Major League Soccer

"MLS" redirects here. For other uses, see MLS (disambiguation).

Major League Soccer
Country United States
Other club(s) from Canada
Confederation CONCACAF
Founded December 17, 1993[1]
Conferences Eastern Conference
Western Conference
Number of teams 20
Level on pyramid 1 (US), 1 (CAN)
Relegation to None
Domestic cup(s) U.S. Open Cup
Canadian Championship
International cup(s) CONCACAF Champions League
Current MLS Cup Portland Timbers (1st title)
Current Supporters' Shield FC Dallas (1st shield)
Most MLS Cups LA Galaxy (5 titles)
Most Supporters' Shields D.C. United &
LA Galaxy (4 shields)
TV partners
2016 MLS Cup Playoffs

Major League Soccer (MLS) is a men's professional soccer league, sanctioned by U.S. Soccer, that represents the sport's highest level in both the United States and Canada.[2][3] MLS constitutes one of the major professional sports leagues of the United States and Canada.[4][5] The league is composed of 20 teams—17 in the U.S. and 3 in Canada. The MLS regular season runs from March to October, with each team playing 34 games;[6][7] the team with the best record is awarded the Supporters' Shield. The postseason includes twelve teams competing in the MLS Cup Playoffs through November and December, culminating in the championship game, the MLS Cup.[8] MLS teams also play in other domestic competitions against teams from other divisions in the U.S. Open Cup and in the Canadian Championship. MLS teams also compete against continental rivals in the CONCACAF Champions League.[9]

Major League Soccer was founded in 1993 as part of the United States' successful bid to host the 1994 FIFA World Cup.[10] The first season took place in 1996 with ten teams.[11] MLS experienced financial and operational struggles in its first few years: The league lost millions of dollars, teams played in mostly empty American football stadiums, and two teams folded in 2002.[12] Since then, MLS has expanded to 20 teams, owners built soccer-specific stadiums, average MLS attendance exceeds that of the National Hockey League (NHL) and National Basketball Association (NBA), MLS secured national TV contracts, and the league is now profitable.[13]

Instead of operating as an association of independently owned teams, MLS is a single entity in which each team is owned and controlled by the league's investors.[14] The investor-operators control their teams as owners control teams in other leagues, and are commonly (but inaccurately) referred to as the team's owners.[15] The league has a fixed membership, like most sports leagues in the United States and Canada, which makes it one of the world's few soccer leagues that does not use promotion and relegation, a practice that is uncommon in the two countries.[16] MLS headquarters is located in New York City.[17]

Competition format

Major League Soccer's regular season runs from March to October. Teams are divided into the Eastern and Western Conferences. Teams play 34 games in an unbalanced schedule: 24 matches against teams within their conference, plus 10 matches against teams from the other conference.[6][18] Midway through the season, teams break for the annual All-Star Game, a friendly game between the league's finest players and a major club from a different league.[19] At the end of the regular season, the team with the highest point total is awarded the Supporters' Shield.[20]

Unlike some soccer leagues around the world, but similar to other leagues in the Americas,[21] the MLS regular season is followed by the 12-team MLS Cup Playoffs in November, ending with the MLS Cup championship final in early December.[22] Although some commentators have argued that playoffs reduce the importance of the regular season,[23] Commissioner Don Garber has explained "Our purpose is to have a valuable competition, and that includes having playoffs that are more meaningful."[24]

Major League Soccer's spring-to-fall schedule results in scheduling conflicts with the FIFA calendar and with summertime international tournaments such as the World Cup and the Gold Cup,[25] causing several players to miss some MLS matches.[26] While MLS has looked into changing to an fall-to-spring format, there are no current plans to do so. If the league were to change its schedule, a winter break would be needed, especially with several teams in colder climates, which some believe would lead to a disadvantage.[27][28][29] It would also have to compete with the more popular National Football League (NFL), National Hockey League (NHL), and National Basketball Association (NBA).[29]

Other competitions

MLS teams also play in other competitions. Every year, up to five MLS teams play in the CONCACAF Champions League against other clubs from the CONCACAF region (Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean). Two U.S.-based MLS teams qualify based on MLS regular-season results: the winner of the Western conference and the winner of the Eastern conference. The third U.S. team to qualify is the winner of the MLS Cup. A fourth U.S.-based MLS team can qualify via the U.S. Open Cup,[30] where U.S. based teams compete against lower division U.S. clubs. If a team qualifies through multiple berths, or if any of the MLS berths are taken by a Canada-based MLS team, the berth is reallocated to the best U.S.-based team in the Supporters' Shield table which has failed to otherwise qualify. Canadian MLS clubs play against lower division Canadian clubs in the Canadian Championship for the one Champions League spot allocated to Canada.[31] No MLS club has won the Champions League since it began its current format in 2008, with Mexican clubs dominating the competition, but MLS teams have twice reached the final: Real Salt Lake in 2011 and the Montreal Impact in 2015.


