2022 MLS NEXT Pro Competition Guidelines
MLS NEXT Pro has 21 clubs that will compete during the league’s first season in 2022.
Conference and division alignment is as follows:
- New England Revolution II
- Colorado Rapids 2
- NYCFC II
- North Texas SC
- Philadelphia Union II
- Houston Dynamo 2
- RNY FC
- Sporting KC II
- TFC II
- St Louis CITY2
- Chicago Fire II
- Real Monarchs
- FC Cincinnati 2
- Earthquakes II
- Columbus Crew 2
- Tacoma Defiance
- Inter Miami II
- Orlando City B
- Whitecaps FC 2
MLS NEXT PRO REGULAR SEASON
- Each of the 21 clubs will play 24 matches in the MLS NEXT Pro Regular Season, 12 at home and 12 away
- At the end of the regular season, eight teams will qualify for the playoffs, four from each conference: two division champions plus the next two teams with the most points
POINT SYSTEM: Clubs will receive three points for a win in regulation, at least one point for a tie and zero points for a loss. Any match which ends in a draw in normal time will go to a shootout using kicks from the penalty mark (KFPM) to determine the winner. Both teams will receive one point for the tie and the team winning the KFPM will receive an additional one point.
GAME DAY ROSTERS: Each team can select a maximum of 20 players (11 starters and nine substitutes) for its official match roster. Teams are allowed a maximum of five Normal Substitutions per game to be used over the course of three opportunities, excluding half-time, but including cooling and/or drink breaks.
Additionally, MLS NEXT Pro has implemented The IFAB Concussion Substitution Trial/Initiative. This new initiative allows teams to make up to two concussion substitutions during a match to replace players with suspected concussions, regardless of the number of normal substitutions already used.
More information on The IFAB’s Concussion Substitution Protocol B is available here.
- Both the Home Team and Visiting Team will be allowed a maximum of 19 individuals on their respective club benches (nine named substitute players, nine staff members, one club physician).
- One Certified Athletic Trainers (ATCs) must be on the bench and named to the nine-person staff on the official match roster.
- Bench personnel must adhere to mandated health and safety protocols.
- It is recommended that the Home Club have their Club Physician attend each MLS NEXT Pro match and be seated on the Home Club bench.
- All individuals seated in the bench area must be listed on the Official Match Roster
- Affiliated first team head coach or assistants may sit on the MLS NEXT Pro club’s bench and must be listed on the Official Match Roster
- Suspended players and/or coaches, injured players, and non-rostered players cannot be in the bench area, locker room or on field level from 90-minutes prior to kick-off until the conclusion of the match.
GAME CLOCK: The official game time for all MLS NEXT Pro games will be managed on the field by the referee. If necessary, the referee may also allot additional time (a.k.a. "stoppage time”) at the end of each period (first half, second half, and if applicable, first extra time period and second extra time period during playoff matches) to account for injuries, cooling breaks, video reviews, time-wasting, or any other cause, including any significant delay to a restart.
The stadium clock will start at kickoff of each half. The clock will count upward from 0:00 to 45:00 in the first half and from 45:00 to 90:00 in the second half.
For statistical purposes, the minutes for goals, substitutions, yellow cards, etc., will be listed from the first minute until the 90th minute. A goal scored at 15 minutes 10 seconds will be listed as having been scored in the 16th minute. Events occurring during stoppage time will follow the international norm by being marked with a "+" sign and the additional minutes. For example, a goal scored three minutes into first half stoppage time will be officially identified as happening at "45’+3’".
COOLING AND DRINK BREAKS: MLS NEXT Pro mandates the use of cooling breaks if the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) measures 82 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Additionally, the referee can, at any time, implement a discretionary “drinks break” during cases in which player safety is determined to be at risk.
The Fourth Official will read the WBGT at the kickoff spot at the conclusion of the pre-match warmup. A second reading will occur after the whistle blows for the end of the first half to determine if a hydration break is needed.
Implementation and control of the breaks will be managed solely by the referee:
- Each cooling break will last between 90 seconds and 180 seconds in length based on the referee’s discretion, and each drinks break will last up to and not exceed one-minute in length.
