Major League Soccer or MLS for short, is the biggest soccer league in North America.

Soccer has always been seen as an afterthought in Canada and the United States where football, basketball, baseball and hockey are bigger. However, the rise of MLS, the Canadian and American men’s and women’s teams and lower leagues such as the Canadian Premier League and United Soccer League are growing the game across the continent. Oh yeah, Canada, the US and Mexico will host the 2026 World Cup which will grow the game further.

The Vancouver Whitecaps start their 2023 MLS campaign on February 25 and are currently in Marbella, Spain for preseason.

So far, it has been kind of a quiet offseason for the Whitecaps. Karifa Yao and Mathias Laborda have been brought in to bolster the defence but the club has been linked to Israeli international Tai Baribo who plays for Wolfsberger in the Austrian league. The ‘Caps are going to play them in Spain on January 21 so make of that what you will. Throughout the season, the Area 51 Sports Network will have out-of-this-world Whitecaps coverage.

But let’s talk about MLS as a whole today.

There are things that people don’t like about MLS: the quality of play, retirement league etc. The league isn’t perfect and people will always have issues with it.

So here is how I would fix MLS. Keep in mind, I don’t expect these things to happen.

#1: Get rid of the Discovery Rights rule

I never liked this rule and most MLS fans don’t.

The Discovery Rights rule is simple: Once a team enters negotiations with an international player, other MLS clubs can’t start a bidding war. Sounds stupid right?

What’s wrong with having a bidding war? It makes great entertainment! It also gives the players options around MLS to choose from. Plus, the league has seen plenty of parity over the last decade. Since 2013, there have been nine different MLS Cup winners and the Seattle Sounders are the only team to win it twice since then.

The reason why the MLS has the Discovery Rights rule is parity. They want to give smaller clubs such as the Colorado Rapids to sign touted international players instead of having them all go to a bigger club like Los Angeles Galaxy.

But you see teams trade General Allocation Money for a player’s Discovery Rights and it is kind of ridiculous. Let teams have a bidding war and make the fight for the players they want.

#2: Bring back the two legs in the playoffs

The playoff format is fine. It’s kind of similar to the NFL where the highest seed in each conference gets a first-round bye. #2 plays #7, #3 plays #6 and #4 plays #5 in the first round.

However, as the league continues to expand, the playoff format might need to change. They could possibly do #1 vs #8 as the NBA does and as the NHL used to but that’s another story.

MLS has had single-game knockouts for the playoffs since 2019. Before that, they had the conference semi-finals and conference finals as two legs and the first round and MLS Cup Final are single-game knockouts.

In my opinion, they should go back to that. The reason they changed it was to drive up TV revenue and make the playoffs go quicker. Don’t get me wrong, I like the single-game knockouts but having the conference semi-finals and conference finals two legs adds to the intensity and both teams get to host a playoff game.

#3: Every team must play each other at least once

In many soccer leagues around the world, (I’m pretty sure all) the teams play each other at least once. In MLS, that doesn’t happen.

For example, the Whitecaps have not played Inter Miami yet. They have only played Orlando City SC once in club history.

It just feels wrong that some teams don’t play each other. It would be cool to see the Whitecaps travel to Mercedes Benz Stadium to play Atlanta United.

I believe all MLS teams should play each other at least once. Therefore, I propose the league gets rid of conferences and have divisions. Credit to Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini for this idea. He’s spoken about this to us media folk when the cameras weren’t rolling. It’s a good one though he might disagree with my placements of teams.

Here are my proposed divisions.

Pacific Division

Vancouver Whitecaps

Seattle Sounders

Portland Timbers

San Jose Earthquakes

LA Galaxy


Midwest Division

Real Salt Lake

Colorado Rapids

Sporting Kansas City

Houston Dynamo

FC Dallas

Austin FC

Central Division

Minnesota United

Chicago Fire

St. Louis SC

Nashville SC

Columbus Crew

FC Cincinnati

Southeast Division

Charlotte FC

Atlanta United

Inter Miami

Orlando City SC

DC United

Northeast Division

Toronto FC

CF Montreal

New England Revolution

New York Red Bulls

New York City FC

Philadelphia Union

So every team in those divisions plays each other twice. That means the Whitecaps would play the Sounders and Timbers as well as the California teams home and away. The Whitecaps would play every other team once whether that is at BC Place or on the road.

You might have noticed flaws with this system. First, the Southeast Division has only five teams instead of six like the others. That is because MLS currently has 29 teams and one division had to be uneven.

The second is that the Whitecaps for example would play 10 divisional games and 24 games against the other teams assuming MLS keeps the current 34-game schedule. But, there are 23 other teams and one team will be left out.

Back to the playoff format for minute. With no conferences, it will look a little different for the 14 teams that make the playoffs. That could mean we could have west vs east matchups but with this new division system could change the format to something else.

You might also be saying that St. Louis and Kansas City should be in the same division. Well, this system could only be fixed by expansion. For example, if MLS decides to award a team to Las Vegas, SKC could move into the Central Division.

When (not if) the league decides to expand again, this kind of format should be considered so every team can play each other at least once.

#4: Have Relegation

This one kind of feels far-fetched but one can dream, right?

The biggest reason why many soccer fans don’t take MLS seriously is that no one gets relegated. In a perfect world, teams should get relegated from MLS.

Here is what I propose: Three teams get relegated whether that is to the USL or CPL. The teams that replace them are the CPL champions, the USL champions and the USL runner-ups.

Relegation would help grow the game to its full potential in Canada and the US and the league will be more respected.

The Whitecaps have been lucky that there isn’t relegation because if there were, they would have been banished to the CPL after the 2019 season. DC United would also have been relegated to the USL a while ago.

Unfortunately, relegation means financial losses. Teams that get relegated to lower league leagues mean less revenue and that means a lower wage bill and lower transfer budget. When teams get relegated that means less support from fans and that leads to fewer season ticket members and lower TV ratings.

Also the MLS salary cap is very complicated. I won’t get into it all but relegation and promotion could make things…even more complicated.

How would you fix MLS? Let me know in the comments below!

By joshuarey

I am the head blog editor at the Area 51 Sports network. You can find me writing about the Whitecaps and other sports here. I also host the Terminal City FC Podcast with Nathan Durec I am also a site expert at The Canuck Way and a graduate of Langara's Journalism program When I am not writing you can find me surfing the internet, watching movies, listening to rock and rap music or eating pizza.

331 thoughts on “How to fix MLS”
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