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The Eurosnob’s Guide to MLS

Written by: Phillip Golladay

Are you the type of soccer fan who refers to the game as “football,” “fútbol,” or “The Beautiful Game” unironically but cringe whenever you hear someone talking about “soccer”? Do you wake up earlier on Saturdays and Sundays than during the rest of the week to watch your “local” team in Europe? Do you have the Champions League anthem as your ringtone?

If you said yes to any of these questions, then this article is for you! In spring 2022, the Queen City will enter the top soccer league in the US, and we need you there!

Why would you want me there? You literally called me a Eurosnob in the title of your article.

Okay, okay, sorry. The name stings, I know. But as a reformed Eurosnob myself, I mean you (the person I created to have this Q&A with) no disrespect.

 Fine, fine. So, seriously? Why should I care about Charlotte FC or MLS? I don’t want to watch past-their-prime Europeans lumber along the pitch.

You’re living in the past, my friend! The age of Beckham, Lampard, and Pirlo is long past! MLS is in a golden era. We’ve got passionate fan bases, exciting young players, and plenty of room to grow!

So explain Gonzalo Higuaín.

Fair enough. Not every team got the memo. But the fact that teams like Inter Miami have become punchlines in the league is truly a sign of how the league has continued to evolve. In fact, the average age of players has decreased over the past 6 years, from a height of 28 years old to 27.2. For comparison, the Premier League’s average age is 26.8. And with more clubs focusing on finding young international players and league rules that encourage recruitment of younger international players, we should see that number continue to decline.

 We can also put some data behind other league trends. MLS averaged 2.84 goals per match in 2020, which is more goals per match than the Premier League (2.72), Ligue 1 (2.52), or La Liga (2.48) in 2019-20. And it’s not just all attack, all the time. Last season’s Supporters’ Shield winners Philadelphia Union allowed a miserly 0.87 goals per match, which is on par with Liverpool’s stout defense in their 2019-20 Premier League-winning campaign.

 Are you bored of the same 2-3 teams dominating their domestic league? How does 7 different MLS teams winning the MLS Cup in the past decade sound? Compare that to 5 teams in England, 4 in France, 3 in Spain, or 2 in Germany or Italy. It’s a league that rewards sustained club management (as can be seen by perennial contenders in Seattle, Portland, and both clubs in Los Angeles), but every season starts with every club vying for silverware.

As for Charlotte FC, it’s a unique opportunity to follow a hometown team and help build a fanbase from the ground up. It’s a chance to feel that daily matchday experience you’ve seen in all the leagues you love in Europe. It also will be the place to see homegrown talent rise through the ranks and become the future of the game we all love.

 Ughhhhh...fine. I’m in.

Excellent! I knew you would see it my way.

Dude, you wrote me. I don’t think I have a choice.

Man, quit breaking the fourth wall. I’m pretty sure that people are getting annoyed by this.

So, tell me more about the league. How is it set up?

Right now, the league has 27 teams, with Charlotte becoming team number 28. Three teams are based in Canada, and the rest are in the US. MLS uses both a regular season and playoff structure – 

Ughhhhh.... 

– called the MLS Cup. You do know that there are leagues in Europe that use a playoff structure as well, right? The regular season is 34 matches, with 17 home and away matches each. Since MLS uses a conference system to align the league into an Eastern Conference and Western Conference, the schedule is structured based on these conferences. Since it is usually based on the number of teams, we may see some changes for next year, but we don’t know for certain.

 So they don’t play every team every year? That stinks.

Yeah, it’s not perfect. Part of it is due to COVID; part of it is because it’s taking the number of teams into account.

 So why don’t they do promotion and relegation? That would make it easier to schedule thi...

 Yeah, I’m gonna cut you off right there. Don’t ask about pro/rel.

 But –

Do not ask about pro/rel.

 Moving on, then! So how is the champion determined? Is it just the playoff winner?

Yes and no. The winner of the MLS Cup is the winner of the postseason, but there is also a Supporters’ Shield which is given to the team with the most points accumulated during the league. It’s not the primary silverware, but it’s not something teams ignore.

How do the playoffs work?

It gets adjusted from time to time, but this season the playoffs will have 14 teams total: 7 from the Western Conference and 7 from the Eastern Conference. The top team in each conference gets a bye, with the other 6 teams playing the first round. All rounds including the MLS Cup Final are single-leg, with the higher seed hosting. Even with a little bit of knockout luck, the better-performing teams during the season are rewarded.

Ha, alright. Now you’re speaking my language.

And that’s not all! The winner of the MLS Cup, the Supporters’ Shield winner, and the top team from the other conference (since the Supporters’ Shield winner wins their conference by definition) all qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League. 

While it isn’t as glamorous as its counterpart in Europe, it is a continental competition for MLS clubs, and the winner gets a spot in the FIFA Club World Cup. No MLS side has won the Champions League (the competition rebranded in 2008-09), so it’s all the more exciting that a team from Charlotte could be the first!

So reasonable knockout playoffs, continental competitions…if only there were a national knockout cup, like the FA Cup in England…

Let me cut you off right there and introduce you to the US Open Cup, the oldest ongoing competition in the US. Just like the FA Cup, the US Open Cup is a knockout competition open to all professional clubs in the US soccer pyramid, in addition to qualifiers from the amateur ranks.

Like its cousins in Europe, the American Cup is known for knockout drama and giant-killing, though generally, MLS teams tend to dominate the later stages of the tournament. The Cup has unfortunately been impacted by Covid, with both the 2020 and 2021 editions being canceled.

But just like Charlotte FC, the competition will be back for 2022! 

Okay, you’ve got me interested. Now what?

If you’re a fan of the atmosphere you’ve seen in the leagues in Europe, why not help us build it here in the Supporters’ Section with Charlotte FC? It’s an opportunity to be a part of brand-new traditions in your own area, as well as a place to share the love of the Beautiful Game with thousands of your newest best friends. Think about it: what could be more fun than a weekend morning watching your European team, then an afternoon or evening kickoff watching your hometown team?

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