MLS's 20 teams are divided between the Eastern and Western Conference. Each club is allowed up to 30 players on its first team roster.[32] All 30 players are eligible for selection to each 18-player game-day squad during the regular season and playoffs.[32]

Since the 2005 season, MLS has added many new clubs. During this period of expansion, Los Angeles became the first two-team market, and the league pushed into Canada in 2007.[33] The league will expand from 20 teams today to 22 teams in 2017 with the additions of Atlanta and Minnesota, and then to 24 teams in 2018 with the addition of Los Angeles and likely Miami.[34] The league plans to have 24 teams by 2018.[35]

In the history of MLS, twenty-three different clubs have competed in the league, with ten having won at least one MLS Cup, and ten winning at least one Supporters' Shield.[36] The same club has won both trophies six times.[37]

Several teams compete annually for secondary MLS rivalry cups that are typically contested by two teams, usually geographic rivals (e.g., Portland vs. Seattle vs. Vancouver).[38] Each cup is awarded to the team with the better regular-season record in games played between the two teams. The concept is comparable to minor trophies played for by American college football teams.[39]

Beginning with the 2015 season, teams are aligned as follows:[40]

  1. Shared facility; not a soccer-specific stadium
  2. Team plans to move into a soccer-specific stadium


Major League Soccer is the most recent of a series of men's premier professional national soccer leagues established in the United States and Canada. The predecessor of MLS was the North American Soccer League (NASL), which played from 1968 until 1984.[44]


In 1988, in exchange for FIFA awarding the right to host the 1994 World Cup, U.S. Soccer promised to establish a Division 1 professional soccer league.[45] In 1993, U.S. Soccer selected Major League Professional Soccer (the precursor to MLS) as the exclusive Division 1 professional soccer league.[45] Major League Soccer was officially formed in February 1995 as a limited liability company.[45]

MLS began play in 1996 with ten teams. The first game was held on April 6, 1996, as the San Jose Clash defeated D.C. United before 31,000 fans at Spartan Stadium in San Jose in a game broadcast on ESPN.[46] The league had generated some buzz by managing to lure some marquee players from the 1994 World Cup to play in MLS—including U.S. stars such as Alexi Lalas, Tony Meola and Eric Wynalda, and foreign players such as Mexico's Jorge Campos and Colombia's Carlos Valderrama.[47] D.C. United won the MLS Cup in three of the league's first four seasons.[48] The league added its first two expansion teams in 1998—the Miami Fusion and the Chicago Fire; the Chicago Fire won its first title in its inaugural season.[49]

After its first season, MLS suffered from a decline in attendance.[50] The league's low attendance was all the more apparent in light of the fact that eight of the original ten teams played in large American football stadiums.[49] One aspect that had alienated fans was that MLS experimented with rules deviations in its early years in an attempt to "Americanize" the sport. The league implemented the use of shootouts to resolve tie games. MLS also used a countdown clock and halves ended when the clock reached 0:00. The league realized that the rule changes had alienated some traditional soccer fans while failing to draw new American sports fans, and the shootout and countdown clock were eliminated after the 1999 season.[51] The league's quality was cast into doubt when the U.S. men's national team, which was made up largely of MLS players, finished in last place at the 1998 World Cup.[49]

Major League Soccer lost an estimated $250 million during its first five years, and more than $350 million between its founding and 2004.[52][53][54][55] The league's financial problems led to Commissioner Doug Logan being replaced by Garber, a former NFL executive, in August 1999.[56] MLS announced in January 2002 that it had decided to contract the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion, leaving the league with ten teams.[57]

Despite the financial problems, though, MLS did have some accomplishments that would set the stage for the league's resurgence. Columbus Crew Stadium was built in 1999, becoming MLS's first soccer-specific stadium.[58] This began a trend among MLS teams to construct their own venues instead of leasing American football stadiums.[59] In 2000, the league won an antitrust lawsuit, Fraser v. Major League Soccer, that the players had filed in 1996. The court ruled that MLS's policy of centrally contracting players and limiting player salaries through a salary cap and other restrictions were a legal method for the league to maintain solvency and competitive parity.[60]


The 2002 FIFA World Cup, in which the United States unexpectedly made the quarterfinals, coincided with a resurgence in American soccer and MLS.[38] MLS Cup 2002 drew 61,316 spectators to Gillette Stadium, the largest attendance in an MLS Cup final.[61] MLS limited teams to three substitutions per game in 2003, and adopted International Football Association Board (IFAB) rules in 2005.[62]

MLS underwent a transition in the years leading up to the 2006 World Cup. After marketing itself on the talents of American players, the league lost some of its homegrown stars to prominent European leagues. For example, Tim Howard was transferred to Manchester United for $4 million in one of the most lucrative contract deals in league history.[63][64] Many more American players did make an impact in MLS. In 2005, Jason Kreis became the first player to score 100 career MLS goals.[65]

The league's financial stabilization plan included teams moving out of large American football stadiums and into soccer-specific stadiums.[57] From 2003 to 2008, the league oversaw the construction of six additional soccer-specific stadiums, largely funded by owners such as Lamar Hunt and Phil Anschutz, so that by the end of 2008, a majority of teams were now in soccer-specific stadiums.[49]

It was also in this era that MLS expanded for the first time since 1998. Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA began play in 2005, with Chivas USA becoming the second club in Los Angeles.[66] By 2006 the San Jose Earthquakes owners, players and a few coaches moved to Texas to become the expansion Houston Dynamo, after failing to build a stadium in San Jose. The Dynamo became an expansion team, leaving their history behind for a new San Jose ownership group that formed in 2007.[67]

Arrival of Designated Players

The 2010 season also brought the opening of the New York Red Bulls' soccer-specific stadium, Red Bull Arena.

