Major League Soccer (MLS) is the United States' and Canada'snote top-tier professional soccer league. Its predecessor league, the North American Soccer League (NASL) closed its doors 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 men's (or women's) 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 men's soccer league to operate the same way; both countries' top women's leagues, the National Women's Soccer League in the States and the W-League in Australia, also use this model.note Also, unlike any of the traditional major leagues of the US and Canada (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL), MLS operates on a "single-entity" model, in which all teamsand even (technically) player contractsare owned by the league itself. The team operators, who do enjoy much the same control that team owners do in other major leagues, are actually shareholders in the league. The second-level USL Championship (formerly the United Soccer League, a name now used by the governing body of several lower-level leagues) 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 (although this has not yet been strictly enforced). Starting with the 2019 season, a few MLS teams have their reserve sides in USL League One, a new third-level league operated by the USL organization, rather than the USLC. One team (the Chicago Fire) had affiliated sides in both the USLC and USL 1 in 2019, but the USL 1 side folded after that season.
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 the northernmost 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 soccer leagues whose seasons fall within a single calendar year are either in the Southern Hemisphere, where such a league would play a fall-to-spring calendar (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 26 teams, 23 in the U.S. and three in Canada. Inter Miami CF and Nashville SC are the league's newest clubs for 2020. Austin FC will join in 2021 as the 27th team, Charlotte FC will join in 2022 as the 28th team, and St. Louis City SC and Sacramento Republic FC will become the 29th and 30th teams in 2023.
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, give MLS team investor-operators greater revenue control, can also be used to host other events such as 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. In the early years of MLS-specific stadiums, they were often built in the suburbs; however, the trend has since shifted to building them within the city proper. The teams who currently do not play in a MLS-specific stadium are Atlanta United FC, Chicago Fire FC, FC Cincinnati, Nashville SC, the New England Revolution, NYCFC, the Seattle Sounders, and the Vancouver Whitecaps. Atlanta, Chicago, Nashville, New England, Seattle and Vancouver share a stadium with an NFL or CFL team.note FCC plays in a college football stadium and NYCFC plays in an MLB ballpark. FCC is building its own stadium and will open it in 2021, and both New England and NYCFC are actively seeking their own stadiums. Future expansion sides Austin FC, St. Louis City SC, and Sacramento Republic FC plan to have soccer-specific stadiums in place by the time they debut (Austin in 2021, St. Louis and Sacramento in 2023), while Charlotte FC plans to share the Carolina Panthers' Bank of America Stadium.note
Unlike most soccer leagues, MLS does not employ a single table, double round-robin format for its regular season; instead, the league is evenly split into Eastern and Western Conferences using an unbalanced schedule. In the current format, teams play 34 matches, playing their conference opponents twice and ten 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.
Since the 2019 season, the top 7 teams in each conference qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs. Rather than the two-legged ties used during the Conference Semifinals and Conference Finals in years past, all playoff matches are single-elimination, with extra time and penalty kicks used for matches tied after regulation time. The conference champion receives a bye in the Conference Quarterfinals while the remaining higher seeds host the lower seeds (2 vs. 7, 3 vs. 6, and 4 vs. 5). Similar to the NBA playoffs, the MLS Cup playoffs use a fixed bracket rather than reseeding teams, meaning the top seed will face the winner of the 4/5 match and the winners of the 3/6 and 2/7 matches will face each other in the semifinals. From the league's inception until the 2011 season, the MLS Cup championship was hosted at a predetermined site, similar to the Super Bowl; since 2012, the MLS Cup championship match is hosted by the higher seeded team in the Supporters' Shield table.
In continental club competition, three to five MLS clubs participate in the CONCACAFnote Champions Leaguenote . The United States is given four direct berths in the tournament while Canada is given one direct berth.note Three of the United States' CCL 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 CCL berth is awarded to the winner of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cupnote , which is also contested by lower division professional and amateur teams sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federationnote ; however, except for one year, MLS has dominated the US Open Cup since the league's 1996 launch. 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 table which has otherwise failed to qualify. For the single Canadian direct CCL berth, the three Canadian MLS teams play in the Canadian Championship against other professional and semi-pro Canadian teams.note Starting in 2017, teams must start at least three Canadian players during the Canadian Championship. The competition expanded in 2018 to include the winners of the semi-pro League1 Ontario and Première Ligue de soccer du Québec. It expanded further for 2019, with all teams of the newly launched Canadian Premier League also competing for the Canadian Championship. To date, no MLS club, American or Canadian, has won the Champions League in its current format, which has been largely dominated by Liga MX clubs; however, Real Salt Lake, Montreal Impact, and Toronto FC have reached the Champions League finals in 2011, 2015, and 2018, respectively, and DC United and LA Galaxy have won the Champions League's predecessor tournament, the CONCACAF Champions' Cup, in 1998 and 2000, respectively.
