Major League Soccer (MLS) is the United States' and Canada's top-tier professional [[TheBeautifulGame soccer]] league. Its predecessor league, the North American Soccer League (NASL) went out of business in 1984. MLS was founded in 1993 as a condition FIFA imposed on the US Soccer federation in exchange for allowing the United States to host the 1994 [[TheWorldCup World Cup]]. MLS operates more like the other North American professional sports leagues. Unlike other Association Football leagues in the world it currently does not have a relegation/promotion system. Each of the teams in the league are franchises granted by the league, as opposed to being completely individual entities like their European counterparts. MLS also relies on an American-style playoff format to determine its championship. It has 19 teams, 16 in the U.S. and three in Canada, with two more franchises having been commissioned an in the process of building a team.
In all but a few cases, teams play at 20,000 seat soccer-specific stadiums in suburban areas which are much cheaper to build, can also be used to host rock concerts and high school football games, and look much better packed with fans than in the early years of the league, when the majority of teams played in NFL stadiums which are downright cavernous for soccer. The Revolution and D.C. United still play in that type of venue, along with the Seattle Sounders; in the latter case ticket demand is enough to justify it.[[note]] The stadium choices for the Revolution and Sounders were not coincidental—both are owned either in full or part by NFL team owners. The Revolution are owned by Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots; the Sounders are part-owned by Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft and owner of the Seattle Seahawks.[[/note]] The Earthquakes play most of their games in a college football stadium, but that team will move into its own new stadium in 2015.
A regular MLS Season is played in a modified double round robin format, with all 19 teams playing 34 regular-season games. The standings are determined by the standard FIFA point system, with a win equal to 3 points, a draw with 1 point, and none for a loss. At the end of the regular season, the team with most points wins the Supporter's Shield trophy, and gains the number 1 seed at the playoffs.
The 2 top teams in each conference (including of course the regular season champion) are automatically guaranteed a spot in the MLS Playoffs, then the last 4 slots are allotted to the next 4 teams with the best regular season record, regardless of conference. This may cause a bit of a MindScrew for spectators, especially when teams from a conference dominate the last 4 standings. (This makes it possible for a Western Conference team to play in the Eastern Conference playoffs and vice-versa, making the whole concept of conferences pointless.) The quarterfinals of the postseason are two games each, with the team garnering higher aggregate goals advancing to the semifinals (or the Conference Finals, if the competing teams came from the same conference), where the conference winners will play for the MLS Cup. For the Semifinals and Finals however, only one game is played, in the case of ties, the game will go on to extra time, if it still fails to settle the score, penalty kicks will be utilized.
The league is divided into the Eastern and Western Conferences. Though team names originally followed the American convention of [City] [Nickname], many teams have switched to European-style names (Ex: The Kansas City Wizards are now Sporting Kansas City), or a hybrid of the two (Ex: "Seattle Sounders FC"). Many teams, especially those brought into the league in the last few years, are reincarnations of teams from lower-tier national leagues such as the USL and NASL (Ex: Portland Timbers). Officially, such teams are disbanded and the new team formed with the same management, and staff, but they generally acknowledge continuity with the prior franchise for record-keeping purposes.
'''Eastern Conference teams'''
* ''Chicago Fire'' - One of the more successful teams, they won the MLS Cup in their first season, 1998. They've fallen on hard times recently but have started to undergo a renaissance. They're also known for being the first club for Carlos Bocanegra, the former United States national team captain. Named for the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
* ''Columbus Crew'' - Notable for celebrating the working-class side of their fanbase. Won the MLS Cup in 2008, as well as three Supporters' Shields.
* ''D.C. United'' - the most decorated MLS club, with 4 MLS Cups and 4 Supporters' Shields. One of the founding members of MLS, the name "United" was adapted from English club names (like Manchester United and Leeds United) and is a reflection of Washington D.C.'s status as the capital of the ''United'' States. For most of the early years of MLS, D.C. United had the only European-style name. Also was the only MLS franchise to share a home pitch with a Major League Baseball team when the Nationals played at RFK Stadium for three seasons, meaning they played on turf laid over dirt in some places for part of the year.
