How to Manage in the MLS: An FM Guide


The MLS is very different to football back here in the UK, but that doesn’t mean the MLS is a bad save, far from it. In fact, I enjoy managing in MLS more than in England whilst playing Football Manager

In this guide, I am going to run through how to manage in MLS. From the drafts to trades to GAM and TAM.


There are three types of drafts in the MLS – although the third draft only happens semi-regularly on Football Manager and in real life. I am going to run through the three different types of drafts below:

MLS Superdraft

The MLS Superdraft is arguably the most important draft of all three, the MLS Superdraft drafts college graduates to MLS teams – there are four rounds, teams can pass at any time, but this means that you will no longer be able to pick in any rounds. This draft happens every year.

MLS Re-Entry Draft

The MLS Re-Entry is where players, whose contract has run out (and in real life, their option is declined by the franchise, but this doesn’t happen in game), can be selected by other MLS teams for free. Teams cannot pick players whose option they just declined. This draft happens every year.

MLS Expansion Draft

The MLS Expansion Draft only happens when an expansion team joins the league – the most recent draft happened this year when LAFC joined the league, this draft only happens for the first season in this year’s game and will not appear again. Existing teams can protect 11 players from being picked, and only one player can be claimed from each roster, the expansion has five picks.


Trades are transfers between teams in the league. For example, if Team A want to sign Dax McCarty from Team B, and Team A offer an international slot and David Rooney, and both teams agree, then Team B will receive an international slot and David Rooney. Assets that can be used in negotiations are:

  • General Allocation Money – GAM can be used to reduce the cost of a Senior player’s cap impact, sign new players, trade to other teams or offer new contracts.
  • Targeted Allocation Money – TAM can be used to trade to other teams, convert a DP to a non-DP contract or sign new homegrown players.
  • Current Roster – You can offer players in your current roster as part of the deal
  • International Slots – Each team has 8 slots, it is possible to trade a slot for anything from one to five years, or even permanently. Be careful though, if you go over 8 foreign players and can’t register them, they get released!
  • Player Rights – Players that are sold out of MLS – and not traded – remain the right of the last MLS club they played for before they left MLS. Rights can last until when their contract would have expired, or permanently.
  • Draft Picks – You can offer future draft picks in trades.2018-05-08 (9)

Contract Types

Senior Player – A everyday contract – their salary counts toward the cap – examples of Senior players are Dax McCarty (Chicago), Tim Parker (RBNY), Perry Kitchen (LA Galaxy). The minimum salary p/a for a Senior Player is $62,500

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Generation Adidas – GAs are younger players who don’t count towards the cap, they are home-grown players and are sourced from the local area. They may skip college and come straight to MLS. Examples of generation adidas’ are Mo Adams (Chicago), Joao Moutinho (LAFC) and Gordon Wild (Atlanta).

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Designated Players – DPs are commonly big-name players, who don’t count towards the cap. Examples of DPs currently in MLS are Gio Dos Santos (LA Galaxy), Bradley Wright Phillips (RBNY) and Michael Bradley (Toronto). You can have up to 3 DPs.

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International – Players who do not hold a green card and are an international player – you can have a maximum of 8 internationals in the roster. If they don’t hold a US Green Card, and they will take an international slot, a green circle will appear by the name with “Int”.


US Soccer has a number of different competitions – and I am going to run through them all now.

MLS Supporters’ Shield / Regular Season

The regular season runs from March to October, yes, the MLS is a summer sport. After the regular season ends, MLS Cup Play Offs begin.

To start off with, there are two mini-leagues within one league – the Eastern and Western Conferences. Teams play 34 games throughout the season (17 home, 17 road) and they will play each team in the same conference twice, and teams in the other at least once. There are then also three other match ups with two different conference sides.

Points are tallied up (normal rules apply, 3 points for a win, a point for a tie/draw and zero for a loss) and whoever has the most wins the Supporters Shield, the trophy bestowed to the team with the best regular season record.


