Football Manager MLS Guide: Rules, Regulations, Trades & Drafts Explained

Want to take an adventure to the states on Football Manager? Here's a beginner's guide to Major League Soccer.

European Players, Staff Members and Fans are becoming more and more interested in the MLS. However, terms like Salay Cap, Trade, Designated Player or Draft are mostly unknown to them.

If you are planning to start an MLS save on Football Manager without knowing too much about how the MLS works, you came to the right place.

Getting Started

If you have no clue about how the MLS operates, you will easily get confused by the rules and regulations. But don’t worry, learning the MLS way is like learning a board game (Monopoly). You pretty much have to know the basics and get on with it, then learn the rest whilst playing.

I would advise you to start a new MLS save to be able to confront the things you see here with what’s shown in the game.

Here are some of the things you want to learn first:

  • The club doesn’t pay for the salaries within the Salary Cap ($4,9m p/a,) the league (MLS) does;
  • You won’t have a transfer budget like in the other leagues, but you do have an Allocation Fund which is similar;
  • The transfers within the MLS work differently (Trade);
  • Transfers that involve a non-MLS club work the same way European transfers do, however, whenever you sell a player to a non-MLS club you will have to pay 33% of the transfer value as a commission to the MLS, or just 25% if the player had Home-Grown status;
  • You can sign a maximum of 6 players from outside the MLS (or drafts) per season (Discovery Signings).
  • There’s no promotion and no relegation, but 4 teams will qualify for the North American Champions League.

MLS Competition Format


Stage 1. Regular Season

A total of 20 teams are split into two different conferences (West and East). Each of the 20 MLS clubs will play 34 games, 17 at home and 17 away, according to the following rules:

  1. Clubs will play each team in the opposing conference once for 5 home and 5 away matches
  2. Clubs will play each of their nine conference opponents at least twice, home & away
  3. Clubs will play six additional intra-conference games – 3 home and 3 away

The MLS Supporters’ Shield is just an overall table, which displays the teams from the Western and Eastern Conferences into a single table, sorting them by their number of points.

By winning the Supporter’s Shield a club will get allocation funds, a spot in the NACL (CONCACAF) and a spot in the MLS Cup – Conference Playoffs.

Stage 2. MLS Conference Playoffs

Twelve teams, the top six from each conference at the end of the regular (MLS) season, qualify for the MLS Conference Playoffs.

The top two teams from each conference qualify directly for the Semi-Finals. Teams who finished 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th will play off against each other (Wild Card) and then join the other teams in the Semi-Finals.

Stage 3. MLS Cup

The winners from each Conference Playoff will face each other in a one-leg final, called MLS Cup. This is the last stage and the last match of the MLS. The winner is awarded a berth in the following year’s CONCACAF Champions League.

US Cup / Canadian Championship & Cascadia Cup

The US Cup has the same format as the English FA Cup, where teams from all the American leagues face each other in a knockout competition.

MLS sides Montreal Impact, Toronto FC, Vancouver Whitecaps FC and NASL sides Ottawa Fury FC and FC Edmonton will compete in the Canadian Championship rather than the US Cup – and the winner of this competition will be awarded the Voyageurs Cup and a CONCACAF Champions League slot.

Cascadia Cup is nothing more than a view (technically speaking), showing a table where you and your rival clubs are monitored when played against each other.

Squad Registration Rules

The bolded words represent the types of contracts players can be on. The only type missing from the bellow list is the Senior type. Continue reading to find more details.

  • Every MLS team can register a maximum of 28 players;
  • Maximum 8 International (Foreign) Players (these spots are tradable, such that some clubs may have more than eight and some clubs may have less than eight);
  • Maximum 3 Designated Players (two slots are given by default, and the third can be bought)
  • Maximum 8 Off-Budget Players (on Senior Minimum Salary or Generation Adidas contracts, and Home-Grown players on the duration of their first contract);
  • Maximum of 6 Reserve Players;
  • And of course, the Maximum Squad Salary is $4,900,000 per annum by default (can be altered);

Salary Cap & Contract Types

Only some of the players’ wages are being taken into consideration towards the cap, staff members (and some players’ contracts) do not count against the club’s salary budget. Find the details for each contract type below:

Contract TypeMax. SalarySalary Cap Impact
Designated Playerno maxpart of the salary counts
Senior$612,500 p/a100% of the salary counts
Senior Minimum Salary$81,375 p/adoes not count
Reserve$63,547 p/adoes not count
Generation Adidasno maxdoes not count

The Salary Cap can be increased (per season) by trading Allocation Funds. It can be done the same way you would adjust the budgets of a European club, transferring money from the Wage Budget to the Transfer Budget. In this case, you will have to transfer from the Allocation Funds to the Salary Cap.

Designated Player

Each team is given 2 Designated Player spots by default. However, clubs can pay (using Allocation Funds) a $150,000 “luxury tax” for the right to sign a third Designated Player. This $150,000 would be distributed equally to all MLS teams that have not signed a third Designated Player in the form of allocation money.