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) a major 2015 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; 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; and Zlatan Ibrahimović, who came from Man United to the Galaxy about a month into the 2018 season and ended the season as a finalist for league MVP, being a speculated target of several big European sides before signing what was reported to be the richest MLS contract in history to stay in LA.
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
First Season: 2017Current Head Coach: Stephen Glass (interim)Current Captain: Jeff LarentowiczStadium: Mercedes-Benz StadiumnoteShirt Sponsor: American Family InsuranceTrophies Won: 2018 MLS Cup, 2019 US Open Cup2019 Position: Eastern Conference: 2nd. Overall: 3rd. Playoffs: Conference FinalsUSL Affiliate: Atlanta United 2 (directly owned)
One of two new clubs for 2017. Arthur Blank, founder of The Home Depot and owner of the Atlanta Falcons, owns the team. 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 played its home matches at Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium during the first half of its debut season. Notably ended the Seattle Sounders' reign as the leagues attendance champion, drawing over 48,000 per home game in its inaugural season and well over 50K in both following seasons. Home of Venezuelan international Josef Martínez, who holds the MLS record for career hat-tricks (6) as well as consecutive league matches with at least one goal scored (15), and set a record for single-season goals in 2018 (31) that lasted all of one season.
- Chicago Fire FC
First Season: 1998Current Head Coach: Raphaël WickyCurrent Captain: Francisco CalvoStadium: Soldier Field noteShirt Sponsor: ValsparTrophies Won: 1998 MLS Cup, 2003 Supporters Shield, 1998, 2000, 2003 & 2006 US Open Cup2019 Position: Eastern Conference: 8th. Overall: 17th. Playoffs: Did not qualifyUSL Affiliate: Indy Eleven (affiliated)
One of the first teams established after MLS' launch along with the now-defunct Miami Fusion FC, the Fire won both the MLS Cup and the US Open Cup in their inaugural season in 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, and as the last club of Bastian Schweinsteiger, who retired at the end of the 2019 season. 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. In 2019, the club announced its intentions to abandon its MLS-specific stadium in suburban Bridgeview in favor of returning to the larger Soldier Field, at least temporarily, starting in the 2020 season.
- Columbus Crew SC
First Season: 1996Current Head Coach: Caleb PorterCurrent Captain: Jonathan MensahStadium: Mapfre StadiumnoteShirt Sponsor: Nationwide Children's HospitalTrophies Won: 2008 MLS Cup, 2004, 2008 & 2009 Supporters Shield, 2002 US Open Cup2019 Position: Eastern Conference: 10th. Overall: 20th. Playoffs: Did not qualifyUSL Affiliate: None currently
One of the ten charter clubs, the Crew are 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 following suit. In October 2017, then-team owner Anthony Precourt announced his intention to move the club to Austin, Texas in 2019 if he didn't get a new stadium built in downtown Columbus. This potential move not only angered Crew supporters, with some rival supporter groups showing their disapproval as well, but it also threw a monkey wrench into San Antonio's expansion efforts.note The city of Columbus and state of Ohio also filed suit, citing a state law that had been passed in the wake of the even more controversial relocation of the Cleveland Browns. The Crew's situation resonated with the Browns ownership, and they entered into talks with MLS and Precourt to buy the Crew. Just before the end of 2018, a settlement was reached: Columbus and the state of Ohio dropped their suit; the Browns owners bought the Crew and kept the team in Columbus, pledging over $200 million for a new Crew stadium; and Precourt got a new MLS team for Austin, with a stadium deal in that city having been inked while the negotiations with the Browns were nearing their end.
- D.C. United
First Season: 1996Current Head Coach: Ben OlsenCurrent Captain: Steve BirnbaumStadium: Audi FieldnoteShirt Sponsor: LeidosTrophies Won: 1996, 1997, 1999 & 2004 MLS Cup, 1997, 1999, 2006 & 2007 Supporters Shield, 1996, 2008 & 2013 US Open Cup2019 Position: Eastern Conference: 5th. Overall: 10th. Playoffs: Conference QuarterfinalsUSL Affiliate: Loudoun United FC (directly owned)
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. After playing in RFK Stadium from their 1996 inception until 2017, the club opened the new Audi Field in the District during the 2018 season.note Longtime Manchester United and England star Wayne Rooney was captain for two seasons until returning to England after the 2019 season to become a player and assistant coach at Derby County.