In 2007 the league expanded beyond the United States' borders into Canada with the Toronto FC expansion team.[68] Major League Soccer took steps to further raise the level of play by adopting the Designated Player Rule, which helped bring international stars into the league.[69] The 2007 season witnessed the MLS debut of David Beckham. Beckham's signing had been seen as a coup for American soccer, and was made possible by the Designated Player Rule. Players such as Cuauhtémoc Blanco (Chicago Fire) and Juan Pablo Ángel (New York Red Bulls), are some of the first Designated Players who made major contributions to their clubs.[70] The departures of Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore, coupled with the return of former U.S. national team stars Claudio Reyna and Brian McBride, highlighted the exchange of top prospects to Europe for experienced veterans to MLS.[71]

By 2008, San Jose had returned to the league under new ownership, and in 2009, the expansion side Seattle Sounders FC began play in MLS.[68] The 2010 season ushered in an expansion franchise in the Philadelphia Union and their new PPL Park stadium.[68] The 2010 season also brought the opening of the New York Red Bulls' soccer-specific stadium, Red Bull Arena, and the debut of French striker Thierry Henry.[72]

The 2011 season brought further expansion with the addition of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC, the second Canadian MLS franchise, and the Portland Timbers.[73] Real Salt Lake reached the finals of the 2010–11 CONCACAF Champions League.[74] During the 2011 season, the Galaxy signed another international star in Republic of Ireland all-time leading goalscorer Robbie Keane.[75] MLS drew an average attendance of 17,872 in 2011, higher than the average attendances of the NBA and NHL.[76] In 2012, the Montreal Impact became the league's 19th franchise and the third in Canada, and made their home debut in front of a crowd of 58,912,[77] while the New York Red Bulls added Australian all-time leading goalscorer Tim Cahill.


In 2013, MLS introduced New York City FC[78] as its 20th team, and Orlando City Soccer Club[79] as its 21st team, both of which would begin playing in 2015. In 2013, the league implemented its "Core Players" initiative, allowing teams to retain key players using retention funds instead of losing the players to foreign leagues.[80] Among the first high-profile players re-signed in 2013 using retention funds were U.S. national team regulars Graham Zusi and Matt Besler. Beginning in summer of 2013 and continuing in the run up to the 2014 World Cup, MLS began signing U.S. stars based abroad, including Clint Dempsey from the English Premier League to Seattle, DaMarcus Beasley from the Liga MX to Houston, Jermaine Jones from the German Bundesliga to New England and Michael Bradley who returned from Italy to join Toronto who also signed England International Striker Jermain Defoe.[81] By the 2014 season, fifteen of the nineteen MLS head coaches had previously played in MLS.[82] By 2013, the league's popularity had increased to the point where MLS was as popular as Major League Baseball among 12- to 17-year-olds, as reported by the 2013 Luker on Trends ESPN poll, having jumped in popularity since the 2010 World Cup.[83][84]

In 2014, the league announced Atlanta United FC as the 22nd team to start playing in 2017.[85] Even though New York City FC and Orlando City were not set to begin play until 2015, each team made headlines during the summer 2014 transfer window by announcing their first Designated Players – Spain's leading scorer David Villa and Chelsea's leading scorer Frank Lampard to New York, and Ballon d'Or winner Kaká to Orlando.[86] The 2014 World Cup featured 21 MLS players on World Cup rosters and a record 11 MLS players playing for foreign teams – including players from traditional powerhouses Brazil (Júlio César), playing for Toronto FC on loan from Queens Park Rangers FC, and Spain (David Villa), on loan to Melbourne City FC from New York City FC; in the U.S. v. Germany match the U.S. fielded a team with seven MLS starters.[87]

On September 18, 2014, MLS unveiled their new logo as part of the "MLS Next" branding initiative. In addition to the new crest logo, MLS teams display versions in their own colors that are displayed on their jerseys at every game. This change represents the first time that the MLS logo has been changed since the league's inception. Chivas USA folded following the 2014 season, while New York City FC and Orlando City SC joined the league in 2015 as the 19th and 20th teams.[88] Sporting Kansas City and the Houston Dynamo moved from the Eastern Conference to the Western Conference in 2015 to make two 10-team conferences.[40]

In early 2015, the league announced that two teams — Los Angeles FC and Minnesota United — would join MLS in either 2017 or 2018.[34] The 20th season of MLS saw the arrivals of several players who have starred at the highest levels of European club soccer and in international soccer: Giovanni Dos Santos, Kaká, Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Didier Drogba, David Villa, and Sebastian Giovinco.[89] On December 6, 2015, MLS announced its intent to expand to 28 teams.[90] MLS confirmed in August 2016 that Minnesota United would begin play in 2017 along with Atlanta United FC.[91]

In April 2016, the league's commissioner Don Garder reiterated the intention of the league to expand to 28 teams, with the next round of expansion "likely happening in 2020".[92] Cities like Cincinnati, Sacramento, St. Louis, Detroit, San Antonio and San Diego have been mentioned among potential candidates.[93]

