'''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 almost every other Association Football league in the world, it currently does not have a relegation/promotion system.[[note]]Another league that has fixed membership is the A-League of Australia, also with a team from New Zealand.[[/note]] Each of the teams in the league are franchises granted by the league, as opposed to being completely individual entities like their European counterparts.[[note]]The A-League operates the same way.[[/note]] The league has been criticized by its European counterparts and FIFA for its spring-to-fall scheduling, conflicting with the FIFA calendar and major summer tournaments, especially the World Cup.[[note]]In MLS' defense, playing during the winter would be less than ideal for MLS clubs in Canada and the Northern US. Seriously, running around in shorts in February in Chicago, Toronto, Montreal, New England or even New York or Philly isn't just dumb, it would get one committed to a mental hospital. Plus, from a marketing stand point, it only has to compete against UsefulNotes/MajorLeagueBaseball and UsefulNotes/{{NASCAR}} in the US and the [[UsefulNotes/CanadianFootballLeague CFL]] in Canada for viewership during the summer, while moving to a FIFA-compatible fall-to-spring calendar would mean MLS would not only have to compete against the top soccer leagues abroad (e.g. England's [[Main/EnglishPremierLeague Premiership]], France's Ligue 1, Germany's Bundesliga, Italy's Serie A, Mexico's Liga MX, Spain's La Liga, etc.; the closest exception is Brazil's Brasileiro Série A, which runs from May to November\December), it would also have domestic competition against the [[UsefulNotes/NationalFootballLeague NFL]], [[UsefulNotes/NationalBasketballAssociation NBA]], [[UsefulNotes/NationalHockeyLeague NHL]] and NCAA [[UsefulNotes/CollegiateAmericanFootball college football]] and basketball for viewership.[[/note]] MLS also relies on an American-style playoff format to determine its championship.[[note]]As does the A-League; Australian sports developed playoff systems on their own. Liga MX, the top league in Mexico, also determines its champions via playoffs, although it operates on a promotion/relegation system.[[/note]] It currently has 20 teams, 17 in the U.S. and three in Canada. The league will expand to 23 teams by 2018. MLS commissioner Don Garber stated that league intends to expand by 24 teams by 2020, with Miami currently holding the 24th slot; however, Garber stated that MLS may expand beyond 24 teams.

In all but a few cases, teams play at 18,000 to 30,000 seat soccer-specific stadiums which are less expensive to construct and maintain, can also be used to host rock concerts and high school and college 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 and large NCAA stadiums which are downright cavernous for soccer. The New England Revolution and D.C. United still play in that type of venue, along with Seattle Sounders FC; in the latter case ticket demand is enough to justify it.[[note]] The stadium choices for the Revolution and the 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 Vancouver Whitecaps FC share BC Place with the CFL's BC Lions, using a mechanized curtain system to close off the upper deck, and are the only current team to play in a retractable roof stadium. 2015 expansion clubs Orlando City SC and New York City FC are playing in the Citrus Bowl Stadium and Yankee Stadium, respectively, on an interim basis while they await construction of their own stadiums.

The league is divided into the Eastern and Western Conferences. A regular MLS Season is played in a modified double round robin format, with all 20 teams playing 34 regular-season games[[note]]Currently, a team plays against all 9 teams in their own conference at least twice with 6 additional intra-conference matches, and all 10 teams in the opposing conference once[[/note]], running from early March to late October. 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 top overall seed in the playoffs.

The top 6 teams in each conference qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs. The First Round in each conference consist of two one-game knockout matches, with the 4th seed hosting the 5th seed and the 3rd seed hosting the 6th seed, with extra time and penalty kicks if necessary. The winners of the knockout matches advance to the Conference Semifinals, and teams are reseeded with the lower remaining seed playing against the 1st seed and the higher remaining seed playing against the 2nd seed. The Conference Semifinals and Conference Finals are two games each, with the team garnering higher aggregate goals advancing to the next round. In the case of a tie at the end of the second leg, the away goals rule will be applied first (a new feature for the 2014 season). In other words, the team that scored more goals away from home will advance. If the teams are tied on both total goals and away goals, extra time is played. If the teams are still tied, penalty kicks are used; the away goals rule ''is not'' applied for goals scored during extra time. The winners of the Conference Finals advance to the MLS Cup, a single match that is hosted by the team which finished higher in the Supporters' Shield standings. Again, in case of a tie at full time, extra time is used, with penalty kicks if necessary.
From the league's inception until the 2011 season, the MLS Cup championship was held in a predetermined site, similar to the UsefulNotes/SuperBowl.