- FC Cincinnati
First Season: 2019Current Head Coach: Yoann Damet (interim)Current Captain: Kendall WastonStadium: Nippert Stadium noteShirt Sponsor: Mercy HealthTrophies Won: None2019 Position: Eastern Conference: 12th. Overall: 24th. Playoffs: Did not qualifyUSL Affiliate: None yet
FC Cincinnati was announced as the next member of MLS in May 2018, becoming the seventh team to be promoted to MLS from a lower-level league. Founded in 2015 and playing its first season in the United Soccer League (now known as the USL Championship) in 2016, FCC is backed by a group led by local billionaire Carl Lindner III. During its time in the USL, FCC was the best-supported U.S. soccer team outside of MLS, consistently drawing crowds at the University of Cincinnati's (American) football stadium that would place the team safely in the top half of MLS (and, in fact, fourth in 2018). It had been the early favorite to snag one of the franchises awarded in the 2018 phase, but initially lost out to Nashville due largely to problems finding an appropriate site for a new stadium. Shortly before the MLS announcement, FCC reached a deal with the city of Cincinnati for a new stadium in the West End, near downtown and the rapidly gentrifying Over-the-Rhine, that is expected to open in 2021. Although FCC's entry was announced after Miami and Nashville, it joined MLS in 2019, largely because its current home could easily accommodate crowds larger than the new stadium can hold.note While Cincy's media market is smaller than that of any previously existing MLS team, the market of another future MLS entry, Austin, is smaller still. Even though the team propped up the MLS table in its first season, the fans turned out in droves, placing FCC third in average attendance behind the attendance giants of Atlanta United and the Seattle Sounders.
- Inter Miami CF
First Season: 2020Current Head Coach: Diego AlonsoCurrent Captain: Luis RoblesStadium: Inter Miami CF StadiumnoteShirt Sponsor: TBATrophies Won: None2019 Position: Not applicable; team began play in 2020USL Affiliate: Fort Lauderdale CF (directly owned; USL League One)
After several years in limbo due to stadium issues, the Miami franchise was finally made official in January 2018 and in September of the same year, the club's name was unveiled: Club Internacional de Fútbol Miami.note The club was initially backed by retired English football icon David Beckham, his business partner Simon Fuller (creator of the Idol franchise), and Miami-based Bolivian telecom billionaire Marcelo Claure. In December 2017, the ownership group gained further financial clout with the addition of Miami construction magnates Jorge and José Mas and Japanese telecom billionaire Masayoshi Son (a business partner of Claure). Beckham exercised an option in his original MLS contract to buy an expansion team at a reduced price.note After three failed stadium proposals, Miami Beckham United then planned 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 have lost their franchise rights if a stadium was not secured in time. More recently, rumors emerged in spring 2017 that the Beckham group may abandon Miami in favor of Las Vegas; however, in June 2017, the group acquired the last parcel of land necessary to build their stadium, and that October, a local judge dismissed a lawsuit seeking to halt construction. In July 2018, Beckham unveiled alternate plans for a stadium as part of a larger mixed-use development, dubbed Miami Freedom Park, on the site of the city-owned Melreese Country Club, near Miami International Airport. The Melreese site was approved by Miami-Dade voters in a November 2018 referendum, but the Miami-Dade council still has to approve it. In late January 2019, Inter Miami announced plans to redevelop the Lockhart Stadium site to serve as their permanent training ground; the development also includes a new 18,000-seat stadium which will host Inter Miami's future USL reserve side (later unveiled as Fort Lauderdale CF) while also serving as an interim home for the first team for their first two seasons. The club received unanimous approval from the Fort Lauderdale city council to redevelop the Lockhart Stadium site in April 2019 and demolished the old Lockhart Stadium a month later; the replacement became known as Inter Miami CF Stadium. Fort Lauderdale CF started play in League One in 2020. Inter is currently home to Argentine international Gonzalo Higuaín.
- Montreal Impact
First Season: 2012Current Head Coach: Thierry HenryCurrent Captain: Jukka RaitalaStadium: Stade SaputonoteShirt Sponsor: Bank of MontrealTrophies Won: 2013, 2014 & 2019 Canadian Championship2019 Position: Eastern Conference: 9th. Overall: 18th. Playoffs: Did not qualifyUSL Affiliate: None currentlynote
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's regular home ground, Stade Saputo, is located just north of 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.
