MLS Rules and Betting

In comparison to other major league US sports, MLS is in its relative infancy. It was only founded in 1993 by the United States Soccer Federation to gain approval to host the 1994 FIFA World Cup.

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The debut season kicked off in 1996 to showcase the talent of the top ten soccer teams across the US and Canada. At first, the MLS struggled to muster enough interest to keep stadium doors open, and some of the teams folded.

Changes were made to make MLS profitable. Americans began to revel in finally having a soccer league on US soil to enjoy. The league now consists of 26 teams with the majority residing in the US. Soccer-specific stadiums have been built for the teams.

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Nowadays, some of the world's most famous international soccer players have joined MLS teams. Even though the league has not been around as long as others, it is the third most popular sport nationwide. On average, games draw in around 20,000 spectators. These figures make it the 7th most attended professional soccer league globally. In return for its popularity, more sports bettors are trying their skill at MLS betting. Below you will find a comprehensive guide to MLS rules and betting.

By learning all that you can about the basics of the sport, you will be able to place more informed wagers with potentially a higher success rate.

Basic MLS Rules

The basic rules of MLS are straightforward, and it is one of the reasons why soccer is a world loved sport. Anyone, no matter their background or age, can get involved with soccer.

No player can touch the ball with their hands, other than the goalkeeper who protects the net. They can use different parts of their bodies, including their heads. Soccer is also a non-contact sport. Tackles are skillful with minimal touching between players. There are no downs like in the NFL or faceoffs like in the NHL. Soccer is a continuous, high paced game where players must intercept the ball to gain possession. MLS rules help the game move along. 

If the ball goes out of the pitch, then a throw-in will occur by the opposite team that kicked it out. If this happens near the goal line, then a goal kick or corner takes place. These are often pinnacle moments that could result in a goal. The attacking team will take a corner, whereas the defending team will have a goal kick opportunity.

A more complicated rule to understand is the offside rule. An offside violation occurs when a player moves into the opposition's half. They are offside when they position themselves ahead of the defending players and the ball. The offside rule protects the fairness of the game.

You will also notice the referee wave yellow and red cards. These represent when a foul has occurred. When a foul occurs, free kicks or penalty kicks may be awarded depending on where the foul took place. Read on to find out more about fouls and violations.

Game Objective

The fundamentals of the game include two teams. The teams must travel a ball to the opposite side of the pitch. They must evade the opposing team intercepting their passes or tackling them for possession of the ball.

When a player has reached the net, they must kick the ball into it to score a goal. For teams to be successful in this objective, players must be fast, accurate, skillful with their feet. Soccer is all about working as a team.


MLS rules state that soccer fields are unique as there is some flexibility with what size is acceptable for the league's games. The area of play can be between 100 and 130 yards long. The width allowed is from 50 to 100 yards wide.

In the center of the field, there is a center circle where teams will kick-off from. A half-way line runs down the middle. The line divides the pitch in two to signify the attacking and defending sides.

At either end, a penalty box surrounds a goal. The penalty box at the furthest point is 18 yards away from the goal. In the center of the box is the penalty spot for penalty kicks.

Player Roles

Soccer teams consist of four key player positions. Each position plays a specific role within the team but is not restricted to certain zones. A player's position usually depends on their skill set and what they have specialized in training to do on the field.

However, positions can be fluid. The game is so fast-paced players will often take on other roles for the best chance at success. On occasions, the goalkeeper has even left his post to bring the ball upfield. In this scenario, as soon as he leaves the penalty box, he can no longer use his hands.

The positions include:

Goalkeeper- The goalkeepers' primary responsibility is to stop the ball from reaching inside of the net. He can use his entire body to prevent the ball from passing the goal line. He also has the 18-yard penalty box to move around in. The goalkeeper must also kick or pass the ball downfield to his teammates if the ball goes behind the goal.