In continental competition, three to five MLS clubs participate in the CONCACAF[[note]]Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football[[/note]] Champions League. The United States is given four berths in the tournament while Canada is given one berth. Three of the United States berths are allocated through MLS, awarded to the MLS Cup champion and the two regular season conference champions. The fourth and final US slot is awarded to the winner of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, which is also contested by lower division professional teams (currently the second division NASL and the third division USL) and men's amateur teams sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federation[[note]]MLS clubs have won the US Open Cup in all but one year of the league's existence; the lone exception was in 1999 by the then-second division Rochester Rhinos[[/note]]. If a US-based team earns qualification by more than one method or if a Canadian team holds any MLS-allocated berth, then the berth(s) are given to the highest ranked US-based team(s) in the Supporters' Shield standings who otherwise failed to qualify. For the lone Canadian berth, the three Canadian MLS teams play in the Canadian Championship against the two Canadian teams in the NASL[[note]]Currently FC Edmonton and Ottawa Fury FC[[/note]].

Though team names originally followed the American convention of [City/Region] [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. [[BlackComedy Named for the Great Chicago Fire of 1871]].
* ''Columbus Crew SC'' - Notable for celebrating the working-class side of their fanbase. Won the MLS Cup in 2008, as well as three Supporters' Shields. The team is credited with building the first "soccer-specific" stadium, Mapfre Stadium[[note]]formerly Columbus Crew Stadium[[/note]], in the league, establishing the model for subsequent non-shared stadiums in the league.
* ''D.C. United'' - Second to the LA Galaxy in overall honors, 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. From 2005 to 2008, D.C. United shared its home ground with a Major League Baseball team when the Nationals played at RFK Stadium, meaning they played on turf laid over dirt in some places for part of the year.
* ''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. The Impact became the first Canadian team to reach the CONCACAF Champions League final in 2015, losing 5-3 on aggregate to Mexican club América. Current club of Didier Drogba.
* ''New England Revolution'' - Perhaps the least successful of the ten charter franchises[[note]]not counting the Tampa Bay Mutiny, who folded after the 2001 season[[/note]]. The Revs have not won the Cup, nor have they won the shield... [[EveryYearTheyFizzleOut despite being runners-up five times in the Cup, and second overall once]]. Their only trophies have been from the Open Cup or [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_American_SuperLiga international competitions]]. Sister team of the Patriots and play in Gillette Stadium.
* ''New York City FC'' - One of two new teams for 2015. Unlike the Red Bulls or the NFL's Jets and Giants, they're trying to play in the Big Apple itself; until a stadium is built, Yankee Stadium in The Bronx will host their games, becoming the second club (after D.C.) to share its ground with a Major League Baseball club. (This is not by coincidence—the [[UsefulNotes/MLBTeams New York Yankees]] own a 20% stake in the team, with [[EnglishPremierLeague Manchester City]] owning the rest.) Home of David Villa, Andrea Pirlo & Frank Lampard.
* ''New York Red Bulls'' - Originally the New York[=/=]New Jersey [=MetroStars=] (later just the [=MetroStars=], with no region identifier), they are the only MLS team to have their sponsor, [[JustifiedTrope who also owns the franchise]], included in the team name. Two-time and current Supporters' Shield winners (2013 and 2015). They were the last club of Thierry Henry, who retired after the 2014 season. 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.
* ''Orlando City SC'' - The other new club for 2015, and the first club based in Florida and the Southeastern US since the contraction of the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion FC after the 2001 season. Their ascent comes at the tail end of a whirlwind grassroots rise as a third-division minor league team. The team is playing in the newly remodeled Citrus Bowl Stadium while their permanent home stadium is constructed near the Amway Center; the new stadium was expected to open by their second season, but has now been delayed to the last half of that season. Home of Brazilian Ballon d'Or winner (Ricardo) Kaká. Also one of four MLS clubs with a DistaffCounterpart in the National Women's Soccer League; they operate the Orlando Pride, new to the NWSL for 2016.[[note]]Several other NWSL teams are in MLS markets, but do not have formal relationships with MLS teams.[[/note]]
* ''Philadelphia Union'' - An expansion team 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. Prior to the Union's establishment in 2008, Philadelphia was the largest media market without a MLS franchise, holding this distinction for nearly a decade.
* ''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 the NASL's FC Edmonton since 2011 and Ottawa Fury since 2014), winning four years in a row from 2009-2012. Rather unlucky in the league in recent years, as they are known for purchasing great new players and performing well in the regular season, but missing the playoffs by one or two spots. Home of American internationals Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, and Italian international Sebastian Giovinco.

'''Western Conference teams'''

* ''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 last team to put advertisements on their kit, finally doing so during the 2014 season. They are owned by Stan Kroenke, owner of the NFL's St. Louis Rams and majority shareholder of EnglishPremierLeague club Arsenal; his family also owns the NBA's Denver Nuggets and NHL's Colorado Avalanche.[[note]]Due to NFL rules, he was forced to transfer his interests in the Nuggets and Avs to a family trust after becoming sole owner of the Rams. His son Josh now has day-to-day control of those two teams.[[/note]]
* ''FC Dallas'' - formerly the Dallas Burn, they are another one of the 10 charter clubs of MLS. They changed their name upon transferring to a soccer-specific ground, Pizza Hut Park (now Toyota Stadium) in 2005. The team is owned by Kansas City Chiefs owner Clark Hunt; his late father Lamar Hunt was one of MLS' key investors, and the Hunt family also previously owned Sporting Kansas City and Columbus Crew SC.
* ''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. Another MLS team with a DistaffCounterpart, namely the Houston Dash.
* ''LA Galaxy'' - Five times and current MLS Cup champions (2002, 2005, 2011, 2012, 2014), their most recent Cup broke a tie with D.C. United for most decorated team. Made big news in 2007 by signing David Beckham. Current team of Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard, and also home to Landon Donovan for the final 10 years of his career[[note]]with three short-term loan stints at European clubs in that time[[/note]].
* ''Portland Timbers'' - Joined the league in 2011, replacing the United Soccer Leagues team of the same name. Has found quite a fanbase (even if the closest they got to a title was the semifinals in 2013) and hosted the 2014 All-Star game. Still another MLS team with an official DistaffCounterpart, namely Portland Thorns FC.
* ''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, a voter referendum for a new stadium in San Jose went their way and they opened their new digs, Avaya Stadium, in 2015. Originally known as the San Jose Clash, the Earthquakes adopted their current name from the original NASL franchise of the same name just after the conclusion of the 1999 season.
* ''Seattle Sounders FC'' - The first club to be promoted to MLS from a lower-division league, joining MLS in 2009. Has had a good run in the league so far, leading the league in ticket sales each year, winning the U.S. Open Cup[[note]]Basically, think UsefulNotes/TheFACup with American teams[[/note]] four times (including three in a row), and also claiming the Supporters' Shield in 2014. Partially owned by comedian and game-show host Drew Carey. Current team of Clint Dempsey, captain of the U.S. national team.
* ''Sporting Kansas City'' - formerly the Kansas City Wizards, they adapted the "Sporting" name in association with European Club names. Winners of two MLS Cups (2000 and 2013), plus the Supporters' Shield in 2000 and 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). The last of the four MLS teams with an official DistaffCounterpart, although unlike the other three, the NWSL team is separately owned. Sporting entered into a partnership with FC Kansas City in 2015.
* ''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 and to share their stadium with a CFL team, the BC Lions.[[note]]However, starting in 2016, the Toronto Argonauts will share BMO Field with Toronto FC, and 2017 expansion club Atlanta United FC will have the second retractable roof venue in MLS.[[/note]] The second Canadian team to join the league after Toronto FC. One of the club's owners is now-retired NBA All-Star and South African-born, British Columbia-raised Steve Nash. In 2015, they finally became the third MLS team to win the Canadian Championship after having previously managed the unenviable feat of five consecutive second-place finishes (to Toronto FC from 2009-12 and to Montreal Impact in 2013).