- New England Revolution
First Season: 1996Current Head Coach: Bruce ArenaCurrent Captain: Carles GilStadium: Gillette StadiumnoteShirt Sponsor: UnitedHealthcareTrophies Won: 2007 US Open Cup2019 Position: Eastern Conference: 7th. Overall: 14th. Playoffs: Conference QuarterfinalsUSL Affiliate: Revolution II (directly owned; starts play in USL League One in 2020)
Perhaps the least successful among the ten charter franchises, not counting the Tampa Bay Mutiny, who folded after the 2001 season. 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
First Season: 2015Current Head Coach: Ronny DeilaCurrent Captain: Alexander RingStadium: Yankee StadiumnoteShirt Sponsor: Etihad AirwaysTrophies Won: None2019 Position: Eastern Conference: 1st. Overall: 2nd. Playoffs: Conference SemifinalsUSL Affiliate: San Antonio FC (affiliated)
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 is hosting their games, making NYCFC the second club (after D.C.) to share its stadium with a Major League Baseball club. (This is not by coincidencethe New York Yankees own a 20% stake in the team, with Manchester City owning the rest.) Had a couple of high-profile players in their early years in Andrea Pirlo and David Villa, but both are now gone.
- New York Red Bulls
First Season: 1996Current Head Coach: Chris ArmasCurrent Captain: Sean DavisStadium: Red Bull ArenanoteShirt Sponsor: Not applicable; team operator Red Bull places its logo on the shirtsTrophies Won: 2013, 2015 & 2018 Supporters Shield2019 Position: Eastern Conference: 6th. Overall: 12th. Playoffs: Conference QuarterfinalsUSL Affiliate: New York Red Bulls II (USL Championship), New York Red Bulls U-23 (USL League Two) (both directly owned)
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 club, included in the team name. Three-time Supporters' Shield winners (2013, 2015, 2018). They were the last club of Thierry Henry, who retired as a player after the 2014 season but returned to MLS in 2019 as the Montreal Impact head coach. 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. They also have one of the most developed soccer academies in US soccer, as well as one of the best USL Championship team (New York Red Bulls II). The Red Bulls' 2018 Supporters Shield win set the MLS record for most points attained in a single season (71) as well as the most wins since regular season penalty kicks were eliminated in 2000 (22). They still hold the wins record, but the points record fell the next season to LAFC.
- Orlando City SC
First Season: 2015Current Head Coach: Óscar ParejaCurrent Captain: NaniStadium: Exploria StadiumnoteShirt Sponsor: Orlando HealthTrophies Won: None2019 Position: Eastern Conference: 11th. Overall: 22nd. Playoffs: Did not qualifyUSL Affiliate: Orlando City B (directly owned; USL League One)
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 came at the tail end of a whirlwind grassroots rise as a third-division minor league team. The final club of Brazilian Ballon d'Or winner (Ricardo) Kaká, who retired after the 2017 season; Portugal international Nani is the current captain. Also one of four MLS clubs with a Distaff Counterpart in the National Women's Soccer League; they operate the Orlando Pride, which joined the NWSL in 2016.note
- Philadelphia Union
First Season: 2010Current Head Coach: Jim CurtinCurrent Captain: Alejandro BedoyaStadium: Subaru ParknoteShirt Sponsor: Bimbo Bakeries USATrophies Won: None2019 Position: Eastern Conference: 3rd. Overall: 5th. Playoffs: Conference SemifinalsUSL Affiliate: Philadelphia Union II note (directly owned)
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 Ben... you get the idea. Prior to the Union's establishment in 2008, Philadelphia was the largest media market without an MLS franchise, holding this distinction for nearly a decade. During the league's COVID-19 hiatus in 2020, NBA superstar Kevin Durant became a new minority investor in the team.
- Toronto FC
First Season: 2007Current Head Coach: Greg VanneyCurrent Captain: Jozy AltidoreStadium: BMO FieldnoteShirt Sponsor: Bank of MontrealnoteTrophies Won: 2017 MLS Cup; 2017 Supporters Shield; 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2016, 2017 & 2018 Canadian Championship2019 Position: Eastern Conference: 4th. Overall: 9th. Playoffs: MLS Cup Runner-upUSL Affiliate: Toronto FC II (directly owned; USL League One)
The first Canadian team to join MLS, having started play in 2007. Though their MLS career started out rather undistinguished (until 2016, they had never finished higher than 11th in the league), they have been more successful in the Canadian Championship (currently contested by the country's three MLS teams, all Canadian Premier League teams, and two champions of lower-level Canadian leagues), winning four years in a row from 2009-2012. Rather unlucky in the league for many years, as they were 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. The next year, TFC became the first Canadian team to claim the Supporters Shield and the MLS Cup. In addition, because they also won the Canadian Championship, it means that TFC became the first Canadian and MLS team to achieve a domestic treble. Home of American internationals Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore.
