2020 MLS Rule changes – what you may not have seen in week one

Another new Major League Soccer season, another set of tweaks to the rules. The International Football Association Board amended the Laws of the Game ahead of the 2019/20 season last summer.

Of course MLS declared that they could not change the rules midway through the season – *cough* VAR *cough* – so we got to see a couple of the new rules in action at Toyota Stadium, while others have yet to affect FC Dallas.

Goal Kicks

One of the new rules that will definitely impact FC Dallas is the amendment to goal kicks and free kicks in the box. Previously the ball had to leave the penalty area before another player could touch it and no player from either side was allowed in the 18-yard-box. Now the team in possession can place players in their own area to receive the ball.

Simply put, that affects FCD as a team that builds out the back. Here’s a quick animation I put together to show how having the center backs in the box can help draw in attackers and free up other options. In this instance, a long ball is played to Ryan Hollingshead on the left, while Reggie Cannon and Thiago Santos also present options as the two attackers press the ball in the possession of Gonzalez, Ziegler, and Hedges.

An example of FC Dallas playing out of the back with the new MLS rules on goal Kicks (Dan Crooke / 3rd Degree)

One revision that IFAB’s technical committee made prior to MLS’ rollout of the new rule, is that the goalkeeper cannot chip the ball to the center back and have it headed back into the hands. Benfica pulled that trick early on to allow the keeper to throw the ball out.

Drop Balls

The unwritten rule was always that you typically didn’t contest a drop ball that was for an injury stoppage. The team not in possession would get the ball and immediately play it back to the opposition defense or goalkeeper, ceding possession but not territory.

Of course, 1-0 down in the 89th minute you’re absolutely trying to win possession.

Now it is written in the rule book that the ball is no longer neutral, but stays in possession of the team who had the ball when the referee blew the whistle.

The opening day win over the Philadelphia Union saw a drop ball after Bressan sustained an injury sliding in for a 50-50 ball late on. FC Dallas had the ball in their area, and Jesse Gonzalez received the ball from the referee once Bressan had been treated.

There’s also a new cause for a drop ball – the referee interfering with play. The ref has always been considered part of the pitch so if you accidentally smacked a clearance off the ref and the other team gets a tap-in – well that’s just unfortunate!

Now if the ball comes into contact with the referee, it’s an automatic drop ball.

Free Kicks

In the past, if you had an attacking free-kick you were able to create gaps in the defensive wall by putting an attacking player in to run out of the wall or body defenders out of a gap. That is no longer allowed as attacking players cannot be within a yard of a wall consisting of three or more players.

So this is no longer legal:


The handball rule is confusing, right? It’s completely subjective with what constitutes a natural position and what is deliberate.

IFAB has tried to simplify that, which you’ll be able to see in PRO Referees’ video about VAR!

I love the shot at the Premier League using the Virtual Offside Line when it’s nothing more than a guy drawing a line with no assurance of accuracy.

Although using VAR to call keepers for coming off their line on a penalty was a disaster at last year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, so here’s hoping it’s not quite as bad.

Faster Subs

Substitutions have always been the best way to kill time in a game. You can take well over a minute to make that long walk to the halfway line on the bench side, and the referee will only add 30 seconds on.

Not anymore – if you’re on the far side, the referee can tell you to step off the field and walk around as the game continues with your replacement in.


  1. Oof, going to be tough for PRO to take shots at anyone after that debacle in the Nashville/Atlanta game this weekend. I cannot believe a handball by the goalie at midfield was not a red card.

    1. I didn’t have much of an issue with the call. Proximity to goal has always been a criteria for DOGSO – you can imagine the same offense taking place in the opposite 18-yard box (maybe after a stoppage-time corner kick) and it not being an obvious goal scoring opportunity simply because it would be insanely difficult to score from that spot with Nashville already having two defenders most of the way back. From there, it’s a subjective question about where on the field the action becomes an obvious goal scoring opportunity.
      Saying “it’s unlikely a player under duress can score off of a shot from midfield toward a goal with a non-goalie defender in it” isn’t unreasonable to me.


        1. imo yes. If anything, the fact that it was a goalie 50 yards from his own goal makes it worse.

          To be clear, if it had been called a red, I don’t think it would have been a terrible call. It’s in a grey area.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *