A Guide to MLS in Football Manager 2024

Major League Soccer (MLS), North American’s leading football league, was initially formed back in 1994.

Their first season began in 1996 with a total of 10 teams. Since then, the league has continued to grow, and following the arrival of St Louis City SC, it currently boasts 29 clubs.

MLS is quite a unique league with some rules that may be unfamiliar to those who normally focus their Football Manager careers in the European leagues. Here’s a guide to help familiarise yourself with how MLS works and to give you the tools to lead your team to MLS Cup glory in FM24. 

A Guide to MLS in Football Manager 2024

LEAGUE FORMAT

The 2024 MLS season will see 29 teams compete for title glory, with 14 teams calling the Eastern Conference home. The remaining 15 teams are in the Western Conference, with all of the league’s clubs playing 34 games across the regular season. 

The top seven teams from each conference automatically qualify for the first round of the playoffs, while the eighth and ninth teams from each conference battle it out in a one-off Wild Card match to make it to the first round. Playoff matches from the first round onwards are played in a best-of-three matches format, with it all building to the MLS Cup Final in early December.

There are several other knockout competitions your team may feature in whilst managing the other side of the Atlantic, including the U.S. Open Cup, North American Champions Cup and Leagues Cup.

SQUAD BUILDING

As with all FM24 careers, building your squad is just as important as perfecting your tactics. This is particularly true in MLS.

The most important thing to bear in mind when putting your squad together is that you must comply with the league’s salary cap. For the 2024 season, this is $5.7m. By making the most of the varying contract options available to you (yes, there’s more than one…), you should be on track to stay within the cap.

RBNY Roster

There are two main parts to your roster – ‘On Budget’ applies to any contracts that count towards your salary cap and ‘Off Budget’ are contracts that that don’t. 

On-budget contract options include: 

  • Senior contracts are the standard professional contracts available in North America
  • Designated Player (DP) contracts can only be awarded to the highest-paid players in your squad
  • High-potential younger players can be signed to either Young Designated Player (YDP) or U22 Initiative Contracts – these contracts don’t impact the salary cap as much as a normal Designated Player contract

While off-budget options include:

  • Generation Adidas (GA) are contracts offered by the league themselves to the best prospects that come through the MLS SuperDraft from college, but these are entry-level contracts and cannot be renewed
  • MLS Reserve (RES) contracts are for players new to the league, and these can only be given to those under the age of 25
  • To simplify things a little bit in Football Manager, we have added another type of contract – Senior Minimum Salary (SMS). SMS are the only contract type that can be on either On/Off budget and this is determined based on the available slots
  • The final type of cap-free players are Homegrown players, who have progressed from your academy. Home-grown players who are on either Full-Time, Senior Minimum Salary, or Reserve contracts and will always be off-budget during their initial contract

You need to submit your initial roster in February just before the first game of the season. You cannot have more than 30 players and, of those, no more than 20 can be ‘Senior’ players (this includes Designated Players). The 20 ‘Senior’ players will contribute towards your Salary Cap, with the other 10 players (maximum of six Reserves plus Generation Adidas and some on Senior Minimum Salary) considered ‘off-budget’.

You can amend your roster throughout the season. The advantage of this is that if you have a player who is expected to be out for at least six regular season games, you can put them on the Disabled List. If you have any players who are going to be out of action for the rest of the season, they can be added to the Season Injury List. At the end of September, you will have to submit a final Roster list and at this point, the roster will be frozen and no further changes can be made.

The advantage of doing either of these things is freeing up a slot on the roster to sign a replacement for the injured player. However, this does not free up any cap space, so that’s something you will need to consider before signing any replacements.

Contract Types

MLS is well-known for its big-name international imports over the years, but how many can you have in your squad in FM24?

Well, each club has eight International slots by default. The slots can be traded though (more on trades later), so you can experiment with your strategy.

The rules are slightly different for MLS’ three Canadian clubs– Toronto FC, Vancouver Whitecaps, and CF Montreal. Each club has 11 International slots while they also must have a minimum of three Canadians in their squad.

Getting this balance right is essential to staying within the rules – do you want a smaller squad with a few more expensive names or a bigger squad with cheaper players that allows you to rotate and experiment more?

TRADES AND TRANSFERS

Trading in MLS is fun. If the players you are trading are of a similar level, then you may be able to trade them without any additional extras. However, it may be the case that one side of the equation needs to offer a little more to secure the trade.

In addition to players, you can also trade the following:

  • General Allocation Money (GAM)
  • Draft Allocation
  • Player Rights
  • International Slots

MLS TRade

Player rights might be a new concept to some but these can be a useful part of the trading process.

Essentially, these rights are the contractual abilities for a player to play in the league. In some instances, such as if a player leaves you on a free transfer or they came through your academy, you can hold onto their rights even when they move to another club.

