MLS Revolution: Game-Changing Rules Set to Redefine Soccer

Amid persistent criticism branding Major League Soccer (MLS) as a second-rate league, its organizers have shaken up the football world with the unveiling of three groundbreaking rules ahead of the next matches.
In this photo illustration, Major League Soccer (MLS) logo...
In this photo illustration, Major League Soccer (MLS) logo... / SOPA Images/GettyImages

In the face of ongoing critiques labeling Major League Soccer (MLS) as a lower-tier league, its organizers have made a bold move in the football world by announcing the introduction of three new rules starting from the upcoming fixtures.

Effective Saturday, April 20th, MLS will enforce the Off-Field Treatment rule, Timed Substitutions, and become the world's pioneering football league to implement "VAR announcements in stadiums," akin to practices in the NFL, NHL, and NBA.

Off-Field Treatment Rule

This rule primarily aims to provide ample time for each team's medical staff to tend to players sustaining injuries during matches. It will be triggered when a player remains on the ground for more than 15 seconds. The referee will halt the game, allowing medical personnel onto the field to attend to the injured player. Once deemed safe, the player must exit the field and stay off for a minimum of 2 minutes to receive treatment.

This rule isn't a league experiment; it was first trialed in MLS NEXT Pro in mid-2022 and continued throughout the 2023 season. It has allowed medical staff to properly treat players, ensuring matches resume swiftly. Exceptions to the Off-Field Treatment rule include potential head injuries, goalkeeper injuries, serious medical events, and fouls resulting in yellow or red cards.

Timed Substitutions Rule

This rule seeks to maximize effective playtime by mandating that substituted players exit the field within a maximum of 10 seconds. Failure to comply means the incoming player must wait an additional 60 seconds before entering the game at the next stoppage. This essentially puts the team down a player for a minute if the rule is violated. Exceptions to this rule include injuries and goalkeeper substitutions. This regulation, also first implemented in the MLS NEXT Pro in the 2023 season, saw over 99.7% of more than 3,200 substitutions completed in 10 seconds or less.

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VAR Announcements

Decisions made by the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) will now be explained and announced by the referee to fans in the stadium and viewers at home. These new rule implementations were initially announced during the preseason for the 2024 MLS season but were postponed due to labor negotiations between the Professional Referees Organization (PRO) and the Professional Soccer Referees Association (PRSA).

Other initiatives, including the Fair Play Restart Protocol and stoppage time clock, came into effect at the start of the 2024 MLS regular season. With these changes, MLS is positioning itself at the forefront of innovation in professional football.