Defender- The defenders' role is to position themselves in front of the goalkeeper. It is their key responsibility to prevent the other team from approaching with the ball. Alternatively, they can intercept shots with their feet, heads, and chest to stop the ball's flow towards the net. The defenders will often be the first to take the ball from the goalkeeper pass. They then have the responsibility of finding the next open player to pass onto.

Midfielder- Midfielders are the most flexible of all players. They take on attack and defensive roles while also traveling the longest distances. It is their responsibility to link passes from the defenders to the forwards and keep the game flowing.

Forward- The forward position is where the goal scorers play. It is their role to avoid tackles for the opposing team's defenders, adhere to the offside rule and be open to taking good shots.


Tracking the score in MLS is simple. Every time the ball passes the goal line into a team's goal, no matter who put it in, a single point is awarded. Home goals are not uncommon.

The winning team is the side with the most goals when the final whistle blows. If the scores are equal, then the match finishes as a draw. In competitions where a winner must be decided, extra time will be added. A penalty shoot out will occur if there is still no winner after extra time.

Player and Team Rules

MLS team roster can include up to 30 players. However, on the field, only 11 men are allowed to play at one given time. These include ten field players and one goalkeeper. The game can start and continue with less than 11 men in play but no less than 6.

As previously mentioned, there are only four key positions. The coach can divide his team into any formation he likes subbing on and off to change the configuration throughout the game. However, once a player has been substituted, they cannot return to play.

Reading soccer formations can be an invaluable tool for sports betting, and it is straightforward once you know how. The figure will look like this, for example, 4-4-2. The first number represents how many defenders will be playing. The second is the number of midfielders, and the last represents how many forward players.

Coach Rules

Coaches must abide by strict rules when at field level. They, too, can receive yellow and red cards for their behavior. Coaches will receive point deductions, fines, or dismissals if they leave the bench. They will also be penalized for protesting official decisions. Plus any acts of aggression towards an official will have severe consequences.

The only acceptable instance when a coach can leave the bench impromptu is for goal celebrations. They can also leave for substitutions, and to communicate with medical professionals.

Time Limits and Game Duration

At a professional level, a soccer match's duration is 90 minutes. The game consists of two halves of 45 minutes long with a 15 minute half time break. The only person who has the authority to change these time limits is the referee.

Overtime Rules

The clock doesn't technically stop running during the duration of a match. Instead, when the timer runs out, any stoppage time is added as overtime. Stoppages can be for several reasons. These include injuries, substitutions, and when the ball is out of bounds.

Fouls and Violations

The referee and the assistant referee have the authority to call fouls and violations. Their decision is final, and only after the game has concluded can any disputes be raised.

The penalty of a foul varies depending on the severity of the violation. There are four levels, these include:

Minor Offenses - Opposite team received an indirect free kick.

Serious Offenses - A direct free kick is awarded to the opposition. The kick would take place as a penalty kick if the incident occurred within the penalty box. 

Cautions - The yellow card will be given to repeat offenders. If the player continues to make fouls, then a second Yellow card will be presented, resulting in a red card.

Expulsion - If a player receives a red card, then they are expelled from the game without substitution. Several actions will receive a foul call.

Players must not:

  • Kick an opponent on purpose
  • Trip another player Jump into the opposition intentionally
  • Charge, hold, push or tackle from behind
  • Touch the ball with your hands

A yellow card will be given to a player who makes these fouls on purpose or repeatedly. Plus, if a player shows unsportsmanlike behavior, argues with officials, or delays the game. A player can also be penalized for leaving the pitch without the referee's knowledge.

Red cards are for severe violations, after receiving a red car players will have to leave play. Other than receiving one after two yellow cards, players can get an automatic red card. Being violent, using their hands to stop a goal, using hateful language, and obscene gestures are all red card offenses.


Players of any professional sport are a direct representation of their league. They, therefore, must dress professionally, and all kits must be league-approved. MLS players can not wear any jewelry, extra padding, or any other item that may cause themselves or other harm during play.