* ''Houston Dynamo'' - An expansion team in 2006[[note]]in the same way that the Baltimore Ravens are an "expansion team" in the NFL. They were the ''original'' San Jose Earthquakes, having moved to Houston due to stadium issues.[[/note]]. Originally named "Houston 1836" to reflect the year Houston was founded and to have a European-style name along the lines of Schalke 04. However, the name displeased the Hispanic community in Houston, who related 1836 with the war for Texas independence. "Dynamo" comes from Houston's energy industry and many former Soviet Union-era clubs such as Dynamo Moscow. They immediately won two MLS Cups.
* ''Montreal Impact'' - The third Canadian team to join the league (after Toronto FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps in that order), they replaced a second-division (USL/USSF/NASL) club of the same name in 2012. Some high-profile matches are played at the larger Olympic Stadium.
* ''New England Revolution'' - Perhaps the least successful of the ten founding franchises. The Revs have not won the Cup, nor have they won the shield. Their only trophies have been from international competitions. Sister team of the Patriots and play in Gillette Stadium.
* ''New York Red Bulls'' - the only MLS team to have their sponsor included in the team name. Current team of Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill. Also notable for having a severe case of EveryYearTheyFizzleOut (like cans of Red Bull) when they're in good years, especially as of late. Typically, the Red Bulls will field one of the most skilled and talented squads in the league, but fail to make the cup. Current MLS Supporters' Shield Champions.
* ''Philadelphia Union'' - another of the newer franchises in MLS, Philadelphia Union got started in 2010 and is based in the riverside suburb of Chester with a stadium having a beautiful view of the nearby Commodore Barry Bridge. A ''lot'' of their culture is related to BenjaminFranklin and UsefulNotes/TheAmericanRevolution- they have 13 stars on the crest, their name is a reference to the union of the Thirteen Colonies, they put a snake on the crest to reference Franklin's famous "Join or Die" political cartoon, their oldest and biggest supporters group is called the Sons of Ben...you get the idea.
* ''Sporting Kansas City'' - formerly the Kansas City Wizards, they adapted the "Sporting" name in association with European Club names. Current holders of the MLS Cup; also won both the MLS Cup and the Supporters' Shield in 2000, as well as the US Open Cup in 2004 and 2012. Most notable for defeating Manchester United in a friendly on July 25, 2010. Their home stadium is in Kansas City, Kansas, whereas most franchises in the Kansas City area play their home games in Kansas City, Missouri (which is the larger of the two). Current holders of the MLS Cup.
* ''Toronto FC'' - The first Canadian team to join MLS, having started playing in 2007. Though their MLS career is rather undistinguished (they have never finished higher than 11th in the league), they have been more successful in the Canadian Championship (contested by Toronto FC, Montreal Impact, and Vancouver Whitecaps FC since 2008, and also by FC Edmonton of the NASL since 2011), winning four years in a row from 2009-2012.
'''Western Conference teams'''
* ''CD Chivas USA'' - under the same ownership with its parent club, the Mexican team Club Deportivo Guadalajara, whose nickname is "Chivas" (Spanish for goat). It regarded by both Guadalajara and Chivas USA fans as the B-team of CD Guadalajara, making the former the only football club in the world with a reserves team playing in another country in another league. Controversially known in the 2013 season for their push to have a team of all Mexican and Mexican-American heritage.
* ''Colorado Rapids'' - one of the ten charter franchises of the MLS. Not exactly a decorated club, though they do have one MLS Cup to their name. Also notable for being the only team never to have advertisements on their kit.
* ''FC Dallas'' - formerly the Dallas Burn, they changed their name upon transferring to a soccer-specific ground, Pizza Hut Park (now Toyota Stadium) in 2005.
* ''Los Angeles Galaxy'' - Four times MLS Cup champions (2002, 2005, 2011, 2012), they are the second most decorated club after D.C. United. Made big news in 2007 by signing David Beckham. Current team of Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane.
* ''Portland Timbers'' - Joined the league in 2011, replacing the United Soccer Leagues team of the same name.
* ''Real Salt Lake'' - based on Utah, the "Real" in its name is meant to associate themselves with Real Madrid as well as having a European-sounding name. It was not until 2006 when Real Salt Lake and ''Los Blancos'' established a mutual partnership, with RSL and Real Madrid meeting twice a year for a friendly (one at home and one away), the training of RSL players at Santiago Bernabeu, and the establishment of a Real Madrid youth academy in Salt Lake City.
* ''San Jose Earthquakes'' - a 2008 expansion team that replaced the original San Jose Earthquakes team that moved to Houston after the 2005 season. Officially a continuation of the original team in terms of history and records, they are the 2001 and 2003 MLS Cup Champions, as well as the 2005 and 2012 MLS Supporters' Shield Champions. They played some of their better-drawing games in Oakland their first few years back due to the stadium issues that were still present. However, they will soon have a new stadium thanks to the vote going their way in a recent voter referendum.
* ''Seattle Sounders FC'' - Joined the league in 2009. Has had a good run in the league so far, leading the league in ticket sales each year and winning the U.S. Open Cup three years in a row. Partially owned by comedian and game-show host Drew Carey.
* ''Vancouver Whitecaps FC'' - Began MLS play in 2011, having also played in the USL with Seattle and Portland; currently the only MLS franchise with a retractable roof venue. The second Canadian team to join the league after Toronto FC. One of the club's owners is NBA All-Star and South African-born, British Columbia-raised Steve Nash. They have managed the unenviable feat of being the runners-up in five consecutive Canadian Championships (to Toronto FC from 2009-2012 and Montreal Impact in 2013).
Two MLS teams have gone defunct, both in the same year. Due to ownership and stadium troubles, the franchises both closed their doors after the 2001 season.
* ''Miami Fusion FC'' - The Fusion were one of MLS's first two expansion teams, joining in 1998 alongside the Chicago Fire. They were the first team to pick a hybridized name. They were a decent team overall, making the playoffs in three of their four years of existence and winning the 2001 Supporters' Shield. However, their incredibly low budget, equally low revenue, and lack of support meant that MLS pulled the plug on the franchise before the 2002 season.
* ''Tampa Bay Mutiny''- The Mutiny started off as one of the hottest teams in MLS, winning the Supporters' Shield for the inaugural season. However, they ended up losing the Eastern Conference final to eventual champions D.C. United. They went into a funk over the next few years as the team traded off its stars and moved into a new stadium. They underwent a strong resurgence in 2000, but failed to make it past the quarter-finals. They followed this up with an atrocious 2001, in which they racked up ''only 14 points''[[note]]Granted, the season did get shortened thanks to 9/11.[[/note]]. This still stands as the worst season by points in league history, and it was on that note that the Mutiny folded.
New expansion has been a hot topic since 2003, after the storm of the early-2000s downturn passed. Some have gone well, like the Cascadia Cup (Seattle, Portland, Vancouver). Others, not so much (CD Chivas [=USA=]). Some came out of left field (Salt Lake City, Toronto) but turned out okay. New York City FC will enter the league in 2015. Orlando was recently awarded another expansion franchise in Orlando City SC, also scheduled to enter the league in 2015. Another expansion team in Miami has been confirmed; it will enter the league once it can build a new stadium, which won't happen until at least 2017.[[note]]That team is backed by now-retired English football icon David Beckham, his business partner Simon Fuller (creator of the ''[[Series/AmericanIdol Idol]]'' franchise), and Bolivian telecom billionaire Marcelo Claure. Beckham exercised an option in his original MLS contract to buy an expansion team at a reduced price.[[/note]]
As in any league, rivalries exist between teams. Many arise on their own, whether based on the teams' shared history (such as the ''Atlantic Cup'' between D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls, two of the league's founding teams) or geographic proximity (such as the ''California Clásico'' between the Los Angeles Galaxy and the San Jose Earthquakes, the ''Honda SuperClasico'' between the Galaxy and CD Chivas USA, and the ''Cascadia Cup'' between the Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders FC and Vancouver Whitecaps FC). Others were deliberately created by teams under common ownership (such as the ''Lamar Hunt Pioneer Cup'' between the Columbus Crew and FC Dallas) or other unconventional premises (Columbus Crew and Toronto FC, whose ''Trillium Cup'' competition began with a bet between the two cities' mayors, and is named for the official flower of both Ohio and Ontario).
Many such rivalries are officially recognized by the teams and have been assigned a trophy. While most such contests award the conventional plaque or cup, the ''Texas Derby'' between FC Dallas and the Houston Dynamo awards the winner possession of an 18th century cannon. The Other Wiki has plenty of information on [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MLS_rivalry_cups recognized MLS rivalries]].