American soccer has always done things a little differently from the rest of the world. Whether it’s experimenting with the rules (countdown clock, 35-yard offside line, and shootouts), the lack of promotion and relegation, or using playoffs to decide a champion, we’ve always been at least a little out of step with the rest of the footballing world. One of the things that’s sometimes overlooked, however, is the American soccer offseason. It certainly feels like our pro clubs are out of action for longer stretches than the rest of the world.

But is that really the case? We’ve crunched the numbers and compared our top tier, lower divisions, and women’s leagues to their international counterparts to see how they stack up. We’ve also looked at how the American soccer offseason compares to other popular domestic sports.

American soccer offseason: MLS versus other top divisions worldwide

Since the World Cup 2022 completely disrupted the league calendars worldwide, we used 2021 data instead of 2022.

Nevertheless, MLS has run roughly the same schedule, throughout its history since year one in 1996. There have been some tweaks here and there, but the season has usually started around March and ended sometime in late fall.

Let’s take a look at how MLS compares to some other popular international first division leagues.

LeagueAverage offseason length (days)Offseason Length for Playoff Finalist
Offseason Length (days)
Liga MX*109.578141
Serie A9090
Liga MX Summer Offseason675381
Liga MX Winter Offseason42.52560

Notes: *Liga MX overall offseason length calculated by combining the offseason periods between the Apertura and Clausura tournaments. Individual breaks shown at bottom of table
**Bundesliga promotion/relegation playoff date used


For a more detailed data chart including dates used, click here.

We calculated the average offseason length by averaging the offseason length for teams that did not participate in postseason play (longest possible offseason) with the length for teams that made their postseason final (shortest possible offseason), if applicable.

Looking at the above comparison, only Mexico’s Liga MX has a longer total offseason than MLS. However, that figure is split into two separate break periods, between the Apertura/Clausura tournaments. Mexico’s summer break is in line with most traditional Fall-Spring leagues, with a similar length off during that time of year. That number will be reduced though with the addition of Leagues Cup this summer.

Congested schedule is becoming an issue

On February 25, a new MLS era begins with the debut of MLS Season Pass, the streaming subscription package from Apple. While interest is growing in the streaming offering, this particular MLS offseason has seemed to be incredibly long. In fact, the gap between the end of the 2022 regular season and start of the 2023 season is 139 days – roughly four and a half months. Even MLS Cup finalists LAFC and Philadelphia still will have had 112 days off since their last competitive game. This is an anomaly however, due to the Qatar World Cup forcing the league to wrap up about a month earlier than usual in the fall.

Since most top leagues don’t have American-style playoffs, for about half the teams in MLS the offseason is about a month longer than their international counterparts.

Schedule congestion has been a complaint from MLS coaching staffs in the past. The new, mostly weekend-based format starting this season should ease that somewhat. However the expanded Leagues Cup will occupy a month in the summer. Plus you’ve got Open Cup matches peppered in as well. And of course there is CONCACAF play for those teams that have qualified.

Shortening the offseason to more comfortably fit in the ever-expanding annual schedule for MLS teams would seem like a good idea. But the league refrains from starting too early or ending too late due to the large disparity in climates for its teams. With bitter winter conditions facing northern teams forcing the offseason into the winter, it’s unlikely that MLS dramatically extends the length of its season anytime soon.

The soccer offseason in the lower divisions

Looking at the lower levels on the professional pyramid, a more substantial difference begins to appear:

For a more detailed data chart including dates used, click here.

LeagueAverage Offseason Length (days)Offseason Length for Playoff Finalist
Offseason Length (days)
MLS NEXT Pro178168188
USL League One142131153
USL Championship118.5104133
Serie B93.585102
EFL League One79.56990
EFL League Two79.56891
EFL Championship796989
Segunda División645474
2. Bundesliga57.55461

Note: *2. Bundesliga promotion/relegation playoff date used

The American second and third division leagues have far and away the longest off-seasons when compared to equivalent overseas competitions. At the third division level, American teams are only playing about half as many games as, for example, England’s League One. But the American teams are taking offseason breaks as much as three months longer than their international counterparts.

This owes to a couple of factors. For one, in USL League One and NISA, there are fewer teams, which usually means less games. There is also no promotion to a higher league. That generally works to align a lower division’s calendar with the tiers above it.

Whatever the reason, however, the longer amount of time off the field, and out of the public consciousness, is not good for the game. This hurts the potential growth of fanbases as well as the development of players. And in addition to taking more time off, American clubs are playing far fewer games. Aside from one to three US Open Cup matches for most teams, there are no other competitive games for these clubs to play other than their league games. We have no secondary (or tertiary) cup competitions for lower division teams in the United States.

