Useful Notes / Major League Soccer

Major League Soccer (MLS) is the United States' and Canada's top-tier professional 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 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. Each of the teams in the league are franchises granted by the league, as opposed to being completely individual entities like their European counterparts. The A-League in Australia is the only other soccer league to operate the same way. The second-level United Soccer League serves as Major League Soccer's minor league, with each MLS team either owning their own reserve team or affiliating with an independently-owned team.

Another difference between MLS and its European counterparts is that the season runs from spring-to-fall. This has been criticized by its European counterparts and FIFA on the grounds it conflicts with the FIFA calendar and major summer tournaments, especially the World Cup. So far, the main reason MLS have opposed a fall-to-spring schedule is because of winter weather in Canada and some parts of the US. Plus, from a marketing standpoint, a spring-to-fall schedule means MLS only has to compete against Major League Baseball and NASCAR in the US and the CFL in Canada for viewership during the summer. A FIFA-compatible fall-to-spring calendar would mean MLS would be in competition against both several other American sports leagues (NFL, NBA, NHL and NCAA college football) and soccer leagues from abroad. Most of the other countries with spring-to-fall soccer leagues are either in the Southern Hemisphere (e.g. Brazil) or far up north (e.g. Sweden).

MLS also relies on an American-style playoff format to determine its championship.note  It currently has 22 teams, 19 in the U.S. and three in Canada. The league will add a 23rd team, Los Angeles FC, in 2018 and Miami is currently planned as the league's 24th team. MLS commissioner Don Garber stated that the league will expand to 26 teams in 2020 and to 28 at a later date.

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 teams who currently do not play in a MLS-specific stadium are Atlanta, D.C., Minnesota, New England, NYCFC, Seattle, and Vancouver. New England, Seattle and Vancouver play in an NFL or CFL stadium, Atlanta and Minnesota play in a college football stadium, NYCFC plays in a MLB ballpark, and D.C. plays in a 1960s-era multipurpose stadium. Both D.C. and Minnesota are constructing their own soccer-specific stadiums, which they expect to open sometime in 2018, while New England and NYCFC are seeking their own stadiums.

Unlike most soccer leagues, MLS does not employ a single table, double round-robin format for its regular season; instead, the league is divided into Eastern and Western Conferences using an unbalanced schedule. In the current format, teams play 34 games, playing their conference opponents at least twice and teams in the opposite conference once. 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 Supporters' 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 top two teams in each conference receives a bye into the Conference Semifinals. The First Round in each conference consists 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 is applied first (a feature added 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 Super Bowl.

In continental club competition, three to five MLS clubs participate in the CONCACAFnote  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, which are currently awarded to the MLS Cup champion and the two regular season conference champions. The fourth United States berth is awarded to the winner of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, which is also contested by lower division professional teams (currently the NASL and USL) and men's amateur teams sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federationnote . If a US-based team earns qualification by more than one method or if a Canadian team holds any MLS-allocated berth, then the affected berth is given to the highest ranked US-based team in the Supporters' Shield standings which has otherwise failed to qualify. For the one Canadian berth, the three Canadian MLS teams play in the Canadian Championship against Canadian teams in the NASL and USL not owned by MLS teams. Starting in 2017, teams must start at least three Canadian players during the Canadian Championship; also, the competition will expand in 2018 to include the winners of the semi-pro League1 Ontario and Première Ligue de soccer du Québec.

The MLS is generally looked down upon by European fans/fans of European teams, who look at it as the place that over the hill European players go to get one final paycheck after they can't cut the mustard in Europe. The lack of relegation/promotion, the Eastern/Western Conference league structurenote , and the use of a postseason playoff rather than the Supporters' Shield to determine the league's champion doesn't help.

However, like the US national team, it is beginning to, slowly, get respect, with European players like Steven Gerrard (talismanic captain of Liverpool FC, second most successful club in English history, considered by his peers to be the best player in his position on the planet in his prime and winner of just about every trophy short of the Premier League itself - and he was one slip away from winning that, too) the most recent acquisition of LA Galaxy, firmly insisting that he hadn't come to just see his career out and wanted to win trophies. On top of that, players that go to play in the MLS are often still in demand in Europe, with AC Milan and Paris St. Germain, two of the biggest clubs in Europe, taking David Beckham on loan in the MLS off-season, Frank Lampard forming a key part of Manchester City's team after New York City FC loaned him back and Landon Donovan having several highly successful stints at Everton FC, a well-regarded English club which was the long term home of US goalkeeper Tim 'Secretary of Defence' Howard, and becoming a fan favourite.

Now, the US is seen as the sleeping giant of football, thanks to increasing awareness of the game thanks to television coverage of English Premier League, which has the advantage of a similar culture/appealing to America's rampant Anglophilia, and a sprinkling of US players, the growing success of the national team (now regarded as a disciplined second tier team that can be a real threat to traditional power houses England, Germany and the Netherlands) a growing Hispanic population which is football mad and as a result, many of the big (and rich) European teams regularly come on tour to the US, some, like Manchester City, forging links with MLS clubs (meaning that in time, we're likely to see talented young players from Europe being blooded in the MLS) while other teams set up academies to pick up talented players.note  In short, for the MLS and Association Football in the United States as a whole, the future looks bright.