Whilst the Supporters Shield is a trophy and all, it does not determine the league winner. Instead, like other American sports such as NBA and NFL the MLS use play offs to determine the league winner.

The top six teams from both the East and West qualify for the Play Offs –  the top two from each conference automatically qualify for the Semi-Finals and then the knockout begins! To start with, the third-seed play the sixth seed, whilst the fourth plays the fifth, in a single match to determine who will advance to the Conference Semi-Finals. After this, the four teams remaining from each conference play it out to get to the Conference Final – the final barrier before reaching MLS Cup. The conference Semi Finals and Finals are two-legged ties.

The winners of the East and West then advance to MLS Cup Final, which is a single match hosted by the club with the better record during the regular season, the winner of that match is the champion of MLS.

Winning the MLS Cup will also qualify you for the North American Champions League.



Lamar Hunt US Open Cup

The US Open Cup is one of the few competitions in USA not to be run by MLS, but instead by US Soccer. Teams based in America can take part in the cup, any teams in Canada cannot, instead they take part in the Canadian Championship.
MLS teams join the cup in round four, the rest of the US soccer structure begin in round one.

Winning the US Open Cup will also qualify you for the North American Champions League.

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The US Open Cup

Canadian Championship

The Canadian Championship is contested by six teams based in Canada, and the teams in MLS that take part are Montreal Impact, Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps. Winning the championship will qualify you for the North American Champions League.

Rivalry Cups

The MLS also awards rivalry cups when teams wins series over their rivals for example, Atlantic Cup (New York Red Bulls v DC United), Brimstone Cup (Dallas v Chicago), Hudson River Derby (New York Red Bulls v NYCFC).

The board do not rate these as important as they bring no prestige to the club and, are just there to deepen the rivalry between the teams.

Submitting Your Roster


The roster selection screen. Teams can only have 3 DPs, 8 or 9 internationals (depends on the number of International Slots you have), 10 Off Budget and 6 reserves

Just like the English Premier League, the MLS has a roster and each season you have to submit your roster. Your roster can be as little as 15 players (I wouldn’t recommend it though…) but can’t have more than 30 players. All 30 of these players can be called up and used in your matchday squad throughout your MLS season. For the 2017 MLS season on Football Manager 2018, each team has a salary cap of $3,845,000 per annum. Unlike most leagues who work out their players wages weekly, the MLS does it yearly.

The cap only applies to “on budget” players, these are players on Senior contracts, so up to twenty players. The maximum wage that can be paid to an individual player without using allocation money to buy down their contract is $480,635 p/a.

The cap doesn’t apply to off budget players, these are players who will be on either Senior Minimum Salary or Reserve contracts. Players on SMS contract must earn at $65,000 p/a, whilst Reserves must earn at least $53,000 p/a.

The roster must also only have 8 international players (unless you have more international slots), a maximum of 3 DPs, a max of 10 off budget players, no more than 6 reserves and a maximum on 4 non-homegrown reserves.

Also, don’t forget you can use GAM (General Allocation Money) to buy down the cost of the cap impact for your players!

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Don’t forget you can adjust the impact of the player using your GAM, but use it wisely!

The Teams

The following teams from Major League Soccer are on Football Manager 2018:

Eastern Conference:

  • Atlanta United
  • Chicago Fire
  • Columbus Crew
  • D.C. United
  • Montreal Impact
  • New York Red Bulls
  • New York City FC
  • New England Revolution
  • Toronto FC
  • Orlando City
  • Philadelphia Union

Western Conference:

  • Colorado Rapids
  • FC Dallas
  • Houston Dynamo
  • LA Galaxy
  • LAFC (2018 onwards)
  • Minnesota United
  • Real Salt Lake
  • Sporting Kansas City
  • Portland
  • San Jose Earthquakes
  • Seattle Sounders
  • Vancouver Whitecaps

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14 thoughts on “How to Manage in the MLS: An FM Guide

    • dtgluke says:

      Really? Jeez, that surprises me! On my FM save (with a updated database) he was a DP. Thanks though I will change that now.


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