Having the ability to add these to a draft proposal could make all the difference to getting what you want, and it can also set up further deals down the line.

Another thing worth considering when signing players is using your General Allocation Money (GAM) and Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) wisely. GAM can be used to reduce the impact of senior players on the salary cap. TAM can be used to bring down the impact of a designated player on the cap to the point that they will be demoted to a senior contract, and, in turn, free up a designated player slot.

DRAFTS

Drafts are a key element of all major North American sports. MLS has five different drafts across the season for you to get to grips with, but don’t worry, you don’t have to participate in all of them.

The MLS SuperDraft, which takes place in January, allows you to recruit up to four players from college or university teams. Before the draft, players eligible for the draft will face off in a showcase match allowing you to do some scouting before draft day.

The order of picks is determined by the previous season’s league standings. Designed to promote parity across the league, this means that the first pick will always go to the team who finished bottom, followed by the sides that failed to make the playoffs the previous season. After this, the teams that made the playoffs are then included in the order in which they were eliminated, with the winners of the league having the final pick.

MLS Superdraft

Existing teams get to pick up players previously discarded by other teams in the two Waiver Drafts. There is one that takes place just before the start of the season in February, which can help fill out your roster with some last-minute additions. There is also another one after the conclusion of a season, allowing you to snap up youngsters out of contract with other teams.

If a player isn’t picked up in the Waiver Draft, they can choose to enter the Re-Entry Draft. Re-Entry Draft Stage 1 selections will get an automatic contract extension upon joining your team so be wary of the wages and contract type you are selecting. In the Re-Entry Draft Stage 2, you are only acquiring the MLS rights and will need to negotiate a new contract to sign the selection, otherwise they will not join your club.

TOP TIPS TO MASTER MLS
  • Think strategically – maximise the varying contract types available to you to craft that winning squad. Handing out Reserve deals to every player won't work because you can only have a max of six, for example.
  • Keep an eye on the salary cap – if you can’t stick within your budget, you won’t be able to get very far. Use GAM to buy down contracts for players on the roster and GAM/TAM when signing new players.
  • Trade your way to success - having the ability to trade players, player rights, allocation money, and draft picks is a fantastic resource and doing it properly could make all the difference. Don’t lose players for nothing if you can’t fit them in your cap.
  • Make the most out of the drafts – they can be a great way to bolster your squad without spending a fortune. Scouting can be difficult, but make sure to assign your scouts to the showcase games and after the draft player pool and Generation Adidas selections are announced.
MANAGING IN MLS ON FM24 Console, FM24 Touch or FM24 Mobile

Given the league's complexities, MLS plays slightly differently in FM24 Console, FM24 Touch, and FM24 Mobile.

While you’ll still compete for the Supporters Shield and the ultimate goal is to lead your team to MLS Cup glory, we’ve made the following changes:

  • Contracts are just normal player contracts you’ll be used to dealing with in your other FM24 saves.
  • There’s no set wage structure, so you won’t have to worry about not meeting the salary cap.
  • Transfers between clubs in the league act just like normal transfers with trades removed from the game.
  • All drafts are removed. 
WHO TO MANAGE?

Now you know how to play in MLS, here are some ideas for where your journey stateside should begin.

Inter Miami

Florida’s newest MLS side are entering the 2024 season as league favourites and it’s no surprise considering their star-studded squad. The challenge sells itself.

Entering their fourth season in MLS, the Sunshine State team has gone from strength to strength, winning their first major trophy last season.

Can you lead their talented squad to MLS Cup?

New York Red Bulls

The Red Bulls were part of the inaugural season of MLS back in 1996, although at that time they were known as the MetroStars. Despite their long history, they’re one of the few original clubs who haven’t lifted MLS Cup yet.

They’ve got three Supporters’ Shields to their name, one of the leading stadiums in the league, and a new star player in Emil Forsberg.

Can you be the manager that finally breaks the duct and brings MLS Cup to the red side of The Big Apple?

Seattle Sounders

The Sounders have a rich history that goes back to the '70s, although the current team joined the league as an expansion team in 2009.

With two MLS Cups and four U.S. Open Cups to their name in just fifteen years, they’ve enjoyed an impressive start to MLS.

Based in the Emerald City, their roster includes Peru international, Raúl Ruidíaz, Jordan Morris, and El Salvador captain, Alex Roldan.

D.C. United

Based in the USA’s capital city, the Black and Reds dominated the early years of MLS but have struggled in more recent history following the expansion of the league.

Despite the woes of the last few years, they have an impressive trophy cabinet, including four MLS Cups, four Supporters’ Shield, three U.S. Open Cups, and even a continental title.

They’ve not made the playoffs in nearly five years – are you up to the challenge to revert this trend?

D.C United Fixtures

Whoever you decide to take over on your journey managing in MLS, be sure to let us know on our social media channels @FootballManager when you lift that MLS Cup…

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