While new competitions and more games keep getting added for MLS teams, the majority of professional clubs in the USA aren’t in MLS. Improving the quality and quantity of play is vital for the teams and fans outside the 27 markets at the top of the pyramid.

The women’s game

A similar picture is painted in women’s soccer.

For a more detailed data chart including dates used, click here.

LeagueAverage Offseason Length (days)Offseason Length for Playoff Finalist
Offseason Length (days)
Women’s Super League124124
Liga MX Feminil**12099141
Serie A Femminile***104104
French Division 1 Féminine100100
Liga MX Summer Offseason63.55374
Liga MX Winter Offseason56.54667

Notes: *Frauen-Bundesliga has a roughly 2-month break in the winter, but it is not two separate competitions like Mexico
**Liga MX overall offseason length calculated by combining the offseason periods between the Apertura and Clausura tournaments. Individual breaks shown at bottom of table
***Italy league format has been adjusted for 22/23 onwards, however length of season largely the same as before

The USA’s NWSL tops the list with the longest offseason by a pretty large margin. Women’s leagues in general have longer breaks than their male counterparts, owing to the smaller amount of teams and/or league games played. However the amount of time American clubs are off compared to international leagues is substantial.

NWSL is making strides in increasing the number of games played, with the NWSL Challenge Cup being expanded and now taking place during the season. And there are plans for a women’s second division in the form of the USL Super League, and third division with WPSL Pro. Hopefully a women’s version of the US Open Cup is on the horizon as well.

But the relative shortness of the NWSL campaign is perhaps a reason why (1) we see more high profile players signing in places like Europe and Mexico, and (2) other countries’ national teams are catching up in terms of quality with the USWNT.

It’s worth keeping an eye on how the domestic women’s calendar evolves as both the NWSL and divisions below it continue to grow.

The overall domestic sports landscape

The trend we’ve seen so far gets turned on its head when we compare soccer to other domestic pro sports.

For a more detailed data chart including dates used, click here.

LeagueAverage Offseason Length (days)Offseason Length for Playoff Finalist
Offseason Length (days)
Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA)260.5243278
Major League Rugby (MLR)247237257
National Football League (NFL)224.5207242
Major League Baseball (MLB)160.5145176
National Basketball Association (NBA)157.5124191
National Hockey League (NHL)131103159
USL Championship118.5104133

It’s almost not fair to include the NFL and MLR, but they are listed for the sake of completeness. Their intense physical nature and small number of games result in a very long offseason.

The top two tiers of men’s soccer have far and away the shortest offseasons in American team sports. That’s despite playing far fewer games than hockey, baseball or basketball. Meanwhile the NWSL ranks above the NBA and NHL, but far below the WNBA. If you look at the raw numbers though, the NBA and NHL’s very long postseasons skew their average offseason lengths substantially.

This creates an interesting thought experiment. Does the relative shortness of their seasons (in terms of timeframe) create an unquenchable thirst for the other sports? Scarcity often does increase value (value in this case meaning the desire for fans to tune in). Traditionally all four sports have been more popular than domestic soccer. Perhaps the long offseasons do get fans clamoring for NFL/NBA/NHL/MLB when they are in-season. But their continued supremacy over domestic soccer primarily owes to them being unquestionably the top leagues on the planet in their sports.


So what can we gather from all this? Soccer versus other domestic sports is in many ways an apples-to-oranges comparison. However in terms of competition for the sports fans’ time and money, it is relevant. But despite actively playing for less of the year, NFL/NBA/NHL/MLB teams in large part still reign supreme in much of the country. That won’t change until our soccer clubs spend significantly more to bring in world-class level talent.

When talking pure soccer, results on the field and quality of play, there is no doubt our domestic clubs still lag behind the big players in the soccer world. A big part of that is the limits on player salaries as noted above. But shorter seasons and fewer games and competitions played are a big factor as well.

The game has no doubt made significant strides here over the past two decades. But work remains to be done. Getting our clubs playing for more of the year, particularly our women’s and lower division sides, is one of the aspects where we can improve the American soccer offseason. And when ranked alongside other areas, like increasing wages and competition structural changes, it’s actually one of the easier targets to shoot for and actually accomplish.

Guide to Major League Soccer

Here are some resources to help you get the most out of MLS Season Pass!
TV Schedule: All the info on where and when to watch every game
Season Pass FAQ: We answer your questions about MLS Season Pass
Sign up: Learn how to subscribe to MLS Season Pass
Commentators: Check out who's calling the action for the MLS season
Android users Tips for fans Android users on how to watch MLS Season Pass