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MLS announces 2022 schedule, format changes

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Earlier start, earlier finish and fewer midweek games.

SOCCER: MAY 23 MLS - Atlanta United FC at Seattle Sounders FC Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the 2022 World Cup scheduled for November, Major League Soccer was going to have to make some changes to its schedule to ensure that its season ends in time for players to be released to their national teams. The league made those changes official on Friday, announcing a February start to the 2022 season, and a November finish.

The MLS regular season will start Saturday, Feb. 26, culminating with the now-annual Decision Day on Sunday, October 9. From there, it’s a mad dash to MLS Cup with three consecutive weeks of playoff action with the championship set for Saturday, Nov. 5.

That gives players nine days of rest before the FIFA-mandated player release date (Nov. 14). The start of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar is Nov. 21. It’s entirely possible that some players will go directly from MLS Cup to their national teams training camps.

MLS also confirmed that Charlotte FC, set to begin play as the league’s 28th team, will compete in the Eastern Conference. Nashville SC will move to the Western Conference, balancing the two conferences at 14 teams each. St. Louis City is set to join the league in 2023. At some point in the next few months, MLS is expected to announce a 30th team.

Each team will play the usual 34-game regular season (17 home games, 17 away games), and expanded inter-conference matchups return. Each team will face their conference opponents two times and play eight non-conference opponents once.

Of note, MLS intends to limit mid-week matches. Each team will be limited to no more than five midweek league matches, although additional midweek dates could be added for non-league competitions. MLS hopes to schedule those midweek games between May and August and those match dates for each team will not be scheduled in consecutive weeks. The Sounders, for instance, played eight midweek league matches in 2021 and had three more midweek Leagues Cup games.

MLS also formally announced they will seek to avoid scheduling matches during the FIFA international windows in March, June or September. Only at a team’s request will MLS consider scheduling a match during the March window, or during the second weekend of the June double window, according to a release from the league. Teams may not request to play matches during the September window. Those mandates should prevent roster issues from affecting competitive balance and quality of play, particularly at the end of the season. The league has long attempted to avoid playing during international breaks but has never formalized those practices until now.