Major Soccer League is one of the quickest growing leagues in the history of the sports world.
America is a country with a great passion for sport. They have the largest leagues for basketball, baseball, ice hockey and American football. However, football, or soccer as they call it, has never been the most popular of sports across the Atlantic. Even when they hosted the World Cup in 1994, soccer was the fifth most popular game in the States.
The conundrum of the sport football in America has always been an interesting topic of discussion for people in England and Europe. But as Christian Pulisic became the first American to reach the UEFA Champions League final, the world understood the sport was gaining reticence in the United States of America. One of the reasons behind the blaring popularity and success of soccer was their premier soccer division – the MLS or Major League Soccer.
Major League Soccer down the memory lane
Major League Soccer began as a step to nurture the popularity of football in the United States of America as the country got ready to host the 1994 FIFA World Cup. Before Major League Soccer, the sport saw limited popularity in the country but still managed to draw large fans, bringing in football icons like Pele and Beckenbauer.
The North American Soccer League (NASL) was the predecessor to MLS and ran as the country’s premier football division for about 20 years between 1968 to 1984.
After the league became defunct in 1984, fresh hope for cocker fans emerged as the USA won the bid for FIFA World Cup in 1994 and the idea of a new Division 1 league was conceived.
Alan Rothenberg, the then chairman of the World Cup, announced the formation of a new league called Major League Soccer, or MLS in 1993.
Officially, the league was formed a couple of years later. New York, Los Angeles, San Jose, Columbus, New Jersey and Columbus were the first teams and three more, Dallas, Kansas City and Denver joined in later. DC United (Washington) were the first winners of the competition winning a tight game against L.A. Galaxy (Los Angeles) 3-2.
Currently, in its 25th season, the MLS has 27 teams and plans to extend to 30 by 2023. Unlike league formats in England, Spain or parts of Europe, MLS clubs enjoy fixed membership, i.e. no promotion, no relegation. The teams are divided into two zones the Eastern and Western conferences respectively.
Modern footballing greats of 2000s have also moved to MLS after successful spells in Europe, which began with a special rule called the designated player rule. Under the rule, every team was eligible to bring in three players outside their salary-cap.
Former England captain and Manchester United midfielder David Beckham became the trailblazer of the phenomenon. Many others followed.
MLS – Most Prominent Teams
One of the founding members of the league, L.A. Galaxy has been the most successful club in MLS. It made headlines in Europe’s niche football quarters when they signed David Beckham from Real Madrid in 2007. Since then, several European Superstars such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole and Robbie Keane have played for them.
Though they came close to winning the Major League Soccer in 1998, their first title-win came four years later. They have won 4 more MLS Cups since then in 2005, 2011,2012 and in 2014 respectively. They have won the supporters shield four times in 1998, 2002, 2010 and 2011.
Wayne Rooney made headlines when he scored a goal from almost the midline in Major League soccer. His spell post the Premier League success was here, at Washington DC’s club D.C. United.
The Black-and-Reds were the maiden title winners when MLS started and have been one of the tournament’s most successful clubs since. However, their dominance in the league has faded after early 2000s with DC United winning their last MLS Cup in 2004 and last came close to the title only in 2007, when they were runners up.
They are the second most successful club in MLS history with 5 MLS Cups and 4 supporter shields. However, with major trophies beyond MLS, DC United have been more successful than LA Galaxy winning the U.S. Open cup 3 times, one more than the club from Los Angeles.
Columbus Crew were the first team to play in the United States of America’s first soccer-specific stadium – their home, Columbus Crew Stadium. Nicknamed, the Black-and-Gold, the club is one of the earliest clubs to join the league and are the third most successful soccer club in the league with 5 major titles (in the league). The Columbus Crew and DC United are two of the four oldest clubs in the Eastern Conference of Major League Soccer.