League championships

MLS Cup titles and Supporters' Shield Wins

Team MLS
Year(s) won Supporters'
Year(s) won MLS
LA Galaxy 5 2002, 2005, 2011, 2012, 2014 4 1998, 2002, 2010, 2011 21
D.C. United 4 1996, 1997, 1999, 2004 4 1997, 1999, 2006, 2007 21
San Jose Earthquakes 2 2001, 2003 2 2005, 2012 19
Sporting Kansas City 2 2000, 2013 1 2000 21
Houston Dynamo 2 2006, 2007 11
Columbus Crew SC 1 2008 3 2004, 2008, 2009 21
Chicago Fire 1 1998 1 2003 19
Real Salt Lake 1 2009 12
Colorado Rapids 1 2010 21
Portland Timbers 1 2015 6
New York Red Bulls 2 2013, 2015 21
FC Dallas 1 2016 21
Seattle Sounders FC 1 2014 8
Miami Fusion* 1 2001 4*
Tampa Bay Mutiny* 1 1996 6*
*Franchise folded after completion of the 2001 season



Major League Soccer operates under a single-entity structure in which teams and player contracts are centrally owned by the league.[3][15][94] Each team has an investor-operator that is a shareholder in the league.[95] In order to control costs, MLS shares revenues and holds players contracts instead of players contracting with individual teams. In Fraser v. Major League Soccer, a lawsuit filed in 1996 and decided in 2002, the league won a legal battle with its players in which the court ruled that MLS was a single entity that can lawfully centrally contract for player services.[3] The court also ruled that even absent their collective bargaining agreement, players could opt to play in other leagues if they were unsatisfied.[3]

Having multiple clubs operated by a single investor was a necessity in the league's first ten years.[96] At one time Phil Anschutz's AEG operated six MLS franchises and Lamar Hunt's Hunt Sports three franchises. In order to attract additional investors, in 2002 the league announced changes to the operating agreement between the league and its teams to improve team revenues and increase the incentives to be an individual club operator.[97] These changes included granting operators the rights to a certain number of players they develop through their club's academy system each year, sharing the profits of Soccer United Marketing, and being able to sell individual club jersey sponsorships.[97]

As MLS appeared to be on the brink of overall profitability in 2006 and developed significant expansion plans, MLS announced that it wanted each club to have a distinct operator.[98] The league has attracted new investors that have injected more money into the league.[99] Examples include Red Bull's purchase of the MetroStars from AEG in 2006 for over $100 million.[96][100]

The league now has 20 investor-operators for its 20 clubs. Since December 2015, when AEG sold its remaining 50% interest in the Houston Dynamo, the former multiple-team operators AEG and Hunt Sports, with the LA Galaxy and FC Dallas respectively, now only control one franchise.[101][102] For the 2014 season, the league assumed control of the former Chivas USA club, which had suffered from mismanagement and poor financial results under its individual operator relationship.[103][104] The league eventually dissolved the team,[105] in favor of awarding rights to a second soccer club in the Los Angeles area to a new investor group on October 30, 2014.[106]

Player acquisition and salaries

David Beckham was the league's first Designated Player in 2007.

The average salary for MLS players is $316,777,[107] lower than the average salaries in England's second-tier Football League Championship ($420,000 in 2015),[108] Holland's Eredivisie ($445,000),[109] or Mexico's Liga MX ($418,000 in 2015).[110] The league's minimum player salary increased in 2016 to $62,500 for most players, and roster players #25–28 saw their minimum salary increased to $51,500.[111][112]

MLS salaries are limited by a salary cap, which MLS has had in place since the league's inception in 1996. The purpose of the salary cap is to prevent the team's owners from unsustainable spending on player salaries—a practice that had doomed the North American Soccer League during the 1980s—and to prevent a competitive imbalance among teams.[45] The salary cap survived a legal challenge by the players in the Fraser v. Major League Soccer lawsuit. The 2016 salary cap increased to $3.66 million per team.[112]

Teams may augment their squads by signing players from other leagues. MLS has two transfer windows—the primary pre-season transfer window lasts three months from mid February until mid May, and the secondary mid season transfer window runs one month from early July to early August.[113] When an MLS club sells one of its players overseas, the club and the league split the transfer revenues, with the club retaining from 33% to 75% depending on the player's status and tenure.[114] MLS teams have a limited number of international roster slots that they can use to sign non-domestic players. However MLS teams regularly obtain green cards for their non-domestic players to qualify them for domestic status and free up international roster slots.[115] In 2015, 49% of MLS players were born outside of the U.S. and Canada, with players from 58 countries represented.[116][117]

MLS has also introduced various initiatives and rules intended to improve quality of players while still maintaining the salary cap. Rules concerning Designated Players and allocation money allow for additional wage spending that is exempt from the salary cap. These initiatives have brought about an increase in on-field competition.[118]

The designated player (DP) rule allows teams to sign a limited number of players whose salary exceeds the maximum cap, each DP player only counts as $457,500 (the maximum non-DP salary) against the cap in 2016. Instituted in 2007, England's David Beckham was the first signing under the DP rule.[69] The DP rule has led to large income inequality in MLS with top DPs earning as much as 180 times more than a player earning the league minimum.[119] In the 2013 season 21% of the league's wage spending went to just 5 players, this stretched to 29% on the top 6 players in the 2014 season.[120][121]

