MLS Rules - Improve your betting with this guide

Betting on the MLS requires some basic understanding of how the league works, which betting markets are the most popular, and why the unique setup of the MLS rules can help you determine where to place your next bets.

Stick with us to learn all of that and more.

Become a Soccer Betting Expert 

We recommend you take a few moments and let our soccer specialists run you through all the key points.

You will then be well-equipped to start placing smarter MLS bets in the hope of landing a few more winners.

The MLS is the youngest of all the US sports in play right now. A deal was agreed upon with FIFA for U.S. Soccer to establish a Division 1 professional league after the 1994 World Cup. By 1996, the first league matches were underway, and the MLS was born.

Soccer may not be the number one US sport, but that does not mean you can’t find excellent betting odds and opportunities across the regular season to the MLS playoffs. A summary of the MLS can be found here, but for now, let’s dive into all the existing and new MLS rules.

Basic MLS Season & MLS Cup Rules

The league is split into two conferences, East and West. All 28 clubs play 34 matches, taking on each conference opponent twice (home and away). There are also eight matches played against non-conference opponents as well.

The basic mls rules and scoring

The MLS Cup rules state that the top seven clubs from each conference participate in what is otherwise known as the official MLS playoffs. The usual soccer rules apply with three points for a win, one point for a tie, and zero for a loss.

As stated above, the MLS is unique in many ways, so let’s outline the key MLS rules.

Game Objective

The game of soccer is straightforward. Each team tries to outscore the other within 90 minutes. Depending on the type of game, there may be extra time and penalties, but no matter if it’s a league or cup fixture, the game is about scoring goals.

Playing Field

The MLS soccer fields are at least 100 yards long by 70 yards wide, with 14 ball stands located around the field to help the game’s general flow. The main focus areas of the field include the center circle and the two goalkeeper areas, which include the penalty spots.

Player & Team Roles

Twenty players can be chosen per matchday, with the MLS rules stating that each team can make five substitutes from the nine available players on the bench. Formations and tactics dictate the type of players used for each game, but you can always expect these core positions:

  • Goalkeeper
  • Defender
  • Midfielder
  • Striker

You can also find various adaptations of these positions depending on the formation, such as:

  • Defender – center back, full back, wing back
  • Midfielder – holding, left, right, central, box-to-box
  • Striker – forward, playmaker, free role, winger

MLS Rules & Scoring

A goal is scored when the entire ball crosses the white line running between the goalposts and crossbar. Also, players can score with any part of their body apart from their arms and hands.

The referee and linesmen are there to judge whether a goal was scored fairly or not.

MLS rules and scoring

Across the season and when searching MLS playoff rules, you can find various ways in which a goal may be chalked off:

  • Deliberate handball or using their arm
  • Fouling the goalkeeper or a player during the buildup to the goal
  • Any attacking players were offside just before the goal was scored

MLS Rules – Teams & Players

Every MLS team can have a full active roster of 30 players; from these, up to 20 players are chosen for each game. A total of 19 players can sit on each bench, including the nine substitutes, another nine members of the coaching staff, and one club physician.

Due to the MLS being so young, there are times when the league officials will invite lower-level clubs or brand-new clubs to apply for membership in the league. As the sport becomes more popular, various regions across the US continue to create their clubs.

Coach Rules

We can summarize the MLS rules covering the coach by stating that they must stay within their technical zone. Generally, the coach and all team officials are held to a higher standard and must set the right level of professionalism that the whole club must follow.

MLS Playoffs

Game rules are kept the same for players, although there are some extra details for the MLS playoffs. A team must play a minimum of 30 games to access the postseason fixtures. However, some MLS rules can help teams overcome this, including illness and canceled games.

MLS Rules – Game Duration & Time Limits

All MLS season games last 90 minutes, along with any injury time accumulated at the end of each half. MLS Cup rules state that fixtures may incur extra time and penalties if the two teams are tied after 90 minutes.

  • Cooling and drink breaks are allowed when the WGBY (Wet Bulb Globe Temperature) hits 82 degrees Fahrenheit.

MLS Playoff Rules

When the regular season concludes, the MLS playoff rules outline that the top seven clubs from each conference advance. The top seeds in the Eastern and Western Conferences are granted a first-round bye and advance straight to the semifinals of their respective conferences.

The second through seventh-seeded teams from each conference will square off in the first round of elimination play. The winners will move on to the two-legged conference semifinals, with MLS Cup rules stating that single-leg elimination returns for the conference finals.

MLS Fouls & Cards

Committing a foul in soccer can be made in various ways, and regardless of the regular season and MLS playoff rules, the referee’s leniency can often result in some fouls being ignored.

MLS fouls and cards

Some fouls result in a yellow card, while the most dangerous fouls and anyone denying clear goal-scoring opportunities can result in a red card (two yellows in the same game equal a red).

Here are some common fouls that usually result in yellow cards, red cards, or at least a free kick or penalty (if the foul is committed inside the 18-yard box.

  • Dangerous play (elbows and high challenges)
  • Obstruction
  • Pushing and aggressive behavior
  • Diving to gain an unfair advantage
  • Stopping a team from playing, aka a “professional foul”
  • Foul throw
  • Time wasting

MLS Rules on Equipment

Players don’t need much in the way of equipment when playing soccer. The MLS rules ensure no kit clashes in terms of colors and that the right soccer boots are used.

  • The correct kit (home, away, third kit)
  • Official soccer boots for the pitch

Referees & Linesmen

All regular season rules and MLS playoff rules state that there will always be one referee onfield and two linesmen running their half of the field. These three are in charge of the action on the pitch from start to finish. In addition to these three officials, there is also the VAR team (Video Assistant Referee) and often additional officials pitchside ready to help if needed.

MLS Rules For Trading Players

The MLS rules include many details regarding player trading and signings. We will keep this brief for now, as there are many caveats and specifics that fall under the new MLS rules.

Many regulations come down to the salary and the type of player being traded. Teams are not allowed to pay any player more than the maximum wage allowed by the latest MLS rules, with some exceptions, such as the ‘designated player’ place.

Players can be recruited inside the country, from abroad, the youth national team, or from within the academy. These features were developed so that all clubs would have a legitimate chance at obtaining players, making the MLS season and all ongoing MLS playoff rules fair.

New MLS Rules & The Latest Changes

Each season brings about new MLS rules, with some relating to the onfield action and others linked to trading and general club management. The protection of younger players and how they can move around different territories has been one instance of recent change.

Some of the latest MLS rules tested in the MLS Next Pro league include the support of fair play via on- and off-field treatment time windows. Testing is also being run on red cards, where players miss the next match against the team they received the red card.

In general, all these rulings stretch across to the MLS playoff rules, creating a seamless level of expectation from players, coaches, and PA sports betting fans throughout the entire season.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

For bettors, the key rules involve the players on the pitch. Aim to understand the importance of player positions and how they relate to the goal markets and individual prop bets for a solid betting foundation.

Most rules for the season extend through to the MLS playoffs. Second legs and extra time are the main differences, so keep this in mind when betting.

We recommend focusing on the three-way money line, over/under goals, and goal scorer markets. You can then begin to expand your strategy with advanced betting tactics.


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