MLS Competition Guidelines

2017 Conferences

MLS will have 22 clubs for the league's 22nd season. The 2017 conference alignments are as follows:

Western Conference Eastern Conference
Colorado Rapids
FC Dallas
Houston Dynamo
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 22 MLS clubs will play 34 games, 17 at home and 17 away.
  • Clubs will play each of their 10 conference opponents at least twice (one home, one away)
  • Clubs will play each team in the opposing conference at least once (5 or 6 home, 5 or 6 away)
  • Clubs will play three additional intraconference matches with one team in each conference playing one extra non-conference match.

POINT SYSTEM: Teams 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 a gameday roster. Teams are allowed three substitutions per game.

TEAM BENCHES

  • Both the Home Team and Visiting Team will be allowed a maximum of 17 individuals on their bench (nine staff, seven players, and one 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 their 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 Game 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.

GAME CLOCK: The official game time for all Major League Soccer 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 display the time from 0:00 to 45:00 and from 45:00 to 90:00 (plus stoppage time where applicable in each 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 measures 82 degrees or higher.

The fourth official will be responsible for reading the WetBulb Globe Temperature at the kickoff spot at the conclusion of pre-game warm ups and the conclusion of the first half.

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: In the event a match is abandoned at any point prior to its conclusion, it will be postponed, rather than cancelled and/or final. In the event the game is abandoned at any point, any remaining time will be completed the following day or as soon as practical.

View the complete match postponement guidelines

PLAYING FIELD DIMENSIONS AND MARKINGS: The game will be played on a field that remains the same size throughout the League Regular and Post-Season, unless a change is approved by the League and the visiting club is notified at least 72 hours in advance of the game. The dimensions and markings of the field will conform to MLS standards and the Laws of the Game. No logos on the field, goal nets or corner flags will be allowed without prior League, USSF, and CSA written approval.

Except where stadium design deems 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 in MLS are either USSF (United States Soccer Federation) or CSA (Canadian Soccer Association) National Referees. Referees for all MLS games will be trained, assigned and evaluated by PRO (Professional Referee Organization).

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 suspension from his next MLS Regular Season Game;
  • Player accrues an additional three yellow cards after having been fined and suspended for the initial five cards: $500 fine and suspension from his next MLS Regular Season Game;
  • Player accrues additional three yellow cards after having been fined and suspended for a second game: $750 fine and suspension from his next MLS Regular Season Game;
  • Player accrues additional two yellow cards after having been fined and suspended for a third game: $1000 fine and suspension from his next MLS Regular Season Game;
  • For each two yellow cards thereafter, Player will be fined $1000 and suspended from his next MLS Regular Season Game.

GOOD BEHAVIOR INCENTIVE: If a player appears in five consecutive matches without receiving a card or supplemental discipline, that player will have one caution removed from his cumulative yellow card total. The Good Behavior Incentive can be applied a maximum of three times throughout the season. (e.g. A player on his third caution of the season appears in five consecutive matches without receiving a card or supplemental discipline removes one caution from his cumulative total leaving the player with a total of two. This player now has two remaining Good Behavior Incentive opportunities for the 2017 Season.)

BENCH BEHAVIOR POLICY: Fines and suspensions will be levied against coaches, technical staff members, and players who leave the bench area to egregiously protest (as determined by the Disciplinary Committee) an official’s decision or for dissent towards an official.

PLAYERS
During a game, players moving outside the bench area to protest an official’s decision will be asked to return to the bench area. Players committing an egregious act will be immediately dismissed for the remainder of the match and may receive supplemental discipline from the MLS Disciplinary Committee.

If a player leaves the bench area and enters the field of play to protest an official’s decision, his actions will be treated as an Entering the Field of Play incident.

Unless deemed to be egregious by the Disciplinary Committee, players will be warned for their first violation and fined for any subsequent violations.

COACHES AND STAFF
During a game, coaches and staff moving outside the bench area to protest an official’s decision will be asked by the fourth official to return to the bench area. The fourth official will implement an ‘ask-tell-dismiss’ policy, which consists of two warnings (ask and tell) before the coach or staff member is dismissed from the match.

A coach or staff member in the bench area that commits an egregious act will be immediately dismissed by the official for the remainder of the match.

Coaches and staff members may receive supplemental discipline from the MLS Disciplinary Committee under the following circumstances:

  • Coaches and/or staff members that leave the bench area to protest an official’s decision.
  • When 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).