Western Conference teams
- Colorado Rapids
First Season: 1996Current Head Coach: Robin FraserCurrent Captain: Jack PriceStadium: Dicks Sporting Goods ParknoteShirt Sponsor: TransamericaTrophies Won: 2010 MLS Cup2019 Position: Western Conference: 9th. Overall: 16th. Playoffs: Did not qualifyUSL Affiliate: Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (affiliated)
One of the ten charter franchises of the MLS, they are not exactly a decorated club; although they do have one MLS Cup to their name, the Rapids hold the dubious distinction of being the only MLS club (to date) to lose the US Open Cup final to a lower division team. 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, the NBA's Denver Nuggets, the NHL's Colorado Avalanche and majority shareholder of English Premier League club Arsenal. The last top-level team for longtime USA keeper Tim Howard, who initially retired in 2019 but couldn't stay away from the field, choosing to play for a USLC team he co-owns.
- FC Dallas
First Season: 1996Current Head Coach: Luchi GonzalezCurrent Captain: Reto ZieglerStadium: Toyota StadiumnoteShirt Sponsor: AdvoCareTrophies Won: 2016 Supporters Shield, 1997 & 2016 US Open Cup2019 Position: Western Conference: 7th. Overall: 13th. Playoffs: Conference QuarterfinalsUSL Affiliate: North Texas SC (directly owned; USL League One)
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 father Lamar Hunt was one of MLS' key investors, and the Hunt family also previously owned Sporting Kansas City and Columbus Crew SC; the U.S. Open Cup is named in honor of Lamar Hunt for his contributions to MLS and U.S. Soccer. Won their first Supporters' Shield in 2016.
- Houston Dynamo
First Season: 2006Current Head Coach: Tab RamosCurrent Captain: Boniek GarcíaStadium: BBVA Stadiumnote noteShirt Sponsor: MD Anderson Cancer CenterTrophies Won: 2006 & 2007 MLS Cup, 2018 US Open Cup2019 Position: Western Conference: 10th. Overall: 19th. Playoffs: Did not qualifyUSL Affiliate: Rio Grande Valley FC Toros (hybrid affiliation; the Dynamo controls the playing roster, while the separate Toros ownership runs business affairs)
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, but then went more than a decade without further silverware until claiming the US Open Cup in 2018. Another MLS team with a Distaff Counterpart, namely the Houston Dash. The ownership team includes former boxing great and current promoter Oscar De La Hoya and Houston Rockets superstar James Harden.
- LA Galaxy
First Season: 1996Current Head Coach: Guillermo Barros SchelottoCurrent Captain: Javier "Chicharito" HernándezStadium: Dignity Health Sports Parknote noteShirt Sponsor: HerbalifeTrophies Won: 2002, 2005, 2011, 2012 & 2014 MLS Cup, 1998, 2002, 2010 & 2011 Supporters Shield, 2001 & 2005 US Open Cup2019 Position: Western Conference: 5th. Overall: 8th. Playoffs: Conference SemifinalsUSL Affiliate: LA Galaxy II (directly owned)
Five-time MLS Cup champions, their most recent Cup broke a tie with D.C. United for most decorated team. Made big news in 2007 by signing David Beckham, and later in 2015 by signing Steven Gerrard, 2018 by signing Zlatan Ibrahimović, and 2020 by signing Javier "Chicharito" Hernández. As a result of this, and other major signings, possibly the best known MLS team in Europe. Current team of Mexican internationals Jonathan dos Santos and Chicharito, and also home to Landon Donovan for most of his MLS career (20052014, plus a short comeback in 2016). Team operator Philip Anschutz was instrumental in Major League Soccer's survival in its early years, having owned not only the LA Galaxy, but he also previously held stakes in the Chicago Fire, Colorado Rapids, D.C. United, Houston Dynamo, New York Red Bulls, and San Jose Earthquakes; the MLS Cup trophy is named in Anschutz' honor for his contributions to the league and U.S. Soccer.
