MLS / College Soccer First-Timers: 15 Things to Expect/Know as a Spectator!

Soccer in the United States is dominated by two levels of skill: professional (MLS) and college. The MLS (which stands for Major League Soccer) is a professional soccer league of men authorized by the United States Soccer Federation (aka U.S. Soccer).

If you’re going to an MLS, NWSL or college soccer game, here’s a list of 15 things that you must know about. 

1. The MLS is HUGE!

Well, as the preparations might have already revealed, MLS, which was founded in 1993, is a huge event. In the past years, the popularity of American soccer, and therefore of the MLS has been growing each year considerably. 

Many world-class players form part of the league. Some of the most popular and successful teams are the LA Galaxy, D.C. United, San Jose Earthquakes, and New York Red Bulls, among others. 

It is fair to say that the MLS is one of the major professional sports leagues in both the US and Canada. 

2. March to October are the best months to go.

This adventure-packed league starts in March and runs through October. Speaking of which, you will never be short of thrilling moments, as each team is required to play more than 30 games. The team with the best record also gets the coveted Supporters’ Shield.

There’s no doubt about it: it’s really exciting to cheer for your favorite team and root for them to win the shield. The teams that qualify for the initial rounds get to play the playoffs held between October and November.

And as you might have guessed, the one team that wins the league gets the MLS cup. 

3. The crowd is going to be MAD!

The MLS has many electrifying moments packed into one exciting event. The crowd alone is something to see. The madness that you witness here is stimulating. 

If we let the figures do the talking, this game flaunts an average attendance of more than 20,000 spectators per game. This is the reason it has the third-highest attendance of any US sports league, as it’s only beat by Major League Baseball and National Football League. 

The MLS also ranks among the top ten in terms of the attendance attained by a professional soccer league from across the world. 

4. Watch out for the bicycle kick.

If it’s your first time attending a college or MLS soccer event, you need to have your eyes set on a bicycle kick. As popular as the kick is to watch on YouTube, catching it live is even more fun. 

If you haven’t seen a bicycle kick before, it’s a difficult kick in which a player throws their body in the air while jamming their legs in a scissor-like motion. The player’s main aim is to kick the ball back over their head. 

5. Catch the start and end of each half.

You can’t miss the start and end of each half, as this is when most action will be happening. Many players will try and score key goals during the opening and closing five minutes. So don’t catch yourself in the refreshments line or heading to the exits when the game is in progress. If play is starting and you’re still waiting for some french fries or nachos, I recommend skipping the food and catching the action. 

6. Wear the right clothes.

While the excitement of the match can make things hot, the truth is that the weather might be cold. Depending on the month in which you’re attending the soccer event, you should prepare for the climate the game is being played in. 

Ideally, you should pack yourself with 2 layers. You also shouldn’t forget to wear a coat. And if you have a soccer jersey of the team you are supporting, you can use that as an opportunity to support your team and add an extra layer.  

7. Park your car close to the stadium.

This is a no-brainer. As the game is going to attract a lot of people, you should park your vehicle close by and walk to the stadium. This will help you beat the rush into the game, and will also make it easier to get back to your car and exit the stadium when the game ends. 

The parking fees vary depending on the stadium you’re going to, but the typical fees are generally around $10.

8. Use the bathroom before the game.

Before getting seated, make sure that you are done with nature’s call. As toilets tend to get busy at halftime, it is always a better idea to get this necessity out of the way before you get seated. 

If you don’t, there’s a risk you’ll miss out on a wild play because you were waiting in line for the bathroom. 

9. Food is love!

Undoubtedly, the fun of a soccer game is doubled when you have the right food in hand. Ideally, you should buy everything you need before the game begins. You can head to the bars and get quick access to the standard foods like hot dogs, burgers, pies, and pasties. If you get lucky with a great stadium, you can also buy some pizza and curry. 

The prices of foods offered at MLS and other soccer events vary widely. While alcohol is an option, many people tend to settle with a cheaper bottle of soft drink. But the point is to have fun, so you should choose whatever suits you the best.

10. Join the fun.

As the crowd at most games is boisterous and fun, the best way to make the most out of the event is to join in with the crowd’s enthusiasm. Clap when others do, and join in when they chant. 

It might be that you don’t know what they are chanting, but you can always make things work out by producing similar sounds like “oooooh,” and “aaaaa-hey!”

11. Watch the clock.

If you are watching a soccer game for the first time, you might not be too sure about how the timing works. Here’s a brief explanation: 

MLS and soccer games last 90 minutes. The game consists of two halves – of 45 minutes each, and both these halves end after a few minutes of stoppage time. Since the clock doesn’t stop in soccer, the stoppage time is added at the discretion of the referee. Thus, a 90-minute soccer game could last 94 minutes or longer, depending on the stoppage time added. 

12. Refer to the referee.

The game of soccer is handled by one main referee who controls all the action of the field with his whistle and hands out cards when needed.

A yellow card is handed over to a player if he has broken the rules. If the incident is pretty serious, he can also provide a red card. This would mean that the player needs to leave the game.

This also means that the concerned team will have to play a man down. Thus, instead of 11 players, the team will have to play with 10 instead. 

Additionally, if the same player gets two yellow cards, it would mean the same as the red card, and they will have to leave the game. 

13. Communities and fan clubs will keep the spark alive.

You will find that in an event when your favorite team is losing, the entire momentum is built by the communities and fan clubs who will keep cheering the teams of their choice relentlessly. 

If drama is on the card, a lot of fans also join their players on the field ‒ though this typically happens at the college level more than the professional level. The whole sight is worth a watch and keeps the excitement alive. 

14. Tailgate before the game.

Much of the fun in going to a college or MLS game actually comes before the game begins.  

If you’re going with a group of friends, setting up a grill and cooking some burgers before you head inside the stadium can add a whole new element to the experience and make the game even more enjoyable. 

15. Check out the highlights after the game.

If you want to relive the most thrilling moments of the game, you can head to YouTube and pull up a highlight video to experience the game all over again.