MEDICAL STAFF
Medical staff who are dismissed during a match will miss the remainder of that match and will be fined (rather than suspended) in their next match due to their role in player treatment and safety. However, 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 Disciplinary Committee), the medical staff member will not participate in any match day related activities (i.e., player care) and is prohibited from entering stadium tunnel area, locker rooms or field level at any time on match day.

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 adjudged to have entered the field during a non-confrontational incident (as determined by the Disciplinary Committee) will be fined (rather than suspended).

  • The Disciplinary Committee will have the authority to impose a suspension(s) and/or fine for any non-confrontational incident it deems to be egregious and/or repeat behavior of an individual.
  • Unless in case of egregious incident, individuals will be issued a written warning for their first non-confrontational offense and will be fined for all subsequent violations of the policy.

Confrontational Incidents – Any bench personnel adjudged to have entered the field during a confrontational incident (as determined by the Disciplinary Committee) will be suspended and fined.

GAME SUSPENSION MANIPULATION: Players suspended from MLS Regular Season and Playoffs 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 Disciplinary Committee, comprised of three former MLS players, one former MLS coach and one former MLS referee, will use the following parameters in determining when it can act under Video Review:

1. Where the referee does not see the incident (e.g., an off-the-ball offense) and therefore does not have the opportunity to act:

  • The Committee will review any and all evidence and may act to discipline a player.

2. Where the referee sees an incident, and issues a red card:

  • The Committee may review the play for further disciplinary action, over and above the mandatory suspension and fine.
  • The Committee will add suspensions and/or fines over and above the mandatory one game suspension for those offenses the Committee deems to be of an egregious nature, or where the Committee believes it must act to protect player safety or the integrity of the game.

3. When the referee sees an incident and does not issue a red card, the following shall apply:

  • The Committee will act on incidents in which supplemental discipline warrants at least a two-game suspension.
  • Exceptions:
    • In instances in which Video Review is non-operational, the Disciplinary Committee shall act under its Normal Parameters and Guidelines (see below).
    • In instances in which the VAR and referee misapply Video Review protocol, the Committee shall review and be empowered to act under Normal Parameters and Guidelines (see below).
    • Any non-Video Review related incident will be reviewed under the Normal Parameters and Guidelines (see below). Non-Video Review related incidents include, but not limited to, simulation/embellishment, mass confrontation, public criticism, use of offensive, insulting or abusive language, etc.
    Normal Parameters and Guidelines include Parameters 1 and 2 above, and the below:
    The Committee will not, in general, issue a suspension unless:
    • The play in question is, in the unanimous opinion of the Committee from all available video evidence, a clear and unequivocal red card; AND
    • The play in question is, in the unanimous opinion of the Committee, of an egregious or reckless nature, such that the Committee must act to protect player safety or the integrity of the game.

The Commissioner maintains the authority to determine whether on-field misconduct has occurred and issue discipline, including fines or suspensions.

  • The Committee will automatically review any incident that forces a player to be immediately substituted out of the game due to an injury through contact with an opponent.
     
  • Disciplinary Treatment When a Player Receives Two Yellow Cards: If a player receives two cautions in the same match, and then receives supplemental discipline on either caution, he will be suspended one match for the red card (two cautions) plus any additional supplemental discipline issued by the Disciplinary Committee (additional fines and/or suspensions which may be one game or greater).
    • If the player receives an additional suspension as supplemental discipline from the Disciplinary Committee on the first caution, the player will serve a multiple game suspension – one (1) game for the automatic suspension from the second yellow plus additional game(s) from the supplemental discipline issued by the Disciplinary Committee.  Neither card will be applied to his Yellow Card Accumulation total.
    • If the player receives an additional suspension as supplemental discipline from the Disciplinary Committee on the second caution, the player will serve a multiple game suspension – one game for the automatic suspension from the second yellow card plus any additional game(s) resulting from the supplemental discipline issued by the Disciplinary Committee. The first yellow card will be applied to his Yellow Card Accumulation total. The second yellow card will not be applied to his Yellow Card Accumulation total.
  • When a player routinely and regularly commits dangerous offenses, the Committee will:
    • Inform both the player’s Club and the MLS Players Union that his behavior is being monitored.
    • If disregard for player safety or the integrity of the League persists, then the player will be subject to supplemental discipline irrespective of whether the individual incident meets the customary standard.
    • Institute a “probationary" period. A player can be cleared of the period with good behavior (i.e., no yellow/red cards or supplemental discipline) in three consecutive games.
    • Players on warning for violent conduct remain on warning for the remainder of the current season
  • In obvious examples of simulation/embellishment: In the event a player engages in simulation and/or embellishment, he will be fined.  However, if such act has a material impact in the match the player will then be suspended and fined.  Those instances of simulation and/or embellishment which, by definition, have a material  impact on the match are as follows:
    • Opposing player receives a red card (player will be suspended regardless of the Independent Panel Red Card review decision)
    • Opposing player receives a yellow card, provided the caution:
      1. Is the player’s second yellow card in the match
      2. Triggers the player’s yellow card accumulation threshold
    • Opposing Team is awarded a penalty kick (player will be suspended regardless of penalty kick conversion)
    • The dismissal of a coach, staff member or player.
    • Coaches that leave the bench to protest an official’s decision.
    • Instances in which multiple coaches are standing within technical area