- Los Angeles FC
First Season: 2018Current Head Coach: Bob BradleyCurrent Captain: Carlos VelaStadium: Banc of California StadiumnoteShirt Sponsor: YouTube TVTrophies Won: 2019 Supporters Shield2019 Position: Western Conference: 1st. Overall: 1st. Playoffs: Conference FinalsUSL Affiliate: Orange County SC (affiliated)
A 2018 expansion team which replaced Chivas USA as the Greater Los Angeles market's second team. Unlike the Galaxy, LAFC plays in the Los Angeles city limits. British people, think of Galaxy as Manchester United and LAFC as Manchester City. LAFC's ownership group includes names like Vincent Tannote , Magic Johnson, Mia Hamm, and Will Ferrell. The team's stadium, Banc of California Stadium, is adjacent to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on the site formerly occupied by the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena; unlike most of LAFC's expansion contemporaries, who have spent or will spend at least part of their first season in a temporary facility, LAFC's stadium opened in time for their inaugural season. Captained by Mexico international Carlos Vela, who scored an MLS record of 34 goals in 2019, breaking Josef Martínez' record from the previous season. Speaking of records set in 2019, LAFC claimed the crown for points earned in a season with 72, one more than the Red Bulls' record total from the season before.
- Minnesota United
First Season: 2017Current Head Coach: Adrian HeathCurrent Captain: Osvaldo AlonsoStadium: Allianz FieldnoteShirt Sponsor: TargetTrophies Won: None2019 Position: Western Conference: 4th. Overall: 7th. Playoffs: Conference QuarterfinalsUSL Affiliate: Forward Madison FC (affiliated; USL League One)
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 instead built the stadium in St. Paul after plans in Minneapolis stalled. MN United spent its first two MLS seasons at the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium, but moved to the new Allianz Field for 2019 and beyond.
- Nashville SC
First Season: 2020Current Head Coach: Gary SmithCurrent Captain: Dax McCartyStadium: Nissan Stadium noteShirt Sponsor: Renasant BankTrophies Won: None2019 Position: USL Championship Eastern Conference: 2nd. USL Championship Playoffs: Conference SemifinalsUSL Affiliate: None yet
Officially announced in December 2017, the club is fronted by local billionaire John Ingram, with backing by the Wilf family, owners of the Minnesota Vikings who lost out on the Twin Cities expansion bid in 2014, plus the support of several of the city's largest corporations. Nashville was initially seen as the longest shot among the final four candidates for expansion in 2020; while it had drawn large crowds for international matches, it had no professional soccer when it launched its expansion bid. However, a combination of cultural appeal, stumbles by the early expansion frontrunners (mainly Cincinnati's stadium site issues), and a well-advanced stadium plan, with a site nailed down at the former state fairgrounds just south of downtown, left Nashville as the clear front-runner. The city launched a USL Championship team, Nashville SC, in 2018, and club and MLS officials announced in February 2019 that the Nashville SC name would carry over to MLS, making it the eighth lower-division club to be promoted to MLS. In late January 2019, club officials announced that Nashville SC would play their first two MLS seasons at Nissan Stadium while the Fairgrounds Stadium is under construction.
- Portland Timbers
First Season: 2011Current Head Coach: Giovanni SavareseCurrent Captain: Diego ValeriStadium: Providence ParknoteShirt Sponsor: Alaska AirlinesTrophies Won: 2015 MLS Cup2019 Position: Western Conference: 6th. Overall: 11th. Playoffs: Conference QuarterfinalsUSL Affiliate: Portland Timbers 2 (directly owned)
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. Providence Park is the only MLS-specific stadium to use artificial turf rather than natural grassnote , since the stadium has also served as the home of the FCS Portland State Vikings of the Big Sky Conference. The Vikings have now moved their home games to a smaller venue in suburban Hillsboro, but the Timbers are staying with the artificial stuff for at least the 2020 season.
- Real Salt Lake
First Season: 2005Current Head Coach: Freddy JuarezCurrent Captain: Kyle BeckermanStadium: Rio Tinto StadiumnoteShirt Sponsor: LifeVantageTrophies Won: 2009 MLS Cup2019 Position: Western Conference: 3rd. Overall: 6th. Playoffs: Conference SemifinalsUSL Affiliate: Real Monarchs (directly owned)
One of the first expansion teams, along with the now-defunct Chivas USA, to be established after the contraction of the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion FC in 2001. Based in 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. Replaced Sporting Kansas City as the fourth MLS team with an official Distaff Counterpart in the 2017 offseason; Real launched Utah Royals FC in the 2018 season to replace the defunct FC Kansas City in the NWSL.