Each player is equipped with three uniforms of different colors. One for home games, another for away games, and reserve uniforms in case their colors clash with the home teams.

A soccer players kit consists of:

  • Shorts
  • Shirt
  • Socks
  • Shinpads
  • Soccer boots/cleats  
  • Gloves (Goalkeeper only)

One of the most strict laws of the game revolves around the ball. It states that the ball's circumference cannot be less than 27 or greater than 28. The ball also must be made of leather and weigh between 14oz and 16oz.

Referee and Procedures

The referee is one of the most authoritative officials on the field. They have the final decision about everything that goes on. They call the fouls, give out the cards, oversee free kicks, and control the time. They are also responsible for checking the ball and players' equipment before kick-off.

There are also two assistant referees present on the field on the waiter side. Their role is to call offsides, throw-ins, and fouls. They communicate with the main referee using flags and can be seen aiding his decisions.

Player Trading Rules

Soccer is renowned for having the most complex and intricate player trading and signup rules. There are a vast amount of contract types that players can be signed. There are two main trading points:

  • Primary Transfer Window - Players can be traded in the window prior to the season beginning. The window will close during the first third of the season.
  • Secondary Transfer Window - The second window begins during the last third of the season and runs until the end of the season.

Recent Changes in Rules

The 2020 season saw a selection of rule changes to MLS. These changes were aimed at tightening the fairness of the game. MLS rules will undoubtedly change in the future to keep up with the game's and industry's directions.

The first noteworthy change is how players leave the field. A player now must leave the field wherever is closest. By implementing this time can be saved, waiting for them to level the pitch.

Another significant change to the rules surrounded the free kick wall. If the defense builds a wall of 3+ players, the offense must distance themselves at least one yard away.

It has also been ruled that the use of a virtual offside line will not be used. There has been a lot of controversy about its accuracy, which MLS plans to avoid.

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30 June 2020


What is the biggest win ever in MLS gambling?

There is no record of the biggest win in MLS gambling, but we’re sure there have been some lucrative ones. Especially since there have been huge upsets like the Seattle Sounders wiping the floor with LAFC. If anyone had bet a fair sum on the underdogs at odds of +550, they would have scored a pretty penny.

What was the biggest upset in MLS history?

The Seattle Sounders were doomed to fail according to the bookies, who in 2019 had them at odds of 6-to-1 underdogs. Los Angeles FC was sitting with a calculated 81% to win. In the end, the numbers meant nothing. LAFC toppled as the Sounders pulled off the biggest upset in MLS history, at least by the betting line with a 3-1 win.

Can I bet on MLS in New Jersey?

Yes, sports betting is now legal in New Jersey for online and offline wagers. The one requirement is you must be located within the state and be over 21 to place a bet.

How does MLS work?

The league comprises 26 teams. Twenty-three teams come from the USA and three from Canada. It's divided into the Western and Eastern conferences, with sides allocated into these based on location. There are 13 teams in each conference for the 2020 season.

The top seven sides for each conference qualify to go to the MLS playoffs. Here the team will compete in the knockout format. The four teams remaining in each conference will then face off until the winner of each final proceeds to the December MLS Cup Final. At the final, the Western Conference side will always play against a Western Conference team.

Who is the best team in the MLS?

Currently, in the top spot of the MLS ranking are the Seattle Sounders, followed by LAFC, who was ranked first in the last season.

Can I bet on MLS on mobile?

MLS is one of the many soccer leagues worldwide that you can bet on via mobile devices. You can use your tablet or smartphone, and place bets via sports betting apps or a mobile version of your preferred sportsbook's website.

What are the betting lines in soccer?

It shows which team is the favorites for a particular match by displaying a minus sign before the price expressed in decimal odds. The underdogs have a plus sign next to their odds.

What are the most popular MLS bets?

There are many popular markets for MLS bets. The ones most used include outright match and competition betting, various goalscorer markets, handicap betting, correct goals in the games, and over/under for total goals.

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