- Cooling and drinks breaks will be held approximately 30 minutes into each half (around the 30th and 75th minute, respectively). The ball must be out of play for either the cooling or drinks break to commence.
- The clock will continue to run, and all time allotted for the break will be added to stoppage time.
- Players must remain on the field of play.
- Coaches cannot leave their respective technical areas.
- Bench personnel cannot enter the field of play (excluding medical personnel).
MATCH DELAY, POSTPONEMENT, CANCELLATION, AND FORFEITURE POSTPONEMENT: Matches may be postponed when circumstances exist such that continuation of play would pose a threat to the safety of participants or spectators. In cases where a match is postponed prior to kick-off, but after the official match roster exchange, clubs will be permitted to change their rosters regardless of whether the rescheduled match occurs on a date prior to or after the next match in either clubs’ schedule.
PLAYING FIELD DIMENSIONS AND MARKINGS: The match will be played on a field that remains the same size throughout the MLS NEXT Pro Regular Season and Postseason, unless a change is approved by the League and the Visiting Team is notified at least seven days in advance of the match. The field dimensions and markings will conform to MLS NEXT Pro standards and The International Football Association Board (The IFAB) Laws of the Game. No logos on the field, goal nets or corner flags will be allowed without prior written approval from the League Office.
The playing field will be at a minimum 70 yards wide by 110 yards long.
BALL STANDS: Ball Stands will be implemented in all matches during the MLS NEXT Pro season as an opportunity to increase effective match time, prioritize the health and safety of players, and to reduce match manipulation and gamesmanship. All MLS stadiums will provide a total of 14 Ball Stands, with five positioned on the sideline opposite the benches, two outside each club’s technical area for a total of four on the bench sideline (excluding midfield), two on each end line for a total of four, and two positioned behind each goal line at a maximum distance of 14 yards apart. The 14th Ball Stand must be used between the benches in front of the Fourth Official’s Table.
- The on-field players for the team in possession of the restart can access the Ball Stand ball.
- Teams not in possession of the restart and bench personnel from either club are prohibited from accessing the Ball Stand ball.
Ball Stand Equipment
If a Ball Stand is broken or becomes inoperable during the match, the home club will be responsible for immediately installing the onsite replacement.
Officiating and Disciplinary Protocol
REFEREES: All MLS NEXT Pro referees are either USSF or CSA registered match officials, who are trained, assigned and evaluated by the Professional Referee Organization (PRO).
REGULAR SEASON CAUTIONS AND SUSPENSIONS: Fines and suspensions will be levied against players for yellow card accumulations during the Regular Season as follows:
- Player accrues five yellow cards: $125 fine and a suspension from his next Regular Season Match.
- Player accrues an additional three yellow cards (eight total): $250 fine and a suspension from his next Regular Season Match.
- Player accrues an additional three yellow cards (11 total): $375 fine and a suspension from his next Regular Season Match.
- Player accrues an additional two yellow cards (13 total): $500 fine and a suspension from his next Regular Season Match.
- For each two yellow cards after the player’s fourth suspension, the player will be suspended from his next Regular Season Match and his fine will be doubled (e.g., 15th yellow card accumulation suspension: $1,000 fine)
GOOD BEHAVIOR INCENTIVE: A player will automatically reduce his yellow card accumulation total by one yellow card each time he appears in five consecutive matches without receiving a yellow card, red card or supplemental discipline in such matches. For clarity, a player cannot have a negative yellow card accumulation total; the Good Behavior Incentive can only reset to a zero-card total. This incentive will be automatically applied a maximum of three times throughout the course of the MLS NEXT Pro Regular Season.
For example, if a player on his third caution of the season completes five consecutive matches without receiving a card or supplemental discipline, that player will have one yellow card caution removed from his cumulative total, leaving the player with a total of two yellow cards. This player now has two remaining Good Behavior Incentive opportunities for the MLS NEXT Pro Regular Season. If that player completes five more consecutive matches without receiving a card or supplemental discipline, one more yellow card is removed from his cumulative total leaving the player with a total of one yellow card and one more Good Behavior Incentive opportunity.