The league's "Core Players" initiative allows teams to re-sign players using retention funds that do not count against the salary cap.[80] Retention funds were implemented in 2013 as a mechanism for MLS to retain key players; among the first high-profile players re-signed using retention funds were U.S. national team regulars Graham Zusi and Matt Besler.[80] MLS teams can also obtain allocation money, which is money that the team can use on player salaries that does not count against the cap, and teams can earn allocation money in several ways, such as from the transfer fees earned by selling players to teams in other leagues.[122] MLS teams can also use Targeted Allocation Money (often referred to as TAM), an initiative announced in 2015. Teams can use TAM funds to attract high-profile players by "buying down" contracts of players to below the Designated Player level.[123] High-profile players for which TAM funds were used include Omar Gonzalez.

Youth development

MLS has introduced various initiatives and rules intended to develop young players. Rules concerning Generation Adidas players and home grown players provide incentives for clubs to develop and retain young players.[118]

MLS has required all of its teams to operate youth development programs since 2008.[124] MLS roster rules allow teams to sign an unlimited number players straight from their academies and bypassing the draft process.[125] There is also supplementary salary budget made by MLS only for homegrown players that are registered using senior roster slots called homegrown player funds.[126] One of the most prominent and lucrative examples of success in "home-grown" development was Jozy Altidore, who rose to prominence as a teenager in MLS before his record transfer fee $10 million move to Villarreal in Spain in 2008.[127] The various MLS teams' development academies play matches in a U.S. Soccer developmental league against youth academies from other leagues such as the Division II North American Soccer League (NASL) and Division III USL Pro, the latter of which has now rebranded itself as the United Soccer League.[128]

The league operates a Generation Adidas program, which is a joint venture between MLS and U.S. Soccer that encourages young American players to enter MLS.[129] The Generation Adidas program has been in place since 1997, and has introduced players such as Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and Michael Bradley into MLS. Players under the Home Grown Player rule are signed to Generation Adidas contracts,[113] all players on Generation Adidas contracts are "off budget players" and their salaries do not count against the cap.

MLS formerly operated a reserve league which gave playing time to players who were not starters for their MLS teams. The Reserve League was formed in 2005, and operated through 2014 (with the exception of the 2009 & 2010 seasons).[130] MLS began integrating its Reserve League with the league then known as USL Pro in 2013,[131] and after the 2014 season folded the Reserve League, with MLS now requiring all teams to either affiliate with a USL team or field their own reserve side in that league.


Since 1999, the league has overseen the construction of twelve stadiums specifically designed for soccer. The development of soccer-specific stadiums owned by the teams has generated a better gameday experience for the fans.[132] The soccer-specific stadiums have yielded positive financial results as teams were no longer required to pay to rent out facilities and gained control over revenue streams such as concessions, parking, naming rights, and the ability to host non MLS events.[104][132] Several teams have doubled their season-tickets following the team's move into a soccer-specific stadium.[133] The establishment of soccer-specific stadiums is considered the key to the league and the ability of teams to turn a profit.[134] In 2006, Tim Leiweke, then CEO of Anschutz Entertainment Group, described the proliferation of soccer-specific stadiums as the turning point for MLS.[134]

Columbus Crew owner Lamar Hunt started this trend in 1999 by constructing Columbus Crew Stadium, now known as Mapfre Stadium, as MLS's first soccer-specific stadium.[58] The Los Angeles Galaxy followed four years later with the opening of The Home Depot Center, now StubHub Center, in 2003.[135] FC Dallas opened Pizza Hut Park, now Toyota Stadium, in 2005, and the Chicago Fire began playing their home games in Toyota Park in 2006. The 2007 season brought the opening of Dick's Sporting Goods Park for the Colorado Rapids and BMO Field for Toronto FC.[136]

Near the end of the 2008 season, Rio Tinto Stadium became the home of Real Salt Lake, which meant that for the first time in MLS history a majority of MLS's teams (8 out of 14) played in soccer-specific stadiums.[137] Red Bull Arena, the new home of the New York Red Bulls opened for the start of the 2010 season,[138] and the Philadelphia Union opened PPL Park, since renamed Talen Energy Stadium, in June 2010, midway through their inaugural season.[139]

The following season, in 2011, the Portland Timbers made their MLS debut in a newly renovated Jeld-Wen Field, now renamed Providence Park, which was originally a multi-purpose venue but turned into a soccer-specific facility.[140] Also in 2011, Sporting Kansas City moved to new Livestrong Sporting Park, now Children's Mercy Park.[141] The Houston Dynamo relocated to their new home at BBVA Compass Stadium in 2012.[138] In the same year, the Montreal Impact joined the league in an expanded Stade Saputo, which reopened in June 2012, when renovations pushed the seating capacity to over 20,000. The Impact has used Olympic Stadium for early season matches and for games that require a larger capacity.[142] The San Jose Earthquakes, who had played at Buck Shaw Stadium from 2008 until 2014, opened their new Avaya Stadium before the 2015 season.[143]

The development of additional MLS stadiums is in progress. The Orlando City SC expansion team intended to begin constructing Orlando City Stadium, a soccer-specific stadium, in 2014 to be completed in 2015.[144] Delays caused by changes to the stadium plans pushed back the new venue's opening, first to late in the 2016 season and finally to the start of the 2017 season.[145] Orlando City have been playing at the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium, now Camping World Stadium, while awaiting the opening of their new venue.

