MLS Competition Guidelines

2018 Conferences

MLS has 23 clubs that will compete during the league's 23rd season. Conference alignment is as follows:

Western Conference Eastern Conference
Colorado Rapids
FC Dallas
Houston Dynamo
LAFC
LA Galaxy
Minnesota United FC
Portland Timbers
Real Salt Lake
San Jose Earthquakes
Seattle Sounders
Sporting Kansas City
Vancouver Whitecaps
Atlanta United
Chicago Fire
Columbus Crew SC
D.C. United
Montreal Impact
New England Revolution
New York City FC
New York Red Bulls
Orlando City SC
Philadelphia Union
Toronto FC

Regular Season

  • Each of the 23 MLS clubs will play a total of 34 matches in the MLS Regular Season, 17 at home and 17 away.
  • Clubs will play each conference opponent twice and each non-conference opponent once.
  • Each Eastern Conference club will play the remaining two matches against an intra-conference (Eastern Conference) opponent.
  • Each Western Conference club will play the remaining one match against an intra-conference (Western Conference) opponent.

POINT SYSTEM: Clubs will receive three points for a win, one point for a tie, and zero points for a loss.

GAME DAY ROSTERS: Each team can select 18 players for its official match roster. Teams are allowed three substitutions per game during the MLS Regular Season.

TEAM BENCHES

  • Both the Home Team and Visiting Team will be allowed a maximum of 17 individuals on their respective club benches (seven named substitute players, nine staff members, one club physician).
    • If the Visiting Team has no Official Team Physician present, a maximum of 16 total individuals (nine staff and seven players) will be allowed on the bench.
    • The Home Team will be required to have its Team Physician attend each MLS match and that individual will be seated on the Home Team bench.
      • All such individuals seated in the bench area must be listed on the Official Match Roster
      • Additional players or support staff may not sit or stand in the bench area or be on a secondary bench placed in, near or immediately behind the Technical Area.
  • Suspended players and/or coaches may not be in the bench area, locker room or on field level.

VENUE MEDICAL DIRECTOR

New in 2018, the position of Venue Medical Director (VMD) has been approved by the MLS Medical Committee and will be implemented in every MLS Regular Season and Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs match.

Designated by the Home Team's Chief Medical Officer (CMO), the VMD is a licensed physician who is given the authority to make the final medical decision in a match for players on both the Home and Visiting Teams (i.e., concussion protocol)

  • In-Game Location
  • The VMD will be stationed at the fourth official's table for the duration of the match.
  • The VMD will not interfere with the duties of those seated at the fourth official's table.
  • The VMD may move away from the 4th official's table to confer with medical professionals and/or technical staffs as needed but must return to the 4th official's table.

GAME CLOCK: The official game time for all MLS games will be managed on the field by the referee. If necessary, the referee may also allot additional time (a.k.a. "stoppage time") at the end of each period (first half, second half, and if applicable, first extra time period and second extra time period during playoff matches) to allow for injuries, time-wasting and/or other disturbances.

The Stadium clock will start at kickoff of each half. The clock will count upward from 0:00 to 45:00 in the first half and from 45:00 to 90:00 in the second half.

For statistical purposes, the minutes for goals, substitutions, yellow cards, etc., will be listed from the first minute until the 90th minute. A goal scored at 15 minutes 10 seconds will be listed as having been scored in the 16th minute. Events occurring during stoppage time will follow the international norm by being marked with a "+" sign and the additional minutes. For example, a goal scored three minutes into first half stoppage time will be officially identified as happening at "45' + 3'".

HYDRATION BREAKS: MLS mandates the use of hydration breaks if the WetBulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) measures 82 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. The referee can, at any time, implement a discretionary hydration break in cases in which player safety is determined to be at risk.

The Fourth Official will be responsible for reading the WBGT at the kickoff spot at the conclusion of the pre-match warmup. A reading will occur after the whistle blows for the end of the first half to determine if a hydration break is needed.

Implementation and control of the breaks will be managed solely by the referee:

  • Each break will last up to three minutes in length and held approximately 30 minutes into each half (around the 30th and 75th minute respectively).
  • The ball must be out of play for the break to commence.
  • The clock will continue to run and all time allotted for the break will be added to stoppage time.

