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How to Manage in MLS | FM20 Guide

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Want to take an adventure to the states on Football Manager 2020? Not sure how to manage in the MLS? Fear not, here in this Football Manager 2020 guide, we will show you how to manage in the MLS. You’ll be a natural in no time at all!


The MLS have followed other American sports in acquiring players – starts with the drafts.

There are three types of drafts in the Major League Soccer – two will happen every year – and one will only happen when a new team joins the league.

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 can be selected by other MLS teams for free. Teams cannot pick players whose option they just declined. This draft happens every year.

Expansion Draft

The MLS Expansion Draft only happens when an expansion team joins the league. Existing teams can protect 11 players from being picked, and only one player can be claimed from each roster, the expansion has five picks. This will appear in game when Inter Miami join ahead of the 2020 season.

MLS Trading

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 250k GAM and Matt Lampson, and both teams agree, then Team B will receive 250k GAM 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.

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

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

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, they will take an international slot.


US Soccer has a number of different competitions – here they are:

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. Inter Miami join the Eastern Conference in the 2020 season.

The East

The West

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 seven teams from both the East and West qualify for the Play Offs. Each conference winner automatically qualify for the Semi-Finals and then the knockout begins! Seventh plays second, sixth plays firth whilst fourth plays third.

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.

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) and Brimstone Cup (Dallas v Chicago),

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 2019 MLS season on Football Manager 2020, each team has a salary cap of $82,000 p/w

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!

Remember to use GAM to decrease the cap impact

The Teams

Eastern Conference

  • Atlanta United
  • Chicago Fire
  • Columbus Crew
  • D.C. United
  • Montreal Impact
  • RBNY
  • New York City FC
  • New England Revolution
  • Toronto FC
  • Orlando City
  • Philadelphia Union
  • Inter Miami (from 2020)

Western Conference

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

That’s all you need to know for managing in the MLS in Football Manager 2020. Let us know what team you chose to take on your adventure in the states.


Written by Luke Hume

Luke is the Assistant Manager at Dictate The Game, and he has been a trusted part of the team since joining in August 2016.


Leave a Reply
  1. I’m using Atlanta United. I’d really like to qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League (or NACL, as FM calls it). Thanks for the rules refresher! I’m an American who follows MLS and all the roster restrictions still confuse the hell out of me, sometimes.

  2. Thanks for the note/screenshot on how to buy down the salary cap impact! Thought I had completely mucked up my roster registration until I read through this!

  3. Thanks for the explanation. I’ve heard once you get your head around the salary caps and drafts then the MLS is good fun. Got my son to pick a team randomly and so I’m off for an adventure at Houston Dynamo in the Western Conference.

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