'''Defunct Teams'''

Three MLS teams have folded, two of which came in the same year, from the ''same state'' no less. Due to ownership and stadium troubles, the franchises both closed their doors after the 2001 season. The league has recovered since then, with no dying teams until 2014.

* ''CD Chivas USA'' - Before the 2014 season, it was under the same ownership as its then-parent club, the Mexican team Club Deportivo Guadalajara, whose nickname is "Chivas" (Spanish for goat). It was 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, with two dismissed non-Latino youth coaches filing a discrimination lawsuit. Shortly before the 2014 season, the team was bought by MLS.
** After two seasons of abysmal numbers,[[note]]Hint: they were outdrawn by half the pro minor leagues of soccer[[/note]] the league decided to fold Chivas USA, and instead sold the franchise rights to an investor group led by venture capitalist Henry Nguyen. The replacement, Los Angeles FC, will start play either in 2017 or 2018. This new team will not carry over the records from Chivas, making that franchise effectively dead in MLS' eyes.
* ''Miami Fusion FC'' - The Fusion were one of MLS' 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''- A MLS charter club, 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. Four future teams have been confirmed:

* ''Atlanta United FC'' is scheduled to enter MLS in 2017. Arthur Blank, founder of The Home Depot and owner of the [[UsefulNotes/NationalFootballLeague Atlanta Falcons]], will own the team, and the club will share the Falcons' new stadium, Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The new stadium is designed to be scalable for soccer, retracting lower bowl seats to widen the field and closing off the upper decks with a mechanized curtain. Between 2008 and 2014, Atlanta was the largest media market without a MLS club, and it was also the last top 10 media market to enter the league.
* ''Los Angeles FC'' has been announced as an expansion team separate from CD Chivas USA, which folded after the 2014 season. The ownership group is led by Harry Nguyen and includes names like Vincent Tan, [[UsefulNotes/NationalBasketballAssociation Magic Johnson]] and Mia Hamm. The team currently plans to build its new stadium on the site of the LA Memorial Sports Arena; however, this delayed their entry into the league to 2018.
* ''Miami'' will enter the league once it can build a new stadium; however, unlike Atlanta, Minnesota, and LA, no expected entry year has been set for Miami. 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 Miami-based Bolivian telecom billionaire Marcelo Claure. Beckham exercised an option in his original MLS contract to buy an expansion team at a reduced price[[note]]The owners for NYCFC, Orlando City, Atlanta United, LAFC, and MN United paid between $70 million to $100 million as expansion fees while Beckham paid $25 million for the right to field a MLS club[[/note]]. After two rejected proposals to build the stadium near the American Airlines Arena, Beckham is looking to build the stadium near Marlins Park.
* ''Minnesota United FC'' is scheduled to enter the league in 2018. MN United will become the sixth MLS club to be promoted from a lower-division league. The club's ownership group includes current NASL franchise owner Bill [=McGuire=], Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, and Twins owner Jim Pohlad. This group beat out Vikings' owner Zygi Wilf, as MLS preferred MN United's outdoor soccer-specific stadium plan, as opposed to Wilf's intentions of hosting the team in U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings' new domed stadium currently under construction. MN United originally planned to build their new stadium near the Twins' home of Target Field; however, the team now plans to build the stadium in St. Paul after plans in Minneapolis stalled.

Several other cities (Sacramento, San Antonio, St. Louis, & Las Vegas) are also seriously vying for expansion slots, especially if one of the above mentioned planned expansions fall through or if[=/=]when the league decides to expand beyond 24 clubs.


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 now-defunct ''Honda [=SuperClasico=]'' between the Galaxy and CD Chivas USA (to be revived, though maybe with different sponsorship, when LAFC enters the league), 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]].