MATCH POSTPONEMENT: Matches may be postponed when circumstances exist such that continuation of play would pose a threat to the safety of participants or spectators.

View the complete match postponement guidelines

PLAYING FIELD DIMENSIONS AND MARKINGS: The match will be played on a field that remains the same size throughout the MLS Regular Season and Post-Season, unless a change is approved by the League and the Visiting Team is notified at least 72 hours in advance of the match. The dimensions and markings of the field will conform to MLS standards and The IFAB Laws of the Game. No logos on the field, goal nets or corner flags will be allowed without prior League, and where applicable, United States Soccer Federation (USSF) and Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) written approval.

Except where MLS-approved stadium design renders it impossible or impractical, the playing field will be at a minimum 70 yards wide by 110 yards long.

Officiating and Disciplinary Protocol

REFEREES: All referees MLS are either USSF or CSA registered match officials, who are trained, assigned and evaluated by Professional Referee Organization (PRO).

REGULAR SEASON CAUTIONS AND SUSPENSIONS: Fines and suspensions will be levied against players for yellow card accumulations during the Regular Season as follows:

  • Player accrues five yellow cards: $250 fine and a suspension from his next MLS Regular Season Match.
  • Player accrues an additional three yellow cards (eight total): $500 fine and a suspension from his next MLS Regular Season Match.
  • Player accrues an additional three yellow cards (11 total): $750 fine and a suspension from his next MLS Regular Season Match.
  • Player accrues an additional two yellow cards (13 total): $1,000 fine and a suspension from his next MLS Regular Season Match.
  • For each two yellow cards after the player's fourth suspension, the player will be suspended from his next MLS Regular Season Match and his fine will be doubled (e.g., fifth yellow card accumulation suspension; $2,000 fine)

GOOD BEHAVIOR INCENTIVE: A player will automatically reduce his yellow card accumulation total by one yellow card each time he appears in five consecutive matches without receiving a yellow card, red card or supplemental discipline in such matches. For clarity, a player cannot have a negative yellow card accumulation total; the Good Behavior Incentive can only reset to a zero-card total. This incentive will be automatically applied a maximum of three times throughout the course of the MLS Regular Season.

For example, if a player on his third caution of the season completes five consecutive matches without receiving a card or supplemental discipline, that player will have one yellow card caution removed from his cumulative total, leaving the player with a total of two yellow cards. This player now has two remaining Good Behavior Incentive opportunities for the MLS Regular Season. If that player completes five more consecutive matches without receiving a card or supplemental discipline, one more yellow card is removed from his cumulative total leaving the player with a total of one yellow card and one more Good Behavior Incentive opportunity.

BENCH BEHAVIOR POLICY: Coaches, staff, and substitute(d) players will be fined and/or suspended if they leave the bench to: egregiously protest (as determined by the Disciplinary Committee) an official's decision AND/OR express dissent towards an official.

  • PRO:
    • Fourth officials will implement an "ask-tell-dismiss" policy with regard to technical staff and substitute(d) players in the technical area.
    • A coach, staff member, or substitute(d) player will be immediately dismissed if committing an egregious act, and may receive supplemental discipline from the MLS Disciplinary Committee.
  • MLS Disciplinary Committee:
    • Sanctionable actions include:
      • Coaches and/or players that leave the bench to protest an official's decision.
      • In instances in which more than one coach leaves the bench to coach or issue instruction.
        • Note: Goal celebrations, substitutions and medical communication will be exempt from this policy.
      • Audio captured from field microphones and official's wireless communications devices can be used to issue supplemental discipline.
    • Discipline
      • Clubs
        • The first violation will serve as the club's official warning.
        • Any additional violations of the policy will result in a fine(s) and/or suspension.
      • Players
        • The first violation will serve as the player's official warning.
        • Any additional violations of the policy will result in a fine(s) and/or suspension.
      • Additional Authority
        • The MLS Disciplinary Committee will have the authority waive the aforementioned warning and impose a suspension(s) and/or fine on any incident it deems to be egregious.
        • Repeat behavior of an individual will also be subject to suspension(s) and/or increased fines.
  • Medical Staff:
    • Medical staff who are dismissed during a match will miss the remainder of that match and will be fined (rather than suspended) due to their role in player care, welfare and safety.
    • The League, at its sole discretion, can suspend any member of the medical staff if warranted.
      • If a suspension occurs because the medical staff has been found guilty of referee assault/abuse or an egregious act (as determined by the MLS Disciplinary Committee or the league office), the medical staff member will not participate in any matchday related activities (e.g., player care) and is prohibited from entering stadium tunnel area, locker rooms or field level at any time on matchday.

