The 2023 MLS Season Is Underway: Here’s What Has Changed

Calvin Lewis, Contributing Writer

The 2023 Major League Soccer (MLS) season kicked off on February 25th with its usual slew of changes, including but not limited to a 29th team entering the league, a brand new partnership with Apple TV, and a new playoff format for the 28th season of America’s top soccer division.

The addition of St. Louis Football Club (FC), the 29th MLS team, was eagerly anticipated by fans and analysts alike. As MLS Commissioner Don Garber stated in an interview, “St. Louis is one of the great soccer cities in our country. St. Louis has brought a level of energy and focus and fan engagement that has just taken MLS expansion to an entire new level.” St. Louis has added to the increasing array of high-quality European talents. Sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel used his connections in the German Bundesliga to bring in players such as Roman Bürki, a goalkeeper who played over 175 times for Borussia Dortmund; Eduard Löwen and Joāo Klauss from Hertha Berlin; and Tomáš Ostrák from Cologne. Despite being coached by the relatively inexperienced Bradley Carnell—his only previous experience being the New York Red Bulls’ interim coach—MLS’ newest team are flying, beating Austin FC 3-2 to get their journey underway, following that up with two wins, starting the season 3-0. 

The most controversial change made this season, however, is the change to the playoff format.

The 28th season of MLS also welcomes a new way to watch. Fans will now be able to watch their favorite teams play on the MLS Season Pass on Apple TV. The Season Pass costs $15 per month or $99 per year, and offers unlimited access to every game in the regular season, playoffs, and even MLS NextPro (MLS’s youth league) games. The new partnership with Apple TV is representative of a larger trend of high quality leagues making the switch from cable broadcasting to streaming. In an open letter to fans across the country, Garber described Apple as “... the perfect partner to showcase our league,” a partnership which he hopes will help reach audiences across the globe.

The most controversial change made this season, however, is the change to the playoff format. In this new format, eighteen teams will qualify for the postseason, up from fourteen last season. The new format will include a play-in qualifier between the 8th and 9th seed in each conference in a single elimination format. The winner of the play-in will then take on the 1st seed in a best-of-three format until the Conference Semifinals, where the playoffs revert to single elimination games. 

The new format was introduced just days before the season started, and leaves fans wondering why the changes were made.  The league has maintained that this change has been under consideration since 2021, but the Athletic have reported that the change was driven by Apple wanting to increase the amount of playoff games available on its platform, from 13 total to a minimum of 25 and a maximum of 33. The Athletic continues that MLS owners gave the format their support as they wanted to have at least one home playoff game to increase their revenue.

Across the U.S. and Canada, support for MLS, as well as women’s soccer, continues to grow, and fans cannot wait to see what the new season has in store for them.

This article also appears in our March 2023 print edition.