the end.
Major League Soccer, the professional men’s soccer league in the United States and Canada, was born in 1996 after the fall of the American Soccer League and on the heels of the United States hosting the World Cup in 1994. The league started with 10 teams, five of which are still in existence under the franchise name they began with. In it’s 16th season, MLS has 19 competitive teams, three of which are based in Canada, divided into two conferences – east and west.
And let me tell you kids, this league is growing, and not with just teams. Record numbers of supporters are filling stands, interest groups keep trying to put their hands in the MLS pot and soccer-specific stadiums are breaking ground pretty much yearly.
The Eastern Conference is composed of the Chicago Fire, Columbus Crew, D.C. United, Houston Dynamo, Sporting Kansas City, New England Revolution, New York Red Bulls, Philadelphia Union, Montreal Impact and Toronto FC. The Western Conference is made up of Chivas USA (based in Los Angeles, Calif.) Colorado Rapids, FC Dallas, LA Galaxy, Real Salt Lake, Portland Timbers, San Jose Earthquakes, Seattle Sounders FC and Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
Major League Soccer is one of those few leagues in the world that runs its regular season from March to October, a complete opposite of the major leagues like the English Premier League, La Liga and Serie A. We Americans like to be different after all. The league’s old system of a season was playing 34 games in a double round-robin system where each team both hosts and visits all teams in the league at least once.
However, with the addition of the Montreal Impact in 2012, things went a little screwy. Each team still plays 34 games during the season – 17 away and 17 at home – but it’s not exactly the double round-robin anymore. You can check out the competition rules regs on MLS’ official site, but basically, this is how it breaks down -
Western Conference teams will play each West opponent three times (24 games)
Western Conference teams will play each East opponent once each (10 games)
Eastern Conference teams will play 25 games against other East teams
Eastern Conference teams will play each West opponent once each (9 games)
The annual All-Star game breaks the season at the midway point and is an exhibition game between MLS’ star players (who are voted on by fans of the league) and a major club from a different league – most commonly the English Premier League. This past year, MLS All Star Coach Ben Olsen took the All Stars to a win over Chelsea. It was quite a game not only for the players, but fans of the league as a whole.
At the end of the regular season, the team with the most points out of both conferences is awarded the Supporters’ Shield, which gives the winning team a berth in the North American continental club championship known as the CONCACAF Champions League. Think European Champion’s League, just in the other hemisphere. The current Supporter’s Shield champs are the San Jose Earthquakes; and after their season, I can say they completely deserve the honor.
Like most American leagues, MLS employs a playoff system to determine a league champion. At the conclusion of the 34 games of the season, 10 teams – determined from point standings and a wild-card system – compete for the MLS Cup. The LA Galaxy hold the cup from the 2011 competition and will face off with old enemies Houston Dynamo Dec. 1 in a rematch of last year’s final.
And while most of the world might sneer at the playoff system, most of us will tell you there is nothing like the MLS playoffs. The chance for an underdog team to come back and win the title? To be a team with the odds against you, yet win your conference after all? It’s a pretty addictive atmosphere. I love the playoffs and can’t really imagine MLS being any other way.
So that’s it! Your crash course in Major League Soccer. Of course there are TONS of other facades to the league – designated players and the draft and waivering drafts and salary caps, etc., etc. – but at least now you know more if you didn’t before!
And we hope you stick with Aerys Soccer in the coming months and for our first full season of MLS coverage in 2013!