Home MLS How soccer works in the USA

How soccer works in the USA

LA Galaxy are no strangers to picking up silverware
LA Galaxy are no strangers to picking up silverware, having won the Supports Shield on four occasions

As soccer continues to grow in the States, it is important to understand tournaments played right here in the U.S of A and North America.

MLS Supporters Shield

Since 1996 the Supports Shield award goes to the Major League Soccer team with the best regular season record determined by the MLS point system.

The MLS season begins in March and ends in October of each year. This structure is similar to the systems used by the European Leagues to determine league champions.

Last year’s 2014 Supports Shield was awarded to the Seattle Sounders, the club’s first. LA Galaxy and D.C. United have each won the Supports Shield a MLS record four times.

Winner of the Shield gets a number-one seed in the MLS Cup and also goes on to represent the United States in the CONCACAF Champions League. Since 1996 only six teams have won both the Supporter Shield and the MLS Cup in the same year.

D.C United is current  on top in the 2015 Supporters Shield race just two points ahead of the Seattle Sounders.


The MLS Cup is Major League Soccer’s play-off system that determines a league champion. The MLS Cup is usually held from October to December, this year’s contest will consists of the six teams with the highest point totals from both the Western and Eastern Conferences.

This process in more in-line with traditional American sports play-off systems. Americans already have enough problems dealing with a tie game, let alone a season with no play-off’s!

The format has changed multiple times over recent years and this year is no different. The amount of teams in the play-off’s is going from 10 teams in prior years, to 12 teams in 2015 and will feature four knock-out round matches, opposed to two.

In this system, 60 per cent of MLS teams make the play-off’s, this will go back down to 50 per cent once LA FC and the Atlanta expansion teams join the league in 2018.

The first round of the play-off’s is a single elimination round, pairing the third-place team against the sixth-place team and the fourth-place against fifth-place team in each conference.

The top 2 seeds from each conference receive a first round bye, then the top seed goes on to play the remaining lowest seed after the first round.

The Eastern and Western conference semi-finals and finals will remain a two game series with an away goal tie breaker. One remaining team from each conference will then play in a one single game final to determine a champion.

The LA Galaxy are the current Major League Soccer champions and have won a record five MLS Cups.

The winners get an automatic bid in the CONCACAF Champions League

U.S. Open Cup

Started in 1914, the U.S. Open Cup is the oldest cup competition in North America and among the oldest cup competitions in the world. It is similar to the more popular FA Cup played in England.

The competition is a single elimination (bracket) tournament consisting 80 teams and clubs residing in the United States. 38 professional clubs form the three pro leagues MLS, NASL, USL, and 42 amateur clubs pooled from four different amateur leagues. Since the inclusion of MLS in 1996, USL Rochester Rhinos are the only non MLS team to win, having done it in 1999.

Seattle Sounders are defending champions and hold four U.S. Open Cup titles.

Winner of the U.S. Open Cup gets in to the CONCACAF Champions League automatically.

CONCACAF Champions League

The Champions League is the most prestigious club competition in North America. The competition is made up of the top 24 clubs from the region (North America, Central America and the Caribbean). This region tournament is North America’s version of Europe’s Champions League.

The CCL is played in two stages the group stage and the knockout round. The group stage is played in August through September and the knock-out phase March through May.

The Mexican clubs have for the most part dominated the competition with 31 titles between them. Club America (MEX) and Cruz Azul (MEX) are the most successful clubs having hoisted the trophy six times apiece.

The current champions Club America (La Liga X/ MEX) won their sixth title by beating the Montreal Impact (MLS) 5-3 aggregate.

U.S. clubs have only won the competition twice since its inception in 1962. The last club from the U.S. to win it was the LA Galaxy (MLS) in 2000, previously it was DC United (MLS) doing it in 1998.

The winner of the MLS Cup, MLS Supporters Shield and the U.S. Open Cup get three of the four allotted U.S. berths. The fourth spot goes to the runner up in the MLS Cup.

In the case where a team qualifies multiple times or a Canadian MLS club is in position, the U.S. based MLS team with the next best regular season record gets in.

Winner of the Champions League qualifies for the FIFA Club World Cup.


Founded in 1991, the Gold Cup is a Men’s national football competition consisting of 12 teams in the regions of North America, Central America and the Caribbean.

The Gold Cup is held every two years, most recently 2013. This year’s 2015 winner will go on to play the 2013 winning team (United States) from the previous Gold Cup.

The winner of that game gets an automatic bid for the FIFA Confederations Cup which is held every 4 years (In the case of another U.S. victory no additional game will be held).

The United States is the current Gold Cup Champions having beat Panama in 2013 1-0. Mexico has the most titles with six , the U.S. has the second most titles with five. American Landon Donovan holds the all-time scoring record for the competition with 18 goals.

MLS Rumor Alert!! Juventus and Italy star Andrea Pirlo is said to be in discussions with the expansion team NY CFC.

Supposedly the Italian was seen at a Yankee game with NY CFC Chief Exec Ferran Soriano. I’m sure Andrea and that beautiful beard will be a welcome addition in New York.

Will the MLS ever be considered one of the top football leagues in the world?


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