Three teams have announced their desire to build a soccer-specific stadium, although these teams have not finalized the stadium site and received all necessary government approvals. D.C. United plays home games at a former NFL and Major League Baseball venue, RFK Stadium; in 2013, D.C. United announced the signing of a public-private partnership term sheet to build a 25,000-seat new soccer stadium in Washington, D.C., and a final deal was reached in late 2014.[146] The New York City FC expansion team plays home games at Yankee Stadium, a Major League Baseball venue, although they intend to move into a soccer-specific stadium in the future. The New England Revolution play home games at a National Football League venue, Gillette Stadium, but are currently in discussion with the City of Boston regarding a potential soccer-specific stadium in South Boston.[147]

Several remaining clubs play in stadiums not originally built for MLS and have not announced plans to move. The Seattle Sounders play at CenturyLink Field, a dual-purpose facility used for both American football and soccer. The Vancouver Whitecaps FC joined the league with Portland in 2011 and temporarily held matches at Empire Field before moving into the refurbished BC Place in October 2011,[148] a retractable-roof stadium that hosts Canadian football as well as soccer.[149]

Of the three confirmed future teams, two are building soccer-specific stadiums and the other will play in a shared football stadium. Minnesota United FC, debuting in 2017, is building an as yet-unnamed stadium in St. Paul and plans to open it for the 2018 season.[150] Until that time, the team will play in Minneapolis at TCF Bank Stadium, home to University of Minnesota football.[151] Los Angeles FC, entering in 2018, is currently building Banc of California Stadium on the former site of the Los Angeles Sports Arena and expects to open it in time for the team's debut.[152] Atlanta United, also entering in 2017, shares ownership with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons; the two teams will share the retractable-roof Mercedes-Benz Stadium once it opens during the 2017 MLS season. Due to construction delays, Atlanta United will play the first half of its inaugural season at another college football facility, namely Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium.[153]

Media coverage

United States

As of the 2015 season, MLS matches are broadcast nationally by ESPN networks and Fox Sports in English, and Univision networks in Spanish under an eight-year contract. Each broadcaster has a window for national regular season matches, with UniMas airing a game on Friday nights in Spanish and additional matches on Univision Deportes Network, and ESPN and Fox Sports 1 airing games on Sunday evenings in English. ESPN, FS1, and Univision will share in coverage of the playoffs, while ESPN and FS1 will alternate broadcasting the MLS Cup final in English. In total, at least 125 matches will be aired per-season across all three networks, and the three contracts have an average estimated value of $90 million per season—five times larger than the average $18 million value of the previous contracts with ESPN, Univision, and NBC Sports.[154][155][155][156][157][158] 7.[159] Matches not televised nationally are broadcast regionally, often by regional sports networks, such as the LA Galaxy and Spectrum SportsNet.[76]

From 2012 to 2014, MLS matches were previously broadcast by NBC Sports, with 40 matches per year—primarily on NBCSN, and select matches broadcast on the NBC network.[160] The move from Fox Soccer to the more widely distributed NBCSN proved successful, with viewership numbers doubling for the 2012 season over those of Fox Soccer.[161]


Montreal Impact hosting D.C. United (August 2012).

Coverage of MLS expanded into Canada in 2007 with the addition of Toronto FC. Currently, English-language national MLS broadcast rights in Canada are through the TSN networks with a six-year deal for the 2011–2016 seasons. TSN and TSN2 broadcast a minimum of 30 games during each season, all featuring at least one Canadian team. French-language sister networks RDS and RDS2 have similar broadcast rights. The networks also carry additional games not involving Canadian teams.[162] GolTV Canada carries selected all-U.S. MLS matchups.[163]

As in the United States, the individual Canadian teams also have separate broadcast deals for games not aired under the TSN/RDS national contract. TSN and Sportsnet split coverage of Toronto FC non-national games (TSN and Sportsnet's parent companies own a joint majority stake in the team through Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment), TVA Sports airs Montreal Impact games,[164] and TSN broadcasts the Vancouver Whitecaps in a separate deal.[165][166]


MLS also entered into a four-year contract with Sky Sports to broadcast two MLS matches per week in the UK and Ireland from 2015–2019.[167] As part of the new agreement, Sky Sports will broadcast at least two MLS regular-season matches each week, as well as the AT&T MLS All-Star Game, every MLS Cup Playoff game, and the MLS Cup final. The matches will appear across Sky's family of networks. The UK-based broadcaster will also carry weekly MLS highlights across various platforms, including Sky Sports News and Sky Sports will also broadcast at least one match from MLS's new "Decision Day" – the recently announced format change for the final day of the MLS regular season, during which all Eastern Conference games will be played simultaneously at 5 pm ET (9 pm UK time) followed by all Western Conference games at 7 pm ET (11 pm UK time). Many of the matches are expected to determine the final spots for the MLS Cup Playoffs.[168]