MLS DISCIPLINARIAN: The mission of the MLS NEXT Pro Disciplinarian is to ensure player safety and preserve the integrity and reputation of MLS NEXT Pro. The MLS President, in his sole discretion, may issue disciplinary action for any on-field misconduct.
The MLS NEXT Pro Disciplinarian will use the following parameters in determining when it can act under Video Review:
Parameter 1: Where the Officials Do Not See the Incident, and therefore do not have the opportunity to act, the Committee will review any and all evidence and may act to discipline a player (i.e., an off-the-ball offense).
Parameter 1 incidents are subject to consideration of the Official Warning and Official Notices clause.
Parameter 2: Where the Officials See an Incident and issue(d) a red card, the MLS NEXT Pro Disciplinarian may review the play for further disciplinary action. Supplemental discipline (suspension and/or fine) will be administered if the Disciplinarian believes:
- The offense is egregious in nature; and/or
- It must act to protect player safety; and/or
- It must protect the integrity of the game; and/or
- The player is guilty of repeat behavior.
Parameter 2 incidents are subject to consideration of the Official Warning and Official Notices clause.
Parameter 3: Where the Officials See an Incident, and Do Not issue a red card or act on a case of clear and obvious simulation/embellishment that meets the conditions for suspension, the Committee shall issue the following:
A. One (1) Match Suspensions - On incidents in which PRO acknowledges an on-field referee error AND the Disciplinarian is unanimous at Red Card and One (1) match or Action Taken (simulation/embellishment) or in cases pursuant to Official Warnings or repeat behavior
B. Two (2) or more Match Suspensions - On incidents in which discipline warrants at least a two (2) match suspension.
The play in question must be, in the opinion of the Disciplinarian from all available evidence:
- a clear and unequivocal red card; and
- egregious or repeat behavior in nature, and/or
- such that the Committee must act to protect player safety or the integrity of the game; and/or
- Clear and obvious simulation/embellishment.
Parameter 3 incidents are subject to consideration of the Official Warning and Official Notices clause.
Official Warnings and Official Notices
As described in this section, an official disciplinary warning (an “Official Warning”) or an official disciplinary notice (an “Official Notice”) may be issued to a player under the following circumstances:
- Official Warnings: If the play in question was (A) in the unanimous opinion of the MLS NEXT Pro Disciplinarian from all available evidence, an act of clear and obvious simulation or embellishment that resulted in a penalty kick or a red card (including a second yellow) to the opposing player or (B) (i) in the opinion of the MLS Disciplinary Committee from all available evidence, a clear, obvious and unequivocal red card and the offense was egregious in nature and/or the MLS NEXT Pro Disciplinarian must act to protect player safety or the integrity of the game and (ii) the play was seen by the official but the player was not issued a red card for the incident and PRO does not acknowledge a referee, the MLS NEXT Pro Disciplinarian may issue an Official Warning to the player with notice to the player’s club and the MLSPA.
- If the player, having already been given an Official Warning under this Section 1, subsequently commits a similar offense in the same League Season that is also reviewed by the MLS NEXT Pro Disciplinarian under the same parameters and circumstances described in (A) or (B) above, the MLS NEXT Pro Disciplinarian may deviate from Parameter 3 and issue the player a one-game suspension.
- The “probationary" period for incidents of Serious Foul Play will be cleared by the player if he does not receive a yellow or red card or supplemental discipline in his next five (5) consecutive MLS NEXT Pro Regular Season matches.
- In cases where a player is guilty of Violent Conduct repeat behavior, the Player will remain on probation for the remainder of the season, including post-season.
- Official Notices: In cases of repeat behavior (i.e., more than one instance in which the player was reviewed by the MLS NEXT Pro Disciplinarian) for an offense of a similar nature in which the actions do not merit an Official Warning, a suspension and/or fine, the MLS NEXT Pro Disciplinarian may issue an Official Notice to the player, with notice to the player’s club and the MLSPA, to indicate the player’s behavior is being monitored for future offenses.
