It’s happening. Major League Soccer is coming to Charlotte and it all becomes real in 2021 when the newest team in MLS takes the field for its debut season.

Ahead of Charlotte’s club launch, you’re bound to come across some folks who could use a 101 or perhaps a bit of a refresher on MLS. Here’s what they need to know:

The basics …

Major League Soccer is the top-level pro soccer league in the United States and Canada and one of the largest soccer leagues in the world with 26 teams in 2020, soon to be 30 clubs by 2022. That’s triple the teams that MLS had when it launched in 1996.

What all the buzz is about … 

Major League Soccer is growing fast every year with new teams, new stadiums, elite training facilities, new owners and a burgeoning number of world-class players who now call it home.

At the same time, a passionate supporters culture has also taken root and their marches, banners and chants have transformed MLS matches into one of the most unique in-person sporting experiences anywhere in the world. It’s a college football atmosphere on steroids.

What they play for …

It’s all about MLS Cup.

After a 34-game regular season from February through October, the top 7 teams in both the Eastern and Western Conference face off in single-elimination playoffs (No. 1 seeds get a first round bye) with the two survivors left standing meeting in the championship game for all the marbles. The team with the best record gets to host the final.

The Seattle Sounders are the reigning MLS Cup champs and the LA Galaxy have won the most MLS Cup titles (5).

How MLS teams are built

MLS team rosters consist of up to 30 players whom clubs recruit from the USA, Canada and around the world.

Armed with intel from their global scouting networks, GMs and head coaches sign players to contracts within a predetermined salary budget that is the same for every MLS team (though rules allow teams to spend over and above that budget limit for certain players). And many organizations are also developing first-team players through their own youth academies and minor league teams or affiliates in lower divisions.

Similar to other pro sports, teams add to their rosters through annual drafts and waiver processes. And new teams like Charlotte also benefit from a one-time Expansion Draft during which they can acquire up to five players from existing MLS clubs.

Can a team from Major League Soccer be the best in the world?

There’s a competition that determines this — the FIFA Club World Cup. The likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United have won it in recent years.

However, to qualify for the FIFA Club World Cup an MLS team first needs to win the North American regional championship (aka the Concacaf Champions League) against clubs hailing from this continent: Central America, the Caribbean and the powers from Mexico. Only the top-ranked MLS teams can earn a ticket to play for this regional title.

I’m a fan — what do I now?

With a one-year ramp-up until Charlotte’s new club kicks off in 2021, it’s the perfect time to dive into all things soccer and MLS.

Keep up to date on the league by downloading the official MLS app and the popular podcast Extratime, with two episodes every week. You’ll want to subscribe to ESPN+ to watch matches, including future rivals Atlanta United, Nashville SC and FC Cincinnati. And then sign up for alerts and updates as we build our Charlotte team and join a supporters’ group like Mint City Collective.

2021 is coming fast.