For each Designated Player over the age of 23, $612,500 of his salary is charged to the salary cap and paid by the league, with any remaining salary being paid by the team’s owner. This amount is halved for Designated Players signed in the middle of the season.

Designated Players 21–23 years old count as $200,000 against the club’s salary budget.

Designated Players 20 years old or younger count as $150,000 against the club’s salary budget.

The budget charge for the midseason signing of a young Designated Player (23 years old and younger) is $150,000 and this amount cannot be lowered with allocation funds.

Clubs will not have to buy the third DP roster slot to accommodate Designated Players 23 years old and younger.

The salary cap value of Designated Players can also be reduced using Allocation Funds.

Finally, teams whose Designated Players transfer abroad in the middle of a season can recoup part of the Designated Players’ salary cap value.

Allocation Funds


Consider Allocation Funds as a transfer budget. You can use this money to either trade/transfer players or to increase your Salary Cap for one season (in the Board page).

These funds are awarded yearly according to your competition performance, and can also be used to pay transfer fees, loan fees, agents or signing on fees.

But prize money is not the only way you can acquire them; you can increase your funds by selling players outside the MLS (the league will charge a commission between 33%-25%) or by performing internal trades.


MLS clubs can trade the bellow 4 things in any possible combination:

  • Players (that are currently at the club, in either of their squads)
  • Player Rights (waived players or unattached former players that were last owned by the respective club before leaving the MLS)
  • Draft Allocation (Superdraft Picks, between 1st and 4th pick for one or more of the next few years)
  • International Slots (per year/s or permanently)

Internal MLS player transfers can only be performed by trading.



There are three types of drafts in the MLS, so let’s have a look at what each represents:

The Superdraft is definitely the most important one. In-game you will have it for the first time after the first season ends. It usually takes place in January, where teams can pick players from the regen pool, and from the unattached USA players.

Players on Generation Adidas contracts can only spawn here. The draft picks order is decided according to the previous season’s inverted league standings (the last team gets to pick first).

The Waiver Draft is used for players that clubs have released (waived), usually because they were unable to sell or trade them. You can basically waive players at any given point in time, just by excluding them from the registration list.

However, excluding them between some dates will cut all or part of their Salary Cap Impact. You will get notifications about these dates in your Inbox.

The Re-Entry Draft takes place just after the middle of December. In this one, you will only find players that have just been released after the end of the season.


I hope that you started to understand how the MLS works.

If you want to find more information about the MLS Rules and Regulations, please visit: 

Don’t be afraid to start a new save and make mistakes. You can’t learn if you don’t practise! And then again, you can always start a new save after you get the hang of it!

If you wish to continue learning a thing or two about the subject, consider reading this post: 10 Tips For Starting an MLS Save on Football Manager

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  1. I really want to give the MLS a go, I’ve read all your guide TWICE and I’m still confused oh well I guess I’ll just have to give it a try and figure it out as I go along. Such a confusing set of rules they have haha.

  2. Nice guide! Great job! I have a question I was just awarded 15m for qualifying for FIFA Champions League (custom file) but my allocation funds are only 13,718 and my overall balance is 12.4m. Why is my allocation funds so low??

    • Happy you liked it mate! Thanks.
      I believe you can only receive Allocation Funds from the competitions organised by the MLS…

  3. Just a quick thing, you mention the Cascadia Cup as “nothing more than a view, showing a table where you and your rival clubs are monitored when played against each other.” (you must have been either Seattle, Portland or Vancouver in your save then). Whilst for non-Americans this might be true and easily confused with the ‘Past Meetings’ tab, MLS rivalry cups are actually quite important, especially for the fans.
    The Cascadia Cup is the only one with 3 teams in it (SEA, POR or VAN), but there are plenty of others. The Atlantic Cup (NYRB & DC), California Clasico (LAG & SJE), Texas Derby (DAL & HOU), etc.
    So whilst the board will often not consider it especially important, and it doesn’t provide any extra qualification spots or allocation funds, it is more than just a view.
    Other than that, it might be worth mentioning alongside the US Open Cup the Canadian Championship as Canadian MLS teams (VAN, TOR, MON) take part in that rather than the US Open Cup (alongside Edmonton and Ottawa).
    Good guide though, explains the complicated transfer system well – but I won’t get into my personal views on the system..

  4. I keep trying to buy young talent from other countries, but the bids are rejected as soon as the other team agrees. I’ve no idea why. There’s salary cap room, space in the squad, reserve room, and international spots. I’m bewildered, but my DoF keeps trying to foist useless Mexicans on me. I’m getting annoyed.

    • It’s all about reputation in that case. You can load up more players when starting a new save, especially those from nations that are more likely to migrate to your league.

      MLS on Football Manager is quite of a challenge tbh, so you need to be careful with every deal you approve.

  5. Great guide – I just jumped ship from A-League to MLS (Australia also has a salary cap with youth incentives and set max squad size) but I found it completely overwhelming with Senior contracts, minimums, partial cap inclusions and being unable to shift in youth players at first glance.

    • Happy you like it!

      It’s quite difficult to do much really, you must rely on your youth system (upgrade facilities if possible) and just hunt for good cheap options from low-rated nations…

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