- San Jose Earthquakes
First Season: 1996Current Head Coach: Matías AlmeydaCurrent Captain: Chris WondolowskiStadium: Earthquakes StadiumnoteShirt Sponsor: Intermedia Cloud CommunicationsTrophies Won: 2001 & 2003 MLS Cup, 2005 & 2012 Supporters Shield2019 Position: Western Conference: 8th. Overall: 15th. Playoffs: Did not qualifyUSL Affiliate: Reno 1868 FC (hybrid affiliation)
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, now known as Earthquakes 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. Their current captain, Chris Wondolowski, passed Landon Donovan as the league's all-time goal scoring leader during the 2019 season.
- Seattle Sounders FC
First Season: 2009Current Head Coach: Brian SchmetzerCurrent Captain: Nicolás LodeiroStadium: CenturyLink FieldnoteShirt Sponsor: ZulilyTrophies Won: 2016 & 2019 MLS Cup, 2014 Supporters Shield, 2009, 2010, 2011 & 2014 US Open Cup2019 Position: Western Conference: 2nd. Overall: 4th. Playoffs: MLS Cup ChampionsUSL Affiliate: Tacoma Defiance (directly owned)note
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 until Atlanta United came along, winning the US Open Cup four times (including three in a row), and also claiming the Supporters' Shield in 2014. While local businessman Adrian Hanauer has been the principal owner since 2002, the ownership group includes plenty of star power. Shortly before the team joined MLS, comedian and game show host Drew Carey and Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen joined the group; Allen's interest passed to his sister after his 2018 death. In 2019, a group of 11 local families purchased the interest of a retiring minority owner; the most notable new members of the group are Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, his wife Ciara, and hip-hop artist Macklemore. The final team of Clint Dempsey, captain of the U.S. national team before his retirement after the 2018 season. Briefly had a loose connection with the NWSL side OL Reign (formerly Seattle Reign FC and Reign FC), which moved from Seattle to Tacoma after the 2018 season, namely some shared ownership. That ended when the parent company of prominent French club Olympique Lyonnais bought the then-Reign FC in the 201920 offseason, soon renaming that team OL Reign.
- Sporting Kansas City
First Season: 1996Current Head Coach: Peter VermesCurrent Captain: Matt BeslerStadium: Childrens Mercy ParknoteShirt Sponsor: Ivy FundsTrophies Won: 2000 & 2013 MLS Cup, 2000 Supporters Shield, 2004, 2012, 2015 & 2017 US Open Cup2019 Position: Western Conference: 11th. Overall: 21st. Playoffs: Did not qualifyUSL Affiliate: Sporting Kansas City IInote (directly owned)
Formerly the Kansas City Wizards, they adapted the "Sporting" name in association with European club names like Sporting Lisbon. Winners of two MLS Cups (2000 and 2013), plus the Supporters' Shield in 2000 and the US Open Cup in 2004, 2012, 2015 and 2017. 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). From 2015 through 2017, the club also had a Distaff Counterpart in FC Kansas City, though that club was separately owned. FCKC folded after the 2017 season and was effectively replaced by the aforementioned Utah Royals.
- Vancouver Whitecaps FC
First Season: 2011Current Head Coach: Marc Dos SantosCurrent Captain: Ali AdnanStadium: BC PlacenoteShirt Sponsor: Bell CanadaTrophies Won: 2015 Canadian Championship2019 Position: Western Conference: 12th. Overall: 23rd. Playoffs: Did not qualifyUSL Affiliate: None currentlynote
Began MLS play in 2011, having also played in the USL with Seattle and Portland. 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).
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
First Season: 2005Last Season: 2014Stadium: StubHub Centernote noteTrophies Won: None
MLS' first attempt at a second team in the Los Angeles market. 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's top level league. Controversially known in the 2013 season for their push to have a team of all Mexican and Mexican-American heritage just like the Guadalajara Chivas, 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, began play in 2018 and did not inherit any of Chivas' records or history, making that franchise effectively dead in MLS' eyes.
- Miami Fusion FC
First Season: 1998Last Season: 2001Stadium: Lockhart StadiumnoteTrophies Won: 2001 Supporters Shield
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
First Season: 1996Last Season: 2001Stadium: Raymond James StadiumnoteTrophies Won: 1996 Supporters Shield
A MLS charter club, the Mutiny started off as one of the hottest teams in MLS, winning the Supporters' Shield for the inaugural season with Colombian legend Carlos "El Pibe" Valderrama. 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 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 (Chivas USA). Some came out of left field (Salt Lake City, Toronto) but turned out okay. With Inter Miami CF & Nashville SC having entered the league in 2020, four announced future expansion teams are set to join:
- Austin FC
First Season: 2021 (projected)Stadium: Austin FC StadiumnoteShirt Sponsor: Yeti
Austin, the rapidly-growing state capital of Texas, was initially planned as the future home of Columbus Crew SC, but the Cleveland Browns' interest in the Crew led to a change of plans. In the end, a win-win situation was found for everyone (with the possible exception of those wanting to see an MLS team in San Antonio): the Crew got stable ownership with the promise of a new stadium in their current city, while Anthony Precourt got an MLS team in his desired location. A site for a new stadium in the northern part of the city was confirmed in December 2018, shortly before the BrownsCrew deal was finalized. Precourt has since added several more members to the ownership team, most notably Texas native and Austin resident Matthew McConaughey.