- The purpose of the Official Notice in these instances is to notify the player that his conduct is approaching, but has not yet crossed, the “line” by which he may be disciplined.
- The “probationary" period will be cleared by the player if he does not receive a yellow or red card or supplemental discipline in his next three (3) consecutive MLS NEXT Pro Regular Season matches.
- In subsequent instances of similar behavior, the fact that the player has previously been issued an Official Notice for particular conduct may not be used by the MLS NEXT Pro Disciplinarian as an aggravating factor when considering discipline. In other words, each play is reviewed by the MLS NEXT Pro Disciplinarian on its own merits without consideration to prior instances of the same or similar conduct.
All Official Warnings and Official Notices will reset at the end of each League Season.
BENCH BEHAVIOR POLICY:
Coaches, staff and substitute(d) players will be fined and/or suspended if they leave the bench to:
- egregiously protest (as determined by the MLS NEXT Pro Disciplinarian) an official’s decision
- express dissent toward an official.
- engage in acts of unsporting and/or irresponsible behavior.
- Under the 2021/22 IFAB Laws of the Game, bench personnel can be issued any combination of the following: “Technical Area Warnings”, yellow and red cards.
MLS NEXT Pro Disciplinarian:
- Disciplinary actions may include but are not limited to:
- Coaches and/or players who leave the bench to protest an official’s decision.
- Audio captured from field microphones and official’s wireless communications devices can be used to issue supplemental discipline.
- The first violation will serve as the club’s official warning.
- Any additional violations of the policy will result in fines and/or suspension.
- The first violation will serve as the player’s official warning.
- Any additional violations of the policy will result in fines and/or suspension.
- Additional Authority
- The MLS NEXT Pro Disciplinarian will have the authority waive the aforementioned warning and impose suspensions and/or fines on any incident it deems to be egregious.
COACHES, TEAM OFFICIALS, AND CLUB STAFF MEMBERS:
- In all instances, coaches and all technical staff will generally be held to a higher professional standard than players.
- A coach, technical staff member or team official guilty of misconduct may be issued a yellow card or red card by the referee.
- Any coach, technical staff member or team official sent off from an MLS NEXT Pro match by the referee shall receive a minimum of an automatic one-match suspension and fine.
- Any coach, technical staff or team official acting in an unprofessional manner, in the opinion of the League, shall be subject to a fine and/or suspension as determined by the League Office.
- As per The IFAB Laws of the Game, if the offender cannot be identified, the most senior coach in the technical area at the time of the incident will receive the yellow card or red card.
- Major fines and/or suspensions, at the sole and absolute discretion of the League Office, shall be levied against players, coaches, or other team officials for conduct detrimental to MLS NEXT Pro (whether or not they were cautioned by the referee for such match conduct).
- Medical staff who receive a red card during a match will miss the remainder of that match and will receive a minimum of an automatic one-match suspension and fine.
- The League, in its sole discretion, can suspend any member of the medical staff retroactively if warranted.
- If a suspension occurs because the medical staff has been found guilty of referee assault/abuse or an egregious act (as determined by the MLS NEXT Pro Disciplinarian), the medical staff member will not participate in any matchday related activities (e.g., player care) and is prohibited from entering the stadium tunnel area, locker rooms or field level at any time on matchday.
TEAM OFFICIAL REGULAR SEASON CAUTIONS AND SUSPENSIONS: The club is responsible to track yellow card totals for team officials during the regular season and postseason. Fines and suspensions will be levied against team officials for yellow card accumulations during the Regular Season as follows:
- Team Officials (including coaches) who accumulate three (3) yellow cards over the course of the Regular Season shall be fined and suspended for their next MLS NEXT Pro Regular Season match.
- Yellow Card Accumulation thresholds will reset at the beginning of each season.
- The League Office may use discretion to apply any appropriate sanction regardless of the aforementioned recommendations.
- Similar to the application of yellow card accumulation for players, yellow cards will reset at the end of the Regular Season (if a team qualifies for the Playoffs) and also before MLS NEXT Pro Final.
