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Major League Soccer (MLS) is a United States Soccer Federation-approved professional football league for men that represents the highest level of sports in the United States. The league consists of 24 teams - 21 in the US and 3 in Canada - and is one of the most important professional sports leagues in both countries. The regular season lasts from March to October, with each team playing 34 games. The team with the best record is awarded the Supporters' Shield. Fourteen teams will face each other in the post-MLS play-offs until October and November, culminating in the championship game, the MLS Cup. MLS teams also play in national competitions against teams from other divisions in the US Open Cup and in the Canadian Championship. MLS teams also compete against continental rivals in the CONCACAF Champions League. The league plans to expand to 28 teams with Inter Miami CF and Nashville SC in 2020, Austin FC in 2021, and a franchise in St. Louis in 2022, with plans to expand to 30 teams at a later date.
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With an average attendance of over 20,000 players per game, MLS has the third highest average sports league participation in the US after the National Football League (NFL) and Major League Baseball (MLB) and is the seventh highest professional football league in the world.
Major League Soccer was founded in 1993 as part of the successful US bid to host the 1994 FIFA World Cup. The first season took place in 1996 with ten teams. MLS experienced financial and operational problems in the early years: The league lost millions of dollars, the teams played in mostly empty American football stadiums, and two teams came on in 2002. Since then, MLS has grown to 24 football-specific stadiums. The average number of spectators in the league is higher than in the National Hockey League (NHL) and the National Basketball Association (NBA). Following Designated Player Rule, teams can sign star players such as David Beckham, MLS secures national TV contracts, and the league is now profitable.
Rather than acting as an association of independent teams, MLS is a unit in which each team in the league belongs and is operated individually by the league's investors. The investor operators control their teams as owners controlling teams in other leagues and are generally (but erroneously) referred to as the owner of the team. The league has a permanent membership, as do most sports leagues in the US and Canada, making it one of the few leagues in the world that has neither promotion nor descent, which is unusual in both countries. The headquarters of MLS is located in New York City.
The regular season of Major League Soccer lasts from March to October. The teams are geographically divided into East and West conferences and play 34 games in a partially balanced schedule. For 2019, each team of 24 teams plays two games (home and away) against teams in their conference and one game against each team of the opposite conference. Mid-season, the teams set off for the annual All-Star Game, an exhibition game between the best players in the league and a major club from another league. At the end of the regular season, the team with the highest score in the playoffs receives the Supporters' Shield and home advantage.
Unlike most major leagues in the world, but similar to other American leagues, the regular MLS season is followed by a co-tournament after the season. 14 teams will participate in the MLS Cup playoffs in October, ending in early November with the MLS Cup championship game.
Major League Soccer's spring-fall schedule leads to scheduling conflicts with the FIFA calendar and international summer tournaments such as the World Cup and the Gold Cup, leading several players to miss MLS games. MLS has considered switching to an autumn-to-spring format, but there are currently no plans to do so. Should the league change its schedule, a significant winter break would be required as the teams are in a harsh winter climate. It would also have to compete with the popularity and media coverage of the National Football League (NFL) in the fall and winter, as well as the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the National Hockey League (NHL), both of which spring up in the fall-spring plans.
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