Coaches and staff: Red cards are not issued to coaches. Referees may, at their discretion, dismiss a coach or other team staff member from the sideline due to inappropriate behavior during a game. The dismissed coach or staff member will serve a mandatory one-game suspension during the next MLS League match.

Any coach or staff serving a game suspension will not enter the stadium tunnel area, locker rooms or field level ninety (90) minutes before kickoff until the conclusion of the game, at which point he may enter his Club’s locker room.  He may not sit in the Press Box or grandstands, but can sit in a stadium suite or VIP area.  A suspended coach also is not permitted to be in communication with his Team during the course of the game.

Bench personnel may receive supplemental discipline in cases that include, but not limited to, the following:

Note: Goal celebrations and technical staff engaging in necessary activity will be exempt from this policy (trainer attending to a player, coach signaling substitution to the fourth official).

Additional information about the Disciplinary Committee procedures

AUDI 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs

QUALIFICATION: Twelve teams, the top six from each conference at the end of the regular season, qualify for the Audi 2017 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 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 2 clubs) or Drawing of Lots (tie of 3 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).

* Disciplinary Points are calculated as follows:

  1. Foul = 1 point
  2. Yellow Card = 3 Points
  3. 2nd Yellow Card = 3 Points
  4. Straight Red Card = 7 Points
  5. Coach Dismissal = 7 Points
  6. Any Supplemental Discipline = 8 points

FORMAT:
The third seed will play the sixth seed, and the fourth seed will play the fifth seed, in each conference in a single knockout game, hosted by the higher-seeded clubs. The higher-seeded winners of each knockout game will advance to the Conference Semifinals and face the second place teams in conferences. The lower-seeded winners of the knockout games will face the first place teams in the conferences. The higher seeded winners from the knockout games will face the second place teams in the conferences.

The four Conference Semifinals will be decided by a two-game aggregate series, with the lower seed hosting the first leg and the higher seed hosting the second leg. If the aggregate score is tied after 180 minutes of play, the away goals tiebreaker rule will apply so as to be consistent with CONCACAF and FIFA practice. If the series remains tied, two 15-minute extra time periods will be played in their entirety, followed by penalty kicks, if necessary. The away goals tiebreaker will not apply to extra time in the second leg of any two-legged playoff series.

The two Conference Championships will be decided by a two-game aggregate series, with the lower seed hosting the first leg and the higher seed hosting the second leg. If the aggregate score is tied after 180 minutes of play, the away goals tiebreaker rule will apply so as to be consistent with CONCACAF and FIFA practice. If the series remains tied, two 15-minute extra time periods will be played in their entirety, followed by penalty kicks, if necessary. The away goals tiebreaker will not apply to extra time in the second leg of any two-legged playoff series.

MLS Cup will be a single championship match hosted by the finalist with the most regular season points. If the two finalists have the same number of regular season points, the tiebreakers for MLS Cup Playoff qualification will be applied to determine the host team. Away goals do not count in MLS Cup.

If the score is tied after 90 minutes of play, two 15-minute extra time periods will be played in their entirety, followed by kicks from the penalty mark, if necessary.

PLAYOFF DISCIPLINARY GUIDELINES

  • Yellow card accumulation thresholds are reset entering the MLS Cup Playoffs.
    • A player who reaches an accumulation threshold in the last 2017 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 2017 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 2018.
    • 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 2018 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 2018 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 2018).
  • 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 2017 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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