Soccer is unique to other sports in that there are usually a couple different competitions going on at once. You have your regular season, which leads to the playoffs and then the eventual champion. On top of that, you also have the US Open Cup. This is a tournament style competition that takes place during the season. Lastly, you have the CONCACAF Champions League, which is a competition between the best teams in the region.
This article provides a quick guide to the different competitions FC Dallas could possibly be playing in at any given time as well as hopefully clears up any confusion that might come up.
The MLS season gives away two trophies every year. The first trophy is called the Supporters Shield.
The Shield is given to the team with best regular season record, based on points. In soccer, you are awarded three points for a win and one point for a tie. The team with the most points at the end of the season is crowned as the Supporters Shield winners.
FC Dallas won this trophy in 2016 with a total of 60 points. They finished 2nd in the SS standings in 2015, having the same amount of points as the winner, the New York Red Bulls, but having a lower goal differential. In almost every other league in the world, the Supporters Shield winner is crowned as the league champion; most other leagues don’t even bother with a postseason playoff system.
The second trophy that is awarded for the MLS season is MLS Cup. It is awarded to the winner of the MLS playoffs. The playoffs are set up with the two divisions in MLS each getting six teams in. In the first round, the 3rd seed plays the 6th seed and the 4th seed plays the 5th to see who advances. The game takes place at the lower seed’s stadium and the winner of the game advances on.
Once you get to the conference semi-finals and finals, the winner is determined by a two game series.
What is interesting about the two game series is that the winner of the totaled two games wins the series. For example, if a team wins the first game 3-1 but loses the second game, 1-0, they advance with a combined (aggregate) score of 3-2. Because of this system, MLS playoff games tend to be super crazy with a lot of drama.
Once two teams advance to the championship, the game is played on the team with the best record’s field. The winner of that game is awarded with MLS Cup.
Lamar Hunt US Open Cup
The US Open has been around for 104 years and consists of 80 teams. The competition includes MLS clubs, NASL clubs, USL clubs and 42 amateur clubs. The competition is a single elimination tournament that takes place over the course of the MLS season. MLS teams wait a couple rounds before entering the competition, while the smaller clubs battle it out to see who advances. Once the MLS teams have entered the competition, they usually use a somewhat reserved roster for their first match or two.
In general, MLS teams feel like they have the ability to beat some of the non MLS clubs without their stars playing. Because of that, there tend to be a few upsets during this stage.
The knockout bracket continues until there is one remaining team. That team is awarded with the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup trophy and are consider that years USOC champion. FC Dallas won the 2016 USOC championship, their first of two trophies on the season.
CONCACAF Champions League
The final competition that takes place during the MLS season is called the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL). For starters, CONCACAF, is the region in the world that the United States plays its soccer. CONCACAF consists of North and Central America, as well as the Caribbean. Now the CCL is a club competition between all the best clubs from this region of the world to determine who the top club in CONCACAF is for that year.
MLS is allotted five births into the competition (4 US teams, 1 Canadian team). Clubs win births into the CCL by winning MLS Cup, the Supporters Shield, finishing first in the conference opposite of the Supporters shield winner, and the US Open Cup champion. Now if a team wins more than win trophy during a year (like FC Dallas in 2016), meaning they won multiple births into CCL and freeing up a spot, then the top point earner who hasn’t yet been awarded a birth gets in.
Canada gets one automatic birth into the competition as well and it is settled by the five Canadian teams (3 MLS, 2 USL) The winner of that competition gets a birth into the CCL.
The CCL is a home and away knockout competition. To keep it simple, we will only discuss the part of the tournament that affects MLS clubs. Each year, starting in February, 16 teams from the region will take place in a home and away elimination series. The winner with be best accumulated (aggregate) score will advance. If there is a tie over the two legs, the first tie breaker will be away goals scored. If it’s still tied, the game will go into extra time and then eventually penalties to settle the match.
MLS has struggled in this competition over the last two decades. The last MLS winner of the competition was the LA Galaxy and that was back in 2000. Each scenario is different but the general reason for the lack of success has been when the knockout games start. By starting in February, the MLS clubs are at a disadvantage to the rest of the teams in the region since they haven’t started their season yet. Whereas everyone is in the middle of their season, MLS is still in training camps and not starting their season for another couple of weeks. That lack of form has been a huge talking point as of late, as to the reason for the lack of success. To be fair, for a while, the main reason for the lack of success just boiled down to a lack of talent on MLS rosters. That has changed over the last half decade or so and hopefully will help to have more MLS clubs challenging for the CCL crown.
As you can see, MLS and American soccer can be quite confusing. There are a handful of competitions going on at any given time and it can seem like a lot to keep up with it. The cool thing about having a number of different competitions is that if your team isn’t having a great year, they might be able to go on a USOC run and win that title, or they might just barely sneak into the playoffs but get hot at the right time. The different competitions allow for multiple teams to have successful years, meaning more fans get to celebrate their team’s, meaning we all have more fun.
If you have any questions or want more info on this let us know. We will more than happy to point you in the right direction to help you get ramped up with the in’s-and-out’s of MLS and FC Dallas.