MLS NEXT Pro today announced its regular season schedule and the return of the innovative “pick-your-opponent" playoff format for 2024. The League’s third season will begin Friday, March 15 and will feature 29 clubs: 27 MLS affiliates and two independent teams, Carolina Core FC and Chattanooga FC, who make their MLS NEXT Pro debut in 2024.
The complete 2024 regular season schedule is available on mlsnextpro.com and consists of 406 regular season matches. Every club will play 28 matches over 30 weeks (14 home/14 away), with clubs facing each divisional opponent three times as well as other intraconference rivals to round out this year's schedule.
The majority of regular season matches, plus all Decision Day matches, playoff matches and MLS NEXT Pro Cup, will be available to watch live on MLS Season Pass on the Apple TV app. Available in more than 100 countries and regions, MLS Season Pass can be viewed on billions of devices through the Apple TV app on Apple devices, smart TVs, streaming devices, set-top boxes, game consoles, and online at tv.apple.com. The remainder of regular season matches will stream live on mlsnextpro.com.
“Building off of the energy and momentum from the 2023 season, we’re looking forward to celebrating the addition of Carolina Core FC and Chattanooga FC in 2024,” said League President Charles Altchek. “While welcoming new fans across new markets, we will continue to provide opportunities for players, coaches and all of those working at our clubs to reach their full potential.”
INDEPENDENT TEAMS TAKE THE FIELD
Carolina Core FC and Chattanooga FC enter MLS NEXT Pro for the 2024 season, introducing new regional rivalries and excited fan bases to the League. Carolina Core FC, a brand-new club based in High Point, NC, is led by Chief Sporting Officer Eddie Pope and Head Coach Roy Lassiter, both decorated MLS Greats. Chattanooga FC is helmed by Sporting Director and Head Coach Rod Underwood, whose decades of experience at all levels of the professional game will serve the club well as it enters a new chapter of its already 15-year history. Fellow independent clubs Cleveland, Jacksonville Armada FC and Connecticut United FC will begin play in the coming seasons.
The 2024 MLS NEXT Pro regular season kicks off Friday, March 15 and will feature 14 matches across Opening Weekend. Opening Night will see three matches, highlighted by reigning MLS NEXT Pro Cup champions Austin FC II hosting Tacoma Defiance in a rematch of the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro Western Conference Semifinal (9pm ET, MLS Season Pass).
The action continues Saturday, March 16 with two matches, including Chattanooga FC playing its first match in MLS NEXT Pro when the team hosts regional rival Huntsville City FC at Finley Stadium (3pm ET, MLS Season Pass).
The majority of the Opening Weekend competition will take place on Sunday, March 17. The day’s nine matches will be headlined by Carolina Core FC playing its inaugural match, traveling to face intrastate opponent Crown Legacy FC at Mecklenburg County Sportsplex (5pm ET, MLS Season Pass).
DECISION DAY 2024
Twenty-eight of the 29 clubs in the League will compete on the final day of the regular season, Sunday, October 6. Fourteen matches will take place to determine final playoff positioning, with eight teams in each conference qualifying for the 2024 MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs. Eastern Conference matches will kick off at 1:00pm ET, followed by the Western Conference at 4:00pm ET. All Decision Day matches will air live on MLS Season Pass on the Apple TV app.
ENHANCED PICK-YOUR-OPPONENT FORMAT
The 2024 MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs will feature the return of the “pick-your-opponent” format that debuted during the 2023 postseason and quickly garnered widespread attention. This year will feature more teams qualifying for the playoffs, more teams making selections and more knockout matches being played.
Eight teams will qualify for the playoffs from each conference (16 total), with Seeds No. 1-4 in each conference hosting and selecting their opponents in the first round. In the second round, the highest remaining seed in each conference will select an opponent from any of the remaining three teams. This year’s postseason will see 15 total matches, including MLS NEXT Pro Cup.
MLS ADOPTING PAIR OF MLS NEXT PRO RULES
Part of MLS NEXT Pro’s efforts in innovating the game of soccer is the ability to create and test new rules - two of which will be implemented by MLS for the 2024 season after seeing previous success in MLS NEXT Pro. The Off-field Treatment Rule and Timed Substitution Rule contribute to reducing gamesmanship and match delays while increasing effective match time. Both rules return to MLS NEXT Pro in 2024 and will be implemented in MLS this season for the first time.
With the Off-field Treatment Rule, if the referee stops play due to a potential player injury and the medical staff enters the field of play, the player may be required to leave the field of play for two minutes. The Timed Substitution Rule allows a player a maximum of 10 seconds to leave the field of play when being substituted or the incoming player must wait 60 seconds before entering the match.
SHOOTOUTS RETURN IN 2024
There will once again be no ties in MLS NEXT Pro in 2024. A unique and exciting element in matches since the League’s inception in 2022, shootouts featuring kicks from the penalty mark will once again decide matches that are tied after regulation this season. Each team receives one point for the draw in regulation, with the winner of the shootout receiving one additional point (two points total). The past two seasons, approximately 20+% of all regular season matches in MLS NEXT Pro resulted in a shootout.
UPDATED CONFERENCE ALIGNMENT
With the addition of two new clubs to the League, the Eastern Conference will feature updated divisions in 2024. The former Central Division is now the Southeast Division, with the following changes that can also be seen in the chart below:
- Crown Legacy FC moves from the Northeast Division to the Southeast Division
- Carolina Core FC and Chattanooga FC join the Southeast Division
- FC Cincinnati 2, Columbus Crew 2 and Chicago Fire II move from the Central Division (now Southeast Division) to the Northeast Division