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Major League Soccer looks to 28-team future, announce schedule changes

The MLS Board of Governors met today and made some significant changes to the future of MLS.

Times are a'changin
Times are a'changin
Jason Mowry-USA TODAY Sports

At the annual MLS Board of Governors meeting, league owners announced their support of continued massive expansion to bring Major League Soccer's field to at least 28 teams. This comes after a previous pledge to expand to 24 teams by the year 2020, which looks to be ahead of schedule with the imminent arrival of Atlanta United, Los Angeles FC, Minnesota and Miami.

League expansion has long been a hot topic, as nine of the top eleven teams in 2015 average attendance joined MLS after the inaugural 1996 season. The ten original clubs (those which still exist, at least) have at times struggled to stay relevant in the face of overwhelming success in Canada, Cascadia, and other places across the continent. Markets like Sacramento, San Antonio, St. Louis and Detroit will be front-runners for these expansion slots as all have met with MLS officials within the past year.

The announcement likely won't sit well with FIFA. Soccer's embattled governing body has long recommended a 18-team top tier and/or a 38-game limit.

The BoG also announced other changes to the 2016 season and beyond. Most immediate is a league-wide two week break in June during the Copa America Centenario, which will be played in America for the first time this year. Players who are chosen for the MLS All-Star game this year will need to play, or risk missing their next MLS match. (Hopefully this means the league will give them adequate rest afterwards.)

Referees will have more discretion to call for water breaks, as the mandatory threshold for such stoppages of play has been lowered to 82 WBGT (from the previous level of 89.6.) Additionally, all games which end before the completion of the full match will be rescheduled. Previously, a match which was abandoned after the 75th minute would stand as the official record.

Fans of this year's "Decision Day" will be delighted to hear that all matches in the final week will be played on the same day at the same time in 2016, giving the local broadcasters a headache to post up-to-the-minute standings as goals are scored.

Finally, video replay and targeted allocation tweaks were discussed but didn't include anything concrete for next season, yet. An announcement regarding TAM could come in the near future.

Full release follows;

MLS Owners Support Future Expansion to 28 Clubs;

MLS Backs Miami Beckham United Stadium Location;

Competition and Scheduling Initiatives Unveiled 

COLUMBUS, OHIO (Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015) - Major League Soccer's Board of Governors met today and announced its support for future expansion to 28 clubs, with a process and timeline to be unveiled at a later date.  The League's owners also announced their support for the proposed stadium location in Miami for a future expansion team owned by David Beckham and his partners.  In addition, MLS announced six competition and scheduling updates.

MLS' current expansion plans call for 24 teams by 2020.  Atlanta, Los Angeles and Minnesota will join the league during the next three years, with Miami taking one step closer today to becoming the 24th team.  In addition, MLS has engaged in discussions with multiple markets and potential owners regarding future expansion.

"There is no shortage of demand for MLS expansion teams and we believe the opportunity exists to grow beyond our current plans," Garber added.  "We will evaluate how to grow the league to 28 teams and establish a process and timeline for future expansion."

"We are very supportive of Miami Beckham United's plans to locate their stadium in the City of Miami's Overtown neighborhood," said MLS Commissioner Don Garber.  "Their vision for a world-class venue within the urban core that is accessible by mass transportation is impressive, and we believe it will be an important part of the continued revitalization of the area.  We look forward to working with David and his partners to finalize plans to bring Major League Soccer to Miami."

An overview of additional items approved during today's meetings follow below:

Copa América Centenario Break - MLS will take a two-week break during the 2016 seasons for the Copa América Centenario tournament (June 2 - June 14).

Video Replay Update - The MLS Board of Governors was provided an update on possible real-time video review at today's meeting and will continue to evaluate a plan for the future.

Decision Day Matches at Same Time - All matches during the final weekend of the 2016 regular season will be played on the same day and in the same time slot.  

New Policy for All-Star Players Unable to Compete in Game - If a player is unable to play in the AT&T MLS All-Star Game, that player will be prohibited from playing in his next MLS match.  In the event a player is declared medically fit for his match immediately following the All-Star Game, he will be precluded from playing in such match, but will receive "credit" for playing in such match for bonuses and option triggers.

New Match Postponement Policy - In the event a match is abandoned at any point prior to its conclusion, it will be postponed, rather than cancelled and/or final. In the event the game is abandoned at any point, any remaining time will be completed the following day or as soon as practical.  NOTE:  MLS' previous policy stated that in the event a match was abandoned in or after the 76th minute (i.e. 75:00 on the official game clock), the result and all statistics will stand. 

Hydration Breaks at Lower Threshold - The mandatory threshold for hydration breaks (aka "cooling breaks") in 2016 will be 82 Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT).  The previous WBGT index was at the threshold of 89.6.  NOTE:  At 82 WBGT, hydration breaks would have occurred in 12 MLS matches during the 2015 season, 10 more than what occurred at 89.6 WGBT.

In addition, Major League Soccer's owners discussed further investment in club rosters, including utilizing Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) for the 2016 season and beyond.  More details regarding TAM will be announced in the near future.

Major League Soccer's 20th championship match, MLS Cup, takes place Sunday, Dec. 6 when Columbus Crew SC host the Portland Timbers at 4 pm ET.  MLS Cup will be televised on ESPN, UniMás, TSN, RDS2 and in more than 140 countries and territories

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