Normally, American sports are often related to disciplines such as baseball, basketball or American football because their respective leagues (MLB, NBA and NFL) are the most important worldwide. As you can see, we do not mention football (soccer) because its league, the Major League Soccer (MLS), is behind those mentioned above in terms of popularity in the country, even going as far as having the ice hockey league (NHL) above them in that regard.
However, football has been gaining popularity over the years thanks to different measures that have been taken and this has favored the MLS which, it should be remembered, is much younger compared to the rest of the main American sports leagues since it is barely 27 years old. For those who know European or South American football, you can find in the MLS a series of characteristics that differ considerably and this because of the American sports culture itself that does not conceive some typical concepts of football such as promotion and relegation.
MLS was born as a condition of FIFA to grant the 1994 FIFA World Cup to the United States after the North American country was left without a professional football league after the disappearance of the North American Soccer League (NASL). The first edition of the MLS was in 1996 and had the participation of 10 franchises (because they are brands whose owner can sell them or move them from one city to another) of which 9 continue to be part of the league until this day although with some change of name or owner.
Following the line of the rest of the main sports leagues in the United States, the MLS does not have a system of promotions and relegations, so the same franchises are maintained from season to season. The new teams are arriving through stages of expansion and that is why the league currently has 27 franchises, 17 more than in its debut season.
For the 2021 season, the league admitted a new expansion franchise; Austin FC. Likewise, Charlotte FC is scheduled to join next season and St. Louis City SC will join in 2023. In addition, the league has already agreed that Sacramento Republic FC will reach MLS, although there is no set date yet.
Another characteristic of the US leagues that is seen in MLS is the presence of Canadian teams since 2007, the year in which Toronto FC entered the league. MLS has had a Canadian presence, reaching 3 for this season (CF Montréal and Vancouver Whitecaps FC). This is not something that is not seen in European football since there is the case of AS Monaco playing in Ligue 1 or Swansea City and Cardiff City playing in the English leagues, to name a few examples.
Unlike what happens in Europe, where the season runs from August to May, that is, two calendar years, the MLS season begins in February or March and ends in October or November, covering only one calendar year. The MLS is divided into east and west conference, which is a consequence of the long distances that must be traveled in the United States due to the size of the country.
In this particular way, each team faces each franchise in its conference twice, once at home and another as away. Additionally, they have between 4 and 6 games against teams from the opposite conference. The 7 best teams from each conference qualify for a small knockout tournament where the winner is awarded the MLS Cup, being considered the champion of the season in the US championship.
The MLS has a salary cap and that is why the league allows each franchise to have 3 players who are an exception to that rule, either because their salaries exceed the established limit or because they made a transfer fee for their acquisition. In this way, each franchise has the possibility of bringing players of greater international renown that, in addition to bringing a sporting benefit to the team itself, also serves as an additional attraction to bring more fans closer to the league.
This is how players like David Beckham, Thierry Henry or Zlatan Ibrahimovic have become part of the MLS. For the current season, the most important designated players in MLS are Venezuelan Josef Martínez (Atlanta United), recently joined Sebastián Driussi (Austin FC), Lucas Zelarayán (Columbus Crew), Gonzalo Higuaín (Inter Miami), Carlos Vela (LA FC), Nani (Orlando City), Nicolas Lodeiro (Seattle Sounders) and Yeferson Soteldo (Toronto FC).