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

  • Atlanta United FC - One of two new clubs for 2017. Arthur Blank, founder of The Home Depot and owner of the Atlanta Falcons, will own the team, and the club will share the Falcons' new stadium, Mercedes-Benz Stadium. 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. Due to construction delays with Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the team will play its home matches at Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium until the new stadium is ready.
  • 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; in fact, the official announcement of the team's entry into MLS was made on the anniversary of said event.
  • 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 MLS-specific stadium, with other teams soon following suit.
  • 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 franchisesnote . The Revs have not won the Cup, nor have they won the shield... despite being runners-up five times in the Cup, and second overall once. Their only trophies have been from the Open Cup or international competitions. Sister team of the Patriots and play in Gillette Stadium.
  • New York City FC - One of the two 2015 expansion teams, and the second team based in the New York metropolitan area. 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 New York Yankees own a 20% stake in the team, with Manchester City owning the rest.) Home of David Villa and Andrea Pirlo.
  • 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, who also owns the franchise, included in the team name. Two-time 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 Every Year They Fizzle Out (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 - A 2015 expansion team, they are 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. Home of Brazilian Ballon d'Or winner (Ricardo) Kaká. Also one of four MLS clubs with a Distaff Counterpart in the National Women's Soccer League; they operate the Orlando Pride, new to the NWSL for 2016.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 Benjamin Franklin and The American Revolution — 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 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 (until 2016, they had 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; however, they overcame this in the 2016 playoffs to become the first Canadian team to reach the MLS Cup game, beating national rivals Montreal in the Eastern Conference final. 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, they are 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 Los Angeles Rams and majority shareholder of English Premier League club Arsenal; his family also owns the NBA's Denver Nuggets and NHL's Colorado Avalanche.note  Current club of the aforementioned Tim Howard.
  • 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. Won their first Supporters' Shield in 2016.
  • Houston Dynamo - An expansion team in 2006note . 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 Distaff Counterpart, namely the Houston Dash.
  • LA Galaxy - Five time 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 Giovani dos Santos and Ashley Cole, and also home to Landon Donovan for most of his MLS career (2005–2014, plus a short comeback in 2016).
  • Minnesota United FC - The second of the two expansion teams for 2017. Minnesota United became the sixth MLS club to be promoted from a lower-division league. The club's ownership group includes former NASL franchise owner Bill McGuire, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, and Twins owner Jim Pohlad. Minnesota 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. For at least their inaugural season, the team will play their home matches at the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium while the St. Paul stadium is being built.
  • Portland Timbers - Joined the league in 2011, replacing the United Soccer Leagues team of the same name. Has found quite a fanbase, hosted the 2014 All-Star game and won their first MLS Cup in 2015. Still another MLS team with an official Distaff Counterpart, 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 current MLS Cup champions. 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 Cupnote  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, 2012 and 2015. 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 Distaff Counterpart, 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 from 2011 to 2015 the only team to share their stadium with a CFL team, the BC Lions.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 - MLS' first attempt at a second Los Angeles team. 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 goats). 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  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 in 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 pointsnote . 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. Two future teams have been announced:

  • Los Angeles FC is scheduled to join the league in 2018. This club replaces Chivas USA as the Los Angeles market's second team. Unlike the Galaxy, LAFC will play in the Los Angeles city limits. The ownership group is led by Harry Nguyen and includes names like Vincent Tan, Magic Johnson, Mia Hamm, and Will Ferrell. The team is building its new stadium, Banc of California Stadium, adjacent to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on the site formerly occupied by the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena.
  • Miami will enter the league once it can build a new stadium. That team is backed by now-retired English football icon David Beckham, his business partner Simon Fuller (creator of the 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 pricenote . After three failed stadium proposals, Miami Beckham United currently plans to build their new stadium in the Overtown neighborhood. The Miami-Dade government had previously endorsed FIU'snote  on-campus football stadium as a short-term solution. The league sought to have the Miami team ready in 2018, to launch alongside LAFC; however, with the league's announcement of expansion for 2020 and intense competition for new franchises, Beckham's group could end up losing its franchise rights if a stadium is not secured in time.

Several other cities, particularly those with an existing NASL or USL team, are also seriously vying for expansion slots when the league formally opens expansion for 2020 or if Miami's expansion bid collapses. Markets up for consideration for the 2020 expansion include Charlotte, Cincinnati, Detroit, Indianapolis, Nashville, Phoenix, Raleigh-Durham, Sacramento, St. Louis, San Antonio, San Diego and Tampa Bay.


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), the Hudson River Derby between New York City FC and the New York Red Bulls, 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 recognized MLS rivalries.