ENTERING THE FIELD OF PLAY: Bench personnel, including players, are prohibited from entering the field of play at any time (excluding medical staff needed to tend to an injury).

  • Non-Confrontational Incidents:
    • Any bench personnel, including substitute(d) players, who enter the field during a non-confrontational incident (as determined by the Disciplinary Committee) will be issued a written warning for the first offense and be fined for subsequent violations.
  • Confrontational Incidents:
    • Any bench personnel, including substitute(d) players, who enter the field during a confrontational incident (as determined by the Disciplinary Committee) will be suspended and fined.
  • Additional Authority:
    • The Disciplinary Committee will have the authority to waive the warning and impose a suspension(s) and/or fine on any non-confrontational incident it deems to be egregious and/or repeat behavior of an individual.

GAME SUSPENSION MANIPULATION: Players suspended from MLS Regular Season and postseason games that are called in for National Team duty will have their suspension(s) held in abeyance until they return from the full completion of their international duty.

DISCIPLINARY COMMITTEE: The mission of the Disciplinary Committee is to ensure player safety and preserve the integrity and reputation of Major League Soccer.

The Disciplinary Committee, comprised of three former MLS players (one designated by the MLS Players Association), one former MLS coach and one former MLS referee, will use the following parameters in determining when it can act under Video Review:

  • Parameter 1: Where the Officials Do Not See the Incident, and therefore do not have the opportunity to act, the Committee will review any and all evidence and may act to discipline a player (e.g., an off-the-ball offense).
  • Parameter 2: Where the Officials See an Incident, and Issue a Red Card, the Committee may review the play for further disciplinary action, over and above the mandatory suspension and fine. Supplemental discipline (suspension and/or fine) will be administered if the Committee believes:
    • The offense is egregious in nature; and/or
    • It must act to protect player safety; and/or
    • It must protect the integrity of the game; and/or
    • The player is guilty of repeat behavior.
  • Parameter 3: Where the Officials See an Incident, and Do Not Issue a Red Card (i.e., no foul, foul, yellow card), the Committee shall only act on incidents in which supplemental discipline warrants at least a two-match suspension if:
    • The play in question is, in the unanimous opinion of the Committee from all available evidence, a clear and unequivocal red card; and
    • The play in question is, in the unanimous opinion of the Committee from all available evidence, egregious or repeat behavior in nature, and/or such that the Committee must act to protect player safety or the integrity of the game.
  • Parameter 4: Automatic Review for Injury. The Committee will automatically review any incident in which a player cannot continue to play in the match due to an injury through contact with an opponent. If the player returns to the field of play after contact with the opponent for any amount of time, the automatic review shall be nullified

Exceptions to the Parameters Under Video Review

The Disciplinary Committee may act on any incident in which video review is either non-operational, or the VAR and/or Referee misapply the Video Review Manual protocol.

  • In instances when Video Review is non-operational or the VAR and/or Referee misapply the Video Review protocol, the Disciplinary Committee may act according to the above listed parameters, except there shall be no minimum match suspension threshold to act.

Non-reviewable situations of potential misconduct, such as, but not limited to, simulation/embellishment, mass confrontation, public criticisms, and use of offensive, insulting or abusive language, will be adjudicated according to the above listed parameters.

The Disciplinary Committee will generally follow the above parameters. However, the Commissioner still maintains the authority to determine whether on-field misconduct has occurred, and can issue supplemental discipline, including fines and suspensions, for off-field misconduct deemed detrimental to the reputation and public image of MLS.

AUDI 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs

QUALIFICATION: At the end of the 2018 MLS Regular Season, the top six teams from each conference (12 teams total), will qualify for the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs.

