MLS, or Major League Soccer, is the top division of the sport for teams in the United States and Canada. Officially founded in 1993, MLS has grown and expanded seemingly exponentially over the past 20 or so years. Currently, the league is made up of 19 teams, 16 of which are from the United States and three from Canada. The Major League Soccer season begins in mid-March and runs until October, culminating with the championship match—the MLS Cup.
Major League Soccer’s founding in the United States came as a direct result of the United States’ effort to secure hosting duties for the 1994 World Cup. Two years later, in 1996, the inaugural MLS season kicked off with a mere 10 teams participating. For soccer fans, it was encouraging to see the United States receive its own, top-class league, but the first few years of MLS’ existence were not without their struggles.
Financial and organizational problems plagued the league, mostly due to the fact that teams played in massive NFL stadiums whose capacities were never reached for MLS matches. As such, millions and millions of dollars were lost during the first few rocky years. By 2002, two teams had already gone bankrupt and ceased to exist.
After the early 2000s, however, MLS experienced a bit of a renaissance as more teams were added to the league in markets where soccer was welcomed with open arms. What’s more, the early 2000s saw a few teams move out of the NFL stadiums they had previously called home and into their own stadiums that were geared towards soccer and the quantity of people who would be attending the matches. Instead of 50,000-seat stadiums, MLS sides began playing in 15,000-25,000-seat stadiums that often sold out.
Now, the average attendances at MLS matches exceed those of NHL and NBA games. With new stadiums and teams constantly being added to the league, it is clear to see that MLS only has more room to grow. With that, more teams and more sponsors and more of the big-name European stars will most likely start splitting time with their clubs and their MLS teams.
How an MLS Season Functions
As was stated above, an MLS season kicks off in March and concludes (at least for the final two teams) in October. In many respects, the way in which points are tallied and standings function, Major League Soccer is no different than the English Premier League or Spanish La Liga.
The aspects of MLS that make it different than other soccer leagues around the world is the injection of purely “American” ways of doing things. For instance, while the English Premier League crowns a champion at the end of the season, they do not have a post-season, playoffs, or a championship game. MLS has all three of these things and sees 10 teams compete in the playoffs year in and year out.
Teams make it to the post-season by being in the top 5 of their respective conference. This is another way in which MLS differs from other soccer leagues around the world. While the English Premier League has one table with 20 teams, MLS splits their table into two conferences (Western-9 teams; Eastern-10 teams).
Once the playoff teams are established, teams are seeded according to their regular season records. A tournament-style, single-elimination post-season ensues and a champion will eventually be crowned. It doesn’t have the worldwide audience that the World Cup has, but it has only grown over the years and has been one of the more popular soccer series to bet on around the globe (and especially in the US).
Top Events to Bet On
Apart from the 30+ regular season matches every MLS team plays, there are a number of other events that take place alongside the regular season. For bettors, all of these events are great for placing wagers. The following few subheadings will introduce you to some of the events other than regular season MLS games.
Lamar Hunt US Open Cup
First played in 1914, the US Open Cup is the oldest domestic soccer tournament in the United States. With 80 teams participating, it is also the largest such domestic US competition. The US Open Cup is open to any team that is affiliated with the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), meaning amateur and semi-professional clubs can compete right alongside MLS teams. This competition is great to bet one simply because of the matchups that occur.
While you will often find two MLS teams facing off against each other, other times you will be witness to a match where an MLS team takes on a team full of amateurs, or part-time players. This makes for some interesting matches and, as always, some upsets as well.
CONCACAF Champions League
The CONCACAF Champions League is yet another tournament that involves MLS teams. The 24-team competition pits the best club teams from the CONCACAF region against each other in order to determine regional dominance. According to the tournament structure, 4 MLS teams are granted entry into the competition annually.
This competition also runs alongside MLS’ regular season. For bettors, this competition is an interesting prospect simply because teams from North and Central America—teams who would otherwise not play each other—face off in intense matches over an elongated period of time. It is a great way not only to gauge the strength of MLS, but also as a means of gauging the strength of the CONCACAF region in general.
MLS is just beginning to gain popularity here in the United States, but over the past few years it has become clear that American citizens are sustaining that interest. With a few more teams expected to join the league for the 2015 season, both of which will have their own stadiums, the quality of MLS is only seeming to grow.
It will be very intriguing to see what direction this league heads in over the next couple years. Though MLS has not quite reached the level of quality seen in the English Premier League, it has made massive strides forward over the past two decades and is continuing to become one of the most relevant sporting leagues in the United States; a very hotly contested professional sports market.