San Jose Earthquakes
This MLS Side was the first winner of the first game of Major League Soccer, which they played against DC United. The team was initially called San Hose clash and played in the North American Soccer League as well as the Western soccer league between 1974-1988.
They won the MLS Cup as well the Supporters’ Shield twice, the former in 2001 and 2003 and the latter in 2005 and 2012. They play one of the league’s fiercest soccer derbies – the California Classico against rivals LA Galaxy.
Clubs in Major League Soccer
- Atlanta United FC
- Chicago Fire FC
- FC Cincinnati
- Columbus Crew SC
- D.C. United
- Inter Miami CF
- CF Montréal
- Nashville SC
- New England Revolution
- New York City FC
- New York Red Bulls
- Orlando City SC
- Philadelphia Union
- Toronto FC
- Austin FC
- Colorado Rapids
- FC Dallas
- Houston Dynamo FC
- Sporting Kansas City
- LA Galaxy
- Los Angeles FC
- Minnesota United FC
- Portland Timbers
- Real Salt Lake
- San Jose Earthquakes
- Seattle Sounders FC
- Vancouver Whitecaps FC
1. Mercedes-Benz Stadium
One of the only retractable roofed soccer stadia in the US, the Mercedes-Benz Stadium is an architectural marvel, to say the least. With a 360-degree halo display and humongous four-sided displays of 6,700 square foot, it is home to MLS side Atlanta United and NFL side Atlanta Falcons.
It is one of the most frequented stadiums for soccer fans in the US and had an average attendance over 50,000 for the 2019 season.
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Year of Opening: 2017
2. Providence Park
Home to Portland Timbers, Providence Park is the third oldest Major League Soccer stadium in the country after Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati and the Soldier Stadium in Chicago.
The stadium prides of its amazing atmosphere and the antiques of Timbers’ mascot, “Timber Joey”. Joey cuts a giant log with a chainsaw every time his club scores a goal.
Location: Portland, Oregon
Year of Opening: 2011
3. Banc of California Stadium
Aesthetically pleasing from the outside and alluring from the inside may be just the perfect description for the home of Los Angeles Football Club. Compared to larger stadiums in the country, this stadium is a relatively smaller one, but is a soccer-specific one.
It is also home to National Women’s Soccer League side, Angel City FC.
Location: Los Angeles, California
Year of Opening: 2018
4. Exploria Stadium
If Major League Soccer has a stadium with fan support and supporters’ club in mid, it is Exploria Stadium, previously known as Orlando City Stadium. The stadium seats have been specifically designed to keep the fans as close to the match as possible. It also has the country’s first safe-standing area for club supporters’ groups.
Location: Orlando, Florida
Year of Opening: 2017
5. Children’s Mercy Park
Sporting Kansas City’s home, like Orlando Stadium has provisions to amplify its ambience and fan engagement. A tifo room for the club’s supporters’ group and architecture that prevents noise to escape the stadium. These make the atmosphere inside the stadium one of the finest in MLS.
Location: Kansas City, Kansas
Year of Opening: 2011
- DC United is the first team to win the MLS (Major League Soccer) Cup and the U.S. Open Cup in the same year (1996).
- Former U.S. Soccer star Chad Marshall has won the MLS Defender of the year 3 times – the most by a player in Major League soccer.
- Former Leeds United forward Mike Grella holds the record for scoring the fastest goal in MLS history, netting in just 7 seconds!
- Toronto FC is the first Canadian club to win either the MLS Cup or the Supporters’ shield, as they won both in 2017.
Pulisic may be an exception, but the success of the American National Women’s Soccer team clearly establishes the sport is growing and growing very well. In the coming years, Major League Soccer may see even more teams get into a franchise-based league model, with America becoming a trailblazer to such a league culture.
It doesn’t matter if you call it football or soccer — if you’re arguing about it, you’re fighting a losing battle. So, chill out and enjoy the fact that it is the best and beautiful game in the world and we all have more people to talk to about the game than yesterday.