TEAM-STANDINGS TIE-BREAKING PROCEDURES: The team awarded the highest position in the MLS standings will be the team with the greatest number of points (three points for a win, one point for a tie, zero points for a loss). In the event that two or more teams finish the regular season with an equal number of points, the following system will be used to break the tie:

  1. Total number of wins
  2. Goal Differential (GD)
  3. Goals For (GF)
  4. Fewest Disciplinary Points*
  5. Away Goals Differential
  6. Away Goal For
  7. Home Goals Differential
  8. Home Goal For
  9. Coin Toss (tie of two clubs) or Drawing of Lots (tie of three or more clubs)

When two or more teams are tied in the standings on points, the above tiebreakers will be used until one team ranks ahead of the other(s).

After the winner of the MLS Regular Season Tiebreaker advances, any remaining tied clubs not advancing from the first round MLS Regular Season Tiebreaker shall again, go through a second round MLS Regular Season Tiebreaker in order to determine the next advancing club. The MLS Regular Season Tiebreaker system will continue until qualification/seeding has been determined.

* Fewest Disciplinary Points illustration:

In this example, when the three clubs go through the first round of the MLS Regular Season Tiebreaker, Team A advances as it has the most "Goals For (Tiebreaker No. 3)." The remaining tied clubs, Team B and Team C, then go through a second round MLS Regular Season Tiebreaker, wherein Team B next advances as the club with the best "Total Wins (Tiebreaker No. 1).

CLUB POINTS 1. TOTAL WINS 2. GOALS 3. GOALS FOR 4. DISCIPLINARY POINTS
Team A 45 15 11 8 400
Team B 45 15 11 4 300
Team C 45 15 10 7 200

* Disciplinary Points are calculated as follows:

INFRACTION POINTS
Foul 1 Point
Yellow Card 3 Points
2nd Yellow Card 7 Points*
Straight Red Card 7 Points
Coach Dismissal 7 Points
Any Supplemental Discipline** 8 Points

FORMAT

  • Knockout Round Matches - The third seed will play the sixth seed, and the fourth seed will play the fifth seed, in each conference in a single-elimination knockout match, hosted by the higher-seeded clubs. The lower-seeded winners of the knockout matches will advance to the Conference Semifinals and face the first seeded clubs in the conferences. The higher seeded winners from the knockout matches will advance to the Conference Semifinals and face the second seeded clubs in the conferences.
  • Conference Semifinals - The four Conference Semifinals will be decided by a two-game aggregate series, with the lower-seed hosting the first leg of the Conference Semifinal and the higher-seed hosting the second leg of the Conference Semifinal. If the participating clubs' aggregate score is tied at the conclusion of the two-leg series Conference Semifinal, the "away goals tiebreaker rule" will apply, where the club with the most away goals scored will be the winner.
    If, at the conclusion of the second leg, the series remains tied after taking into account the away goals tiebreaker, two 15-minute extra time periods will be played in their entirety. The away goals tiebreaker shall not apply in these two fifteen 15-minute extra time periods.
    Should the score remain tied after the extra time periods, both teams will take five kicks from the penalty mark (and continuing into sudden death kicks from the penalty mark if still tied at completion of such five kicks) until a winner has been determined.
  • Conference Championships - The two Conference Championships will be decided by a two-game aggregate series, with the lower-seed hosting the first leg of the Conference Championship and the higher-seed hosting the second leg of the Conference Championship. If the aggregate score is tied at the conclusion of the two-match series Conference Championship, the away goals tiebreaker rule will apply.
    If, at the conclusion of the second leg, the series remains tied after taking into account the away goals tiebreaker, two 15-minute extra time periods will be played in their entirety. The away goals tiebreaker shall not apply in these two 15-minute extra time periods.
    Should the score remain tied after the extra time periods, both teams will take five kicks from the penalty mark (and continuing into sudden death kicks from the penalty mark if still tied at completion of such five kicks) until a winner has been determined.
  • MLS Cup - MLS Cup will be a single championship match hosted by the finalist with the most MLS Regular Season points. If the two finalists have the same number of MLS Regular Season points, the tiebreaker procedures for Post-Season qualification, MLS Regular Season Tiebreaker, delineated above in the Team-Standings Tie-Breaking Procedures will be applied to determine the host club. Away goals do not count in MLS Cup. If the score is tied at the conclusion of the match, two 15-minute extra time periods will be played in their entirety, followed by five kicks from the penalty mark (and continuing into sudden death kicks from the penalty mark if still tied at completion of such five kicks), if necessary.

