The MLS and Atlanta United from A to Z in preparation of the 2018 season:
A is for Atlanta United. One of two expansion clubs that began play last season. The other was Minnesota United. Atlanta United became the first expansion club since Seattle in 2009 to advance to the playoffs. It will also host the All-Star Game this summer.
B is for Ball. The league’s official match ball this season is the Adidas Nativo for at least the second consecutive season. It’s mostly white, with panels that feature blue and red colors.
C is for Cap, Salary. Each team in MLS has a salary cap, more accurately called a budget, but there are ways to spend more than the budget that are outlined in other letters of the A to Z. The cap in 2017 was $3.845 million.
D is for Designated Player. These are the players whose salaries exceed $480,625 (toward the salary cap). The DP rule was implemented in 2007 so that Los Angeles could sign David Beckham. Each team is allowed to sign as many as three Designated Players.
E is for Eastern Conference. There are 11 teams in this group: Atlanta United, Chicago Fire, Columbus Crew, D.C. United, Montreal Impact, New England Revolution, New York City FC, New York Red Bulls, Orlando City, Philadelphia Union and Toronto FC.
F is for Friendlies. Another term for an exhibition game. Atlanta United plays three during the preseason.
G is for Garber, Don. He is the commissioner of the league, a job he has held since 1999.
H is for Homegrown Players. These are players who are signed by MLS teams after they come up through that team’s academy. Teams can sign as many as they want each year. It is the equivalent of a farm system. Atlanta United has five Homegrown Players as of Feb. 24: Andrew Carleton, Chris Goslin, George Bello, Lagos Kunga and Patrick Okonkwo.
I is for International. Each team starts with eight slots available to sign international players. They don’t have to be used. They are also tradeable.
J is for Jersey sponsors. MLS was the first of the big-five professional sports leagues to allow sponsors on the front of its jerseys. Other leagues are starting to follow. The contract details on the agreements are seldom disclosed. Atlanta United is sponsored by American Family Insurance.
K is for Kit. A soccer jersey, shorts and socks is called a kit. Get used to it.
L is for Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. This is an annual tournament played during the MLS season that features teams from all divisions of soccer in the U.S. The event started in 1914. Sporting KC defeated New York Red Bulls 2-1 to win last year’s tournament.
M is for MLS Cup. This decides the champion of MLS. It is a one-game finale. Toronto defeated Seattle to win its first title last season. The L.A. Galaxy (five) have won the most.
N is for National teams. Players will compete not only for their MLS club, but may get called up to play for their nation’s team. For example, Atlanta United fullback Greg Garza was called up to play for the U.S. national team in two friendlies last year. Goalkeeper Brad Guzan has been called up 58 times. Several of Atlanta United’s younger players have made appearances for the youth national teams. During this summer’s World Cup several MLS players should be called up by their national teams.
O is for Orlando City. The club that is considered Atlanta United’s rival because it is the closest geographically until Nashville begins play. Orlando City has played three seasons, failing to make the playoffs each time. The team has re-built its roster this season. Atlanta United won once and tied the Lions twice last season.
P is for Playoffs. The MLS playoffs consists of 12 teams, six from the Eastern Conference and six from the Western Conference.
Q is for Quality. The quality of the play in MLS is a constant debate. Thought it can’t yet match the world’s best leagues such as in England, Spain, Italy and Germany, it is improving incrementally each year.
R is Rules. MLS has interesting rules related to roster construction that are different than in any other league in the world. In addition to Designated Players, there are Young Designated Players, Homegrown Players, Targeted Allocation Money, General Allocation Money, etc.
S is for SuperDraft. The SuperDraft is held each January and consists of four rounds. Players who have graduated college or signed with the league are eligible. In terms of finding players who are expected to make an immediate impact, it more closely resembles the MLB draft than the NFL draft. Atlanta United selected Jon Gallagher (Notre Dame), Oliver Shannon (Clemson), Gordon Wild (Maryland) and Paul Christensen (Portland) in this year’s SuperDraft.
T is for Transfer. A transfer is when a player has been bought by one club from another club. There are different types of transfers. A traditional transfer is when the buying club agrees to compensate the selling club by paying an agreed-upon amount of money. Additionally, the buying club typically has to negotiate a new contract with the player. There are also free transfers in which a buying club needs only to negotiate a contract with a player whose club is giving him away. There are also loans with options to buy. Atlanta United has a few of those in Garza, Franco Escobar and Jose Hernandez. Ezequiel Barco is the most expensive transfer in MLS history. Atlanta United reportedly paid $15 million to Independiente in Argentina for his rights.
U is for USL. The USL is considered the second-division league by the United States Soccer Federation. Many MLS clubs have affiliations with USL clubs that allow them to send to players who need playing time, or to finish rehabbing an injury. Atlanta United started Atlanta United 2, which will play at Coolray Field in Lawrenceville, this season.
V is for VAR. The league began using Video Assistant Referees last season to aid the on-field officials. It was tested in the preseason before being implemented after the All-Star break
W is for Western Conference. There are 12 teams in this group: Colorado Rapids, FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, LA Galaxy, LAFC, Minnesota United, Portland Timbers, Real Salt Lake, San Jose Earthquakes, Seattle Sounders, Sporting Kansas City and Vancouver Whitecaps.
X is for Expansion. The league wants to reach 28 teams by 2024. Nashville and Miami have been granted franchises. Sacramento, Detroit and Cincinnati are considered the favorites to become the final three teams.
Y is for Yellow cards. A yellow card is given typically when a player is more aggressive than necessary. Two yellow cards equal a red card and the player is sent off, reducing his team to 10 men on the field. Portland’s David Guzman led the league with 11 yellow cards received last season. L.A. Galaxy’s Jelle Van Damme led the league in red cards (3). Leandro Gonzalez Pirez led Atlanta United in yellow cards (10).
Z is for Zero. Teams get zero points for a loss, one for a tie and three for a victory. Atlanta United finished with 55 points last season in going 15-9-10.