Yellow Card Accumulation for Second Yellow Cards
- In cases where a team official (including coaches) is issued two yellow cards in the same match, only the first yellow card will be applied to that individual’s Yellow Card Accumulation total. The second yellow card, which resulted in the issuing of a red card, will not be counted against that individual’s Yellow Card Accumulation total.
If a team official receives a first yellow card to trigger Yellow Card Accumulation, and in the same match receives a second yellow card that results in a red card, that individual will serve a total of two suspensions: one suspension for the red card and one suspension for Yellow Card Accumulation. ENTERING THE FIELD OF PLAY: Bench personnel, including players, are prohibited from entering the field of play at any time (excluding medical staff needed to tend to an injury or during Cooling and/or Drinks Breaks authorized by the Referee and for hydration purposes only).
- Non-Confrontational Incidents:
- Any bench personnel, including substitute(d) players, who enter the field during a non-confrontational incident (as determined by the MLS NEXT Pro Disciplinarian) and excluding spontaneous and momentary “celebrations”, will be issued a written warning for the first offense and be fined for subsequent violations.
- Confrontational Incidents:
- Any bench personnel, including substitute(d) players, who enter the field during a confrontational incident (as determined by the MLS NEXT Pro Disciplinarian) will be suspended and fined.
- Additional Authority:
- The MLS NEXT Pro Disciplinarian will have the authority to waive the warning and impose suspensions and/or fines on any non-confrontational incident it deems to be egregious and/or repeat behavior of an individual.
THROWING/KICKING AN OBJECT TOWARD A FAN(S): Any player(s) or staff member who throws (strikes) or kicks an object (e.g., ball) toward a fan(s) is subject to sanctions including fines and/or suspensions.
GAME SUSPENSION MANIPULATION: Players suspended from MLS NEXT Pro Regular Season and postseason games who are released from their clubs for National Team duty will have their suspension(s) held in abeyance until the full completion of their international duty. International duty begins on the player’s call-in start date and ends upon the completion of the player’s final scheduled match during that specific FIFA International Window.
- A player will have his suspension held in abeyance if: (i) he leaves prior to the opening of the international window and/or; (ii) he returns to the National Team during the same window.
RED CARD SUSPENSION RULE: If a player receives a red card (second yellow card or straight red card), the player will serve a 1 game suspension versus the same team against which the player received the red card.
- Regular Season: All suspensions must be served during the same regular season, except in the event a red card occurs on the final game of the regular season. For example, if Team A does not play Team B again the remainder of the season, Team A’s player who received the red card would serve his 1 game suspension in the next regular season game.
- Final Regular Season Game: If a player receives a red card in his team’s last regular season game, then the 1 game suspension would be served in the playoffs (if applicable) or the first game of the next regular season.
- Player Trade: The rule applies in the event of a player trade. For example, if Player X from Team A receives a red card against Team B, and then is traded to Team C, he would serve his 1 game suspension when his new team (Team C) plays Team B; if his new team does not play Team B, then he would be suspended for the first game with his new team.
- Failure to Serve Suspension: If a player does not serve his suspension because he is no longer eligible (e.g., retires, season ending injury, released, transferred, etc.), the player will be required to serve his suspension in the event he returns to MLS NEXT Pro. If the player signs in a new league, such suspension may also carry over to the other league (e.g., if the player is transferred to Manchester United, then he may be ineligible to participate in his first English Premier League game).
- Supplemental Discipline: If a player is issued supplemental discipline (i.e., additional games), such supplemental discipline will be served in games immediately following the game to which the player received the red card, and then the 1 game suspension from the red card would be served the next time his club plays the original opponent.
- Non-Player Related Ejection: The rule also applies to non-player related red cards (e.g., red card resulting from a confrontation with the opposing team’s technical staff or a confrontation with a referee).
- Ineligible Players: The rule does not apply to (1) players on loan from a club’s first division affiliate and (2) amateur players. Such category of players would be ineligible to play in the next MLS NEXT Pro league season game (status quo).
OFF-FIELD TREATMENT RULE: If the referee stops play due to a potential player injury, the player may be required to leave the field of play for 3 minutes.
