"The march of players, officials and children into our stadiums and singing of the anthem has been a pre-match tradition since our first game in 1996. The national anthem provides our clubs and fans an important and time-honored opportunity to salute our country and stand up for its principles – whether in the United States or in Canada.
"At the same time, freedom of speech -- and the right to peaceful protest -- are the hallmarks of both countries. Though we encourage our players to stand during the national anthem, we respect and support their right to express their personal beliefs."
The comments are the first on behalf of the league following comments by President Donald Trump about NFL players on Friday night, labeling a player who knelt for the playing of the national anthem a "son of a bitch," and suggesting his owner should fire him. MLS has no policy requiring players to stand for the national anthem.
By contrast, U.S. Soccer adopted Policy 604-1 in February, requiring that all federation representatives stand during the playing of the national anthem:
"All persons representing a Federation national team shall stand respectfully during the playing of national anthems at any event in which the Federation is represented."
The policy was approved by the board of directors in the aftermath of Megan Rapinoe's decision to kneel before the U.S . friendly against Thailand last fall. Rapinoe later said she would respect the new policy.
Rapinoe and players on Seattle and FC Kansas City skipped the national anthem before their NWSL game on Sunday.