English soccer, and the game in most other countries, is vastly different from the way MLS or any other North American sports league operates. Likely one of the most alien attributes is the ‘football pyramid’ and the system of promotion and relegation.
Promotion, Relegation & The Football Pyramid
At the top of the Pyramid stand the Premier League, consisting of twenty teams each year. After the 38 game season, the three teams finishing with the fewest points are relegated out of the division. Relegate meaning getting kicked out until they earn their way back.
Those three teams get relegated to the English Championship, consisting of twenty-four clubs each season. Just like in the Premier League each team plays each other twice, once at home and once away, and at the end of the forty-six game season the three teams with the fewest points are relegated.
However, unlike the Premier League, three teams are promoted from the Championship each year. Those three clubs are essentially traded from one league to the other.
In the Championship the two teams who accrue the most points are automatically promoted. Third through sixth places enter into a playoff to determine which club will be the third. Just like in North American playoffs the highest seeded team (3rd) plays the lowest seeded (6th), with the winner advancing to play the winner of the 4th vs 5th teams.
So, just like there is something to play for at the top of the standings, there is also something to play for at the bottom.
Below the Premier League and Championship lays Football League One, operating almost exactly as the Championship does. Three teams are promoted each year, and four are relegated.
Below Football League One is Football League Two in which four are promoted and two are relegated.
Football League One
Football League Two
These four divisions encompass what is known as ‘league football’, with all divisions below these four known as ‘non-league football’. There is one division which operates as a national league, but all subsequent divisions are regional.
National League North National League South
N. Premier League Southern Football League Isthmian League
Each division in this seventh tier each also has a feeder division playing below them, which in turn have feeder divisions playing below them. Grand total there are several thousand different independent soccer clubs throughout England and Wales, playing under the Football Association (FA).