Eurosport will also broadcast MLS between 2015 and 2019, with four matches per week being screened live to its continental audience.[169]

beIN SPORT to televise league matches live across Southeast Asia and Australia. The agreement runs from the 2015-18 seasons in Australia, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Laos, Philippines, and Thailand. At least two MLS regular season matches will be aired per week, as well as the AT&T MLS All-Star Game, at least two matches from the newly created Decision Day, all MLS Cup Playoff games and MLS Cup. In addition, beIN SPORTS will carry highlights, player features, and other MLS content across its digital platforms.[170]

Video games

Major League Soccer is a playable league in both the FIFA and the Football Manager series. The league made its video game debut in 1999 with FIFA 2000. In 2001, Konami released ESPN MLS ExtraTime 2002, which, to date, is the only soccer title to be based solely on MLS. The league made its first appearance in the management series Football Manager 2005 in 2004.[171]

Profitability and revenues

Average franchise valuations
Year Value
2008 $37m
2013 $103m
2015 $157m
2016 $185m

Major League Soccer began to demonstrate positive signs of long-term profitability as early as 2004 with the single-entity ownership structure, salary cap, and the media and marketing umbrella Soccer United Marketing (SUM) all contributing towards MLS's financial security.[53] As soccer-specific stadiums are built, ownership expands, and television coverage increases, MLS has seen its revenues increase while controlling costs.[12]

Television coverage and revenue have increased since the league's early years. In 2006, MLS reached an 8-year TV deal with ESPN spanning the 2007–2014 seasons, and marked the first time that MLS earned rights fees, reported to be worth $7–8 million annually.[172] In September 2012 the league extended its distribution agreement with London-based Media rights agency MP & Silva until 2014 in a deal worth $10 million annually. Total league TV revenues are over $40 million annually.[173][174] In 2011, MLS earned $150 million when it sold a 25% stake in SUM.[12]

Jersey sponsorships
Team Sponsor Annual Value
Atlanta United FC AmFam Undisclosed[175]
Chicago Fire Valspar Undisclosed[176]
Colorado Rapids Transamerica Undisclosed[177]
Columbus Crew SC Barbasol Undisclosed[178]
D.C. United Leidos Undisclosed[179]
FC Dallas AdvoCare Undisclosed[180]
Houston Dynamo BHP Billiton Undisclosed[181]
LA Galaxy Herbalife $4.4 million[182]
Montreal Impact Bank of Montreal US$4 million[183]
New England Revolution UnitedHealthcare Undisclosed[184]
New York City FC Etihad Airways Undisclosed[185]
New York Red Bulls Red Bull Owns club
Orlando City SC Orlando Health Undisclosed[186]
Philadelphia Union Bimbo Bakeries USA $3 million[187]
Portland Timbers Alaska Airlines Undisclosed[188]
Real Salt Lake LifeVantage $3 million[189]
San Jose Earthquakes Sutter Health Undisclosed[190]
Seattle Sounders FC Xbox $4 million[191]
Sporting Kansas City Ivy Funds $2.5 million[192]
Toronto FC Bank of Montreal C$4 million[193]
Vancouver Whitecaps FC Bell Canada C$4 million+[194]

In early 2005, MLS signed a 10-year, $150 million sponsorship deal with Adidas.[53] In 2007, MLS teams started selling ad space on the front of jerseys to go along with the league-wide sponsorship partners who had already been advertising on the back of club jerseys, following the practice of international sport, specifically soccer. MLS established a floor of $500,000 per shirt sponsorship, with the league receiving a flat fee of $200,000 per deal.[195] As of July 2014, sixteen teams had signed sponsorship deals to have company logos placed on the front of their jerseys (and another team is directly owned by its shirt sponsor), and the league average from jersey sponsors was about $2.4 million.[196] As of February 2016, all teams in MLS have jersey sponsors.

The Los Angeles Galaxy made a profit in 2003 in their first season at The Home Depot Center,[52] and FC Dallas turned a profit after moving into Pizza Hut Park in 2005.[197] For each season between 2006–2009, two to three MLS clubs (generally clubs with a soccer-specific stadium) were reported as profitable by the league.[197][198][199]

By 2012, the league had shown a marked improvement in its financial health. In November 2013, Forbes published its first valuation of MLS teams since 2008, and revealed that ten of the league's nineteen teams earned an operating profit in 2012, while two broke even and seven had a loss. Forbes estimated that the league's collective annual revenues were $494 million, and that the league's collective annual profit was $34 million. Forbes valued the league's franchises to be worth $103 million on average, almost three times as much as the $37 million average valuation in 2008. The Seattle Sounders FC franchise was named the most valuable at $175 million, a 483% gain over the $30 million league entrance fee it paid in 2009.[104]

The trend in increased team values has continued with MLS teams seeing a strong 52% increase in franchise values from 2012 to 2014. In August 2015, Forbes released the updated list of MLS franchise values with the most profitable team weighing in at $245 million and the least at $105 million. The average value jumped from $103 to $157 million.[13]

From 2015 to 2016 the league saw an increase of 18% of the average value of the MLS franchises. The most profitable one weighted in at $285 million and the least at $110 million. The average value in 2016 is $185 million.[200]

Rules and officials

MLS follows the rules and standards of the International Football Association Board (IFAB). The playoff extra time structure follows IFAB standards: two full 15-minute periods, followed by a penalty shootout if necessary. Away goals apply to the playoff stage of the competition, but do not apply to overtime in the second leg of any two-legged playoff series.[201]

U.S. Soccer hired the first full-time professional referees in league history in 2007 as part of the league's "Game First" initiatives.[202] Major League Soccer has been implementing fines and suspensions since the 2011 season for simulation (diving) through its Disciplinary Committee, which reviews plays after the match. The first player fined under the new rule was Charlie Davies, fined $1,000 for intentionally deceiving match officials.[203]

Team names

For more information on MLS team names, see the individual team entries.

