MLS 101 – A Guide To Our New League


The regular season is here.

On Saturday night, FC Cincinnati will play its inaugural MLS game at Seattle Sounders FC.

Since the club’s USL team was established in August 2015, the goal was always to become an MLS expansion franchise. That came true last May. The first game awaits.

With the jump to MLS from the USL, there are new rules and things to watch for. There are some similarities, too.

To help, here’s a guide to MLS. This is the first installment to help FCC fans get ready for what lays ahead.

With each edition this week, they’ll take on more advanced topics – kind of like a college crash course on MLS.  

Basic background

MLS started in 1996 with 10 teams. In 2019, FC Cincinnati become the 24th team to play in the league.

Overall, there are 27 MLS franchises. Miami, Nashville and Austin have been awarded expansion teams. Miami and Nashville will begin play in 2020, while Austin will come into the league in 2021.

Essentially, those three clubs will go through a similar process to Cincinnati by participating in a future MLS Expansion Draft and the SuperDraft. They’ll just have a lot more time than FC Cincinnati did – who will have a total of 277 days between being awarded an MLS team and taking the field for first kick. It’s the fastest time between the two milestones in MLS’ “modern” expansion window (i.e. since 2007 and Toronto’s first season).

Conference alignment

Similar to the USL, MLS has two conferences: the Western and Eastern Conference. Both have 12 teams. The Orange and Blue play in the Eastern Conference.

Here’s a conference alignment breakdown:

Eastern Conference

Atlanta United FC

Chicago Fire

FC Cincinnati

Columbus Crew SC

D.C. United

Montreal Impact

New England Revolution

New York City FC

New York Red Bulls

Orlando City SC

Philadelphia Union

Toronto FC

Western Conference

Colorado Rapids

FC Dallas

Houston Dynamo


LA Galaxy

Minnesota United FC

Portland Timbers

Real Salt Lake

San Jose Earthquakes

Seattle Sounders FC

Sporting Kansas City

Vancouver Whitecaps FC

Schedule length

Also similar to USL, MLS has a 34-game regular season.

FC Cincinnati will play every team in the league this season. The club will play every Eastern Conference team twice: once home and once away. Matches against the Western Conference alternate, meaning some will be at home, while others are on the road.

FCC have 17 games at Nippert Stadium. The remaining 17 are on the road.