Player Required to Leave the Field for 3 Minutes:
- Referee will stop play if a player is suspected to have an injury and is on the ground for longer than 15 seconds. Prior to the medical staff entering the field of play, the referee may ask the player if he requires on-field medical attention.
- After 15 seconds, if play does not continue, the referee will wave the medical crew on the field to evaluate the player.
- The 3 minutes that a player must remain off the field commences once the ball is in play.
Player Not Required to Leave the Field for 3 Minutes:
- The referee will not stop play when a player remains on the ground beyond 15 seconds and he indicates that he does not require medical attention, or if a player voluntarily removes himself from the field. In these instances, the player is not required to remain off the field for 3 minutes. Please note that if a player refuses medical care, the referee may allow play to restart.
- If a player suffers a foul that results in a red or yellow card.
- Rule does not apply to the assessment of potential injuries involving the following:
- Head injury, cardiac issue, or life-threatening event (e.g., seizure, choking, etc.)
- Penalty kick situation (when the potentially injured player is also the penalty kick taker)
- Collision of 2 players on the same team that requires medical attention
- Collision involving a goalkeeper and opposing player whereby both players require medical attention
- Player is bleeding
*15 seconds is an approximation and shall serve as a guideline. The 15 second timeframe starts the moment the ball is either out of play, or play has stopped. If the player is injured but not on the ground, the referee may still stop play and wave the medical staff on the field. For example, if the ball is out of play and it takes 5 seconds for the referee to reach the player that is on the ground, then the referee and player would have approximately 10 seconds to determine if medical staff should enter the field of play.
- On-Field Medical Evaluation: Medical staffs are permitted to evaluate players on the field for extended periods of time (subject to referee discretion)
- Substitutions: If a player requiring 3 minutes of off-field medical evaluation is substituted, the incoming player is eligible to enter the field of play at any time (subject to the referee’s discretion).
- For example, if a player remains on the ground due to potential injury for 2 minutes 45 seconds, the player may be substituted without the team having to wait 3 minutes.
- Club Feedback: League Office will conduct 3 meetings per season with Athletic Trainers and Head Coaches to discuss the impact of the new rule.
- Halftime: If halftime occurs during the 3 minutes of off field treatment, the player is eligible to return to the field for the start of the second half.
- For example, if a player is off the field for 2 minutes and halftime occurs, the player is not required to wait 1 minute into the second half prior to returning to the field (i.e., the player is eligible to return to the game to start the second half).
- For those instances when other stoppages occur (e.g., hydration breaks), the referee will maintain the integrity of the 3 minute off field treatment requirement.
2022 MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs
At the end of the 2022 MLS NEXT Pro Regular Season, eight teams will qualify for the playoffs, four from each conference: two division champions plus the next two teams with the most points. The MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs will consist of single-elimination matches hosted by the higher-seeded team and follow a straight bracket format through MLS NEXT Pro Final. Seeding/Hosting is decided by most points.
TEAM STANDINGS, TIE-BREAKING PROCEDURES: The team awarded the highest position in the MLS NEXT Pro standings will be the team with the greatest number of points. In the event that any club in a conference is unable to play its full 24 match schedule due to cancellation of any match or matches, and all teams do not end the season with the same number of matches played, qualification for the 2022 MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs in that conference will be determined by points earned on a per match basis, or points per game.
In the event that two or more clubs finish the regular season with an equal number of points, the following procedures (in order of priority) will be used to break the tie and advance a team in the final standings and determine the final standings.
- Total Number of Wins (in regulation)
- Goal Differential
- Goals For
- Shootout Wins
- Away Goals Differential
- Away Goals For
- Home Goals Differential
- Home Goals For
- Fewest Disciplinary Points
- Coin Toss (tie of two Clubs) or Drawing of Lots (tie of three or more Clubs)
After the winner of the MLS NEXT Pro Regular Season Tiebreaker advances, any remaining tied clubs not advancing from the first round Regular Season Tiebreaker shall again go through a second round Regular Season Tiebreaker, beginning with tiebreaker 1, to determine the next advancing club. The Regular Season Tiebreaker system will continue until qualification/seeding has been determined.