- Charlotte FC
First Season: 2022 (projected)Stadium: Bank of America StadiumnoteShirt Sponsor: Ally Financial
Announced in December 2019, the club is fronted by billionaire hedge fund manager David Tepper, owner of the NFL's Carolina Panthers. Although Charlotte FC was the most recent team announced, it will begin play in 2022, ahead of St. Louis and Sacramento. Rather than build an MLS-specific stadium, Tepper plans to renovate Bank of America Stadium to make it soccer-friendlynote . Previous efforts to bring MLS to the Carolinas include a bid by Marcus G. Smith, president of Speedway Motorsports, in 2016 as well as a rival bid by the Raleigh-based USL Championship side North Carolina FC.
- St. Louis City SC
First Season: 2023 (projected)Stadium: St. Louis MLS Stadiumnote
For decades, St. Louis has been one of the hotbeds of U.S. soccer, and the city has long been trying to get MLS' interest. In 2009, one group had all approvals for a new stadium across the Mississippi in Collinsville, Illinois, but MLS wasn't impressed with the group's financial resources. Other attempts were made through the 2010s, which accelerated after the Rams left for Los Angeles in 2016. The city's bid for a team looked to have died in 2017 when city voters turned down a tax package to fund a new stadium. However, IT billionaire Jim Kavanaugh, part of the previous ownership group and also principal owner of Saint Louis FC, the city's USLC side, didn't give up. He recruited several female members of the Taylor family, principal owners of the Enterprise Holdings car rental company, as lead investors in a new ownership group. The group got initial approval for a new stadium in downtown St. Louis, in large part because their stadium plan will almost totally use their own funds; the only new taxes for the stadium will be paid by fans who are attending the team's games. In August 2019, MLS officially announced that St. Louis City SC would join the league, with a target date of 2022 for the team's debut (though that would be put off to 2023, mainly due to stadium delays brought on by COVID-19). The combination of COVID-19 and the impending entry of SLCSC led Kavanaugh to fold Saint Louis FC at the end of the 2020 season, meaning that (1) the city will be without pro soccer for two years) and (2) SLCSC will have to establish its own reserve side. The ownership group is most notable as the first in MLS in which women hold a majority interest.
- Sacramento Republic FC
First Season: 2023 (projected)Stadium: Railyards Stadiumnote
California's state capital, despite having a very successful USLC side in Sacramento Republic FC, as well as a stadium site nailed down plus over 10,000 MLS season-ticket commitments, failed in the 2018 expansion cycle due to a relative lack of financial resources of the ownership, with several possible major investors backing out. In January 2019, Sacramento's bid got a major boost when billionaire investor Ron Burkle, co-owner of the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins,note became the new lead investor of the proposed Sacramento team, which will carry on the Republic name. Burkle also purchased the proposed stadium site, plus adjacent land that he plans to use for an entertainment district. Republic FC was officially announced as a 2022 MLS entry in October 2019, making them the ninth lower-division team promoted to MLS. Like St. Louis, Republic FC also saw its MLS debut moved to 2023. The Republic ownership group may get an NWSL team in the near future. Near the time of the MLS announcement, it had been widely reported that Republic and the NWSL were nearing agreement on a new franchise in that league. The NWSL decided to hold off on expansion for 2020; it has since announced two new entries, but none (yet) in Sacto.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, El Tráfico between the Galaxy and Los Angeles FC, El Califórnico between the Earthquakes and Los Angeles FC, the Hell Is Real Derby between FC Cincinnati and Columbus Crew SC,note the former Honda SuperClasico between the Galaxy and CD Chivas USA, the Hudson River Derby between New York City FC and the New York Red Bulls, the Canadian Classique between Toronto FC and Montreal Impact, 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 SC 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, and the San Jose Earthquakes and Seattle Sounders FC, whose Heritage Cup competition involves two teams that carry the names of their NASL predecessors).
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.