Originally, in the style of other U.S. sports leagues, teams were given nicknames at their creation. Examples include the Columbus Crew, the San Jose Clash and the Los Angeles Galaxy. Several of the club names in MLS originated with earlier professional soccer clubs, such as the 1970s-era NASL team names San Jose Earthquakes, Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps.[204]

D.C. United and Miami Fusion F.C. were the only two MLS teams to adopt European naming conventions during the 1990s.[205] However, European-style names have increased in MLS, with expansion teams such as Real Salt Lake and Toronto FC, in addition to 2015 entrants New York City FC and Orlando City S.C., along with several re-brandings such as the Dallas Burn (now FC Dallas) and Kansas City Wizards (now Sporting Kansas City).[206]

The beverage company Red Bull GmbH owns the New York Red Bulls as well as other sports teams.[100]

Player records

Statistics below are for all-time leaders. Statistics are for regular season only. Bold indicates active MLS players.

Rank Player Years Goals
1 United States Landon Donovan 2001–2014; 2016–present 145
2 United States Jeff Cunningham 1998–2010 134
3 Bolivia Jaime Moreno 1996–2010 133
4 United States Chris Wondolowski 2005–present 121
5 United States Ante Razov 1996–2000; 2001–2009 114
6 United States Jason Kreis 1996–2007 108
7 Canada Dwayne De Rosario 2001–2014 104
8 United States Taylor Twellman 2002–2010 101
9 United States Edson Buddle 2001–2010; 2012–2015 100
10 Guatemala Carlos Ruiz 2002–2008; 2011, 2013, 2016 89

Rank Player Years Assists
1 United States Landon Donovan 2001–2014; 2016–present 136
2 United States Steve Ralston 1996–2010 135
3 United States Brad Davis 2002–2016 123
4 Colombia Carlos Valderrama 1996–2002 114
5 United States Preki 1996–2005 112
6 Bolivia Jaime Moreno 1996–2010 102
7 Bolivia Marco Etcheverry 1996–2003 101
8 United States Cobi Jones 1996–2007 91
9 Jamaica Andy Williams 1998–2011 86
10 Argentina Javier Morales 2007–2016 81

Rank Player Years Shutouts
1 United States Nick Rimando 2000–present 129
2 United States Kevin Hartman 1997–2013 112
3 United States Joe Cannon 1999–2002; 2003–2013 86
4 United States Jon Busch 2002–2015 83
5 United States Zach Thornton 1996–2011 76
6 United States Matt Reis 1998–2013 75
7 Canada Pat Onstad 2003–2011 64
8 United States Tony Meola 1996–2006 62
9 Jamaica Donovan Ricketts 2009–2015 56
10 United States Troy Perkins 2004–2007; 2010–2015 53

Games Played
Rank Player Years Games
1 United States Nick Rimando 2000–present 424
2 United States Kevin Hartman 1997–2013 416
3 United States Kyle Beckerman 2000–present 406
4 United States Brad Davis 2002–2016 392
5 United States Steve Ralston 1996–2010 378
6 United States Brian Carroll 2003–present 370
7 United States Jeff Cunningham 1998–2011 365
8 United States Bobby Boswell 2005–present 355
9 United States Jack Jewsbury 2003–2016 352
10 United States Davy Arnaud 2002–2015 351

Updated October 24, 2016

Player records (active)

Statistics below are for all-time leaders who are still playing. Statistics are for regular season only.

Rank Player Goals
1 United States Landon Donovan 145
2 United States Chris Wondolowski 121
3 Guatemala Carlos Ruiz 89
4 Sierra Leone Kei Kamara 86
5 United States Mike Magee 70

Rank Player Assists
1 United States Landon Donovan 136
2 United States Sacha Kljestan 67
3 United States Justin Mapp 65
4 France Sébastien Le Toux 57
5 United States Kyle Beckerman 49

Rank Player Shutouts
1 United States Nick Rimando 129
2 Switzerland Stefan Frei 46
3 United States Bill Hamid 43
4 United States Luis Robles 39
5 Denmark David Ousted 36
United States Sean Johnson

Games Played
Rank Player Games
1 United States Nick Rimando 424
2 United States Kyle Beckerman 406
3 United States Brian Carroll 370
4 United States Bobby Boswell 355
5 United States Chad Marshall 343

Updated October 22, 2016

MLS commissioners

MLS awards

At the conclusion of each season, the league presents several awards for outstanding achievements, mostly to players, but also to coaches, referees, and teams. The finalists in each category are determined by voting from MLS players, team employees, and the media.[207]

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Preceded by
Division 1 Soccer League in the United States
Succeeded by
Current League
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