PLAYOFF MATCH PROCEDURES

  • Player Substitutions - One additional substitute (a fourth substitute) will be available to teams only if an MLS Cup Playoff game goes into extra time. The fourth substitute may be used during the two 15-minute extra time periods regardless of the number of substitutes a team has made during regulation time.
  • Video Review - Video Review will be implemented at all MLS Cup Playoff matches.

PLAYOFF DISCIPLINARY GUIDELINES

  • Yellow card accumulation thresholds are reset entering the MLS Cup Playoffs.
    • A player who reaches an accumulation threshold in the last 2018 MLS regular season match (e.g. 5th, 8th, etc.) is eligible for the MLS Cup Playoffs and is eligible for the first regular season match of 2018.
    • A player who receives a red card in his last 2018 MLS regular season match is suspended for the next match for which he is eligible including the MLS Cup Playoffs match or the first regular season match of 2019.
    • A player sanctioned by the Disciplinary Committee will have any corresponding suspension applied to the next match(es) for which he is eligible including a MLS Cup Playoff match(es) or the next season's regular season match(es).
  • Once the MLS Cup Playoffs begin and up until MLS Cup (when playoff yellow card accumulation will again reset), a player accumulating two yellow cards will be suspended for the next Cup Playoff match for which he is eligible, except as detailed below (if a player's club does not advance in the MLS Cup Playoffs, the suspension does not carry over to the 2019 MLS regular season).
    • A player who accumulates two yellow cards in any of the following matches is suspended for his next match: Knockout Round match, Conference Semifinal Leg 1, Conference Semifinal Leg 2, Conference Championship Leg 1.
    • A player who earns his second yellow card in the Conference Championship Leg 2 is eligible to play in MLS Cup.
      • For the avoidance of doubt, playoff yellow card accumulation resets entering MLS Cup.
  • A player who earns two yellow cards in the same match is suspended for the next match for which he is eligible including MLS Cup.
    • In an instance where a player earns two yellow cards in the same match, neither yellow card will count against his playoff yellow card accumulation. This is different from the regular season.
    • If a player earns a yellow card in the Knockout Round match and then two yellow cards in the Conference Semifinal Leg 2, that player would be suspended for the Conference Championship Leg 1 due to the red card/second caution but would remain on one yellow card for his accumulation total. If the player's club does not advance in the MLS Cup Playoffs, the red card suspension will carry over to the 2019 MLS regular season.
  • A player who earns a straight red card in the same match in which he previously has earned his second cumulative yellow card may be suspended for his next two MLS Cup Playoff matches.
    • For example, a player earns a yellow card in the Knockout Round match. He then earns a yellow card (his second cumulatively) in the Conference Semifinal, Leg 2 AND a straight red card (different from earning a second yellow card) in the same match. The player is suspended for the Conference Championship, Leg 1 (due to the red card) and is suspended for the Conference Championship Leg 2 (due to playoff yellow card accumulation).
    • However, if a player earns a yellow card in the Conference Semifinal Leg 2 and then earns both a yellow card (his second cumulatively) in the Conference Championship Leg 1 AND a straight red card in the same match, then the player is suspended for the Conference Championship Leg 2 (due to the red card) but is not suspended for MLS Cup as the yellow card accumulation re-sets entering MLS Cup.
  • A player who earns a red card in any MLS Cup Playoff match, whether a straight red card or two yellow cards, is suspended for his next match (if this occurs in MLS Cup, then the suspension carries over to the first regular season match of 2019).
  • A player sanctioned by the Disciplinary Committee will have any corresponding suspension applied to the next match(es) for which he is eligible including any MLS Cup Playoff match(es), MLS Cup or the 2019 MLS regular season. Similar to the regular season, in instances in which a player receives a yellow card in a match and the Disciplinary Committee acts to suspend the player for the offense, the yellow card will not count toward the player's cumulative yellow card total.
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