New competition rules and guidelines set to be implemented for first time this season

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ATLANTA - This offseason, Major League Soccer’s Board of Governors approved several changes for the 2024 season, primarily targeting on the field treatment and care for injured players. Aiming to eliminate delays in providing care and cutting down on potential time-wasting, the league moved to institute policies that would disincentivize injury stoppages should they not be needed.

The implementations of the new rules and guidelines was delayed due to the then ongoing labor despite between MLS, PRO and the PSRA, but with a CBA agreed to in recent weeks, the newest rules are set to be implemented tonight during FC Cincinnati’s matchup with Atlanta United FC and across all of MLS matches for the rest of the season.

The new “OTR” (Off-Field Treatment Rule) as well as how VAR decisions are communicated to fans will see the match viewing and management experience slightly different.

Let's look at how these rules might impact MLS matches this season:

On field, two significant changes, previously tested in MLS NEXT Pro, aim to enhance the game. Firstly, a new rule addresses players remaining on the ground after a suspected injury. If a player stays down for more than 15 seconds, the medical staff will intervene, and once safe, the player must leave the field for at least two minutes. This rule seeks to discourage players from feigning injuries to stop play or run down the clock. Exceptions exist for potential head injuries, goalkeeper injuries, serious medical events, and injuries suffered during fouls resulting in yellow or red cards. If players from opposing teams suffer head injuries that require off-field treatment and are cleared to return, they will re-enter the game simultaneously after completing evaluations.

The second on-field rule change aims to streamline substitution and the time taken away from the game to bring on a new player. Players being substituted out must leave the playing field within 10 seconds and failure to do so would result in the entering player waiting 60 seconds before coming on, leaving the team playing with a disadvantage in the meantime. The vast majority of substitutions in MLS NEXT Pro took 10 seconds or less, with exceptions being made for subs due to injury or goalkeeper if needed.

The timing and management of the substitutions and any possible violations of the new rules will be left to the discretion and enforcement of the on-field referee. While referees are empowered to give yellow cards for slow exits that eclipse the 10 second time, they are not required to do so as they have discretion of the “start” of the substitution timer. Additionally, a referee can still provide a yellow card for delay of game in all related instances in the way they always have been able to pursuant to the “Laws of the Game.”

Changes to enhance the fan experience also include VAR decisions to be announced by the referee to fans in the stadium and television viewers. Another new rule voted on in the offseason as part of this package, but was already implemented earlier this season. Stadium clocks will now continue running during stoppage time in each half, eliminating the need for all observers to track stoppage time themselves.

For a full breakdown of the new game management rules and implementation, click here to see the full competition guidelines for the 2024 season from