Major League Soccer

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Major League Soccer
MLS Logo.svg
CountryUnited States
Other club(s) fromCanada
FoundedDecember 17, 1993[1]
ConferencesEastern Conference
Western Conference
Number of teams19
Levels on pyramid1 (US), 1 (CAN)
Domestic cup(s)U.S. Open Cup
Canadian Championship
International cup(s)CONCACAF Champions League
Current MLS CupSporting Kansas City (2nd title)
Current Supporters' ShieldNew York Red Bulls (1st shield)
Most MLS CupsD.C. United &
LA Galaxy (4 titles)
Most Supporters' ShieldsD.C. United &
LA Galaxy (4 shields)
TV partnersESPN/ESPN2/ESPN Deportes,
NBC Sports Group,
UniMás, Univision Deportes,
2014 MLS season
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Major League Soccer
MLS Logo.svg
CountryUnited States
Other club(s) fromCanada
FoundedDecember 17, 1993[1]
ConferencesEastern Conference
Western Conference
Number of teams19
Levels on pyramid1 (US), 1 (CAN)
Domestic cup(s)U.S. Open Cup
Canadian Championship
International cup(s)CONCACAF Champions League
Current MLS CupSporting Kansas City (2nd title)
Current Supporters' ShieldNew York Red Bulls (1st shield)
Most MLS CupsD.C. United &
LA Galaxy (4 titles)
Most Supporters' ShieldsD.C. United &
LA Galaxy (4 shields)
TV partnersESPN/ESPN2/ESPN Deportes,
NBC Sports Group,
UniMás, Univision Deportes,
2014 MLS season

Major League Soccer (MLS) is a professional soccer league representing the sport's highest level in both the United States and Canada.[2] MLS constitutes one of the major professional sports leagues of the United States and Canada.[3] Sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federation (U.S. Soccer), the league is composed of 19 teams—16 in the U.S. and 3 in Canada. The MLS regular season runs from March to October, with each team playing 34 games; the team with the best record is awarded the Supporters' Shield. Ten teams compete in the postseason MLS Cup Playoffs in November and December, culminating in the championship game, the MLS Cup.[4] MLS teams also play in other competitions against teams from other divisions and countries, such as the U.S. Open Cup, the Canadian Championship, and the CONCACAF Champions League.[5]

Major League Soccer was founded in 1993 as part of the United States' successful bid to host the 1994 FIFA World Cup.[6] The first season took place in 1996 beginning with ten teams.[7] MLS had financial and operational struggles in its first few years. The league lost millions of dollars in the early years, teams played in mostly empty American football stadiums, and when two teams folded rumors of MLS' demise were circulating.[8] Since then, MLS has expanded to 19 teams (to 21 teams in 2015), owners have built soccer-specific stadiums, average attendance exceeds that of the NBA and NHL, MLS has national TV contracts, and the league is now profitable.[8]

Instead of operating as an association of independently owned teams, MLS is a single entity where each team is owned and controlled by the league's investors.[9] The league's closed membership makes it one of the world's few soccer leagues not using promotion and relegation, which is normally not common in North America.[10] MLS headquarters are in New York City.[11]

Competition format[edit]

Major League Soccer's regular season runs from March to October with its 19 teams playing 34 games in an unbalanced schedule.[12] Teams are divided into the Eastern and Western Conferences. 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. At the end of the regular season, the team with the highest point total is awarded the Supporters' Shield.

The regular season is followed by the 10-team MLS Cup Playoffs in November, ending with the MLS Cup championship final in early December.[13] Although some fans have argued that playoffs reduce the importance of the regular season, Commissioner Garber has explained "Our purpose is to have a valuable competition, and that includes having playoffs that are more meaningful."[14]

MLS has three automatic berths in the CONCACAF Champions League for its American clubs, with an additional spot available via the U.S. Open Cup; Canadian clubs can qualify for a single berth via the Canadian Championship.

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,[15][16] causing several players to miss some MLS matches.[17] MLS has looked into changing to a fall-to-spring format, but 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.[18][19][20]


Major League Soccer is the most recent of a series of professional men's premier national professional 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.[21]


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.[22] In 1993, the USSF selected Major League Professional Soccer (the precursor to MLS) as the exclusive Division 1 professional soccer league.[22] Major League Soccer was officially formed in February 1995 as a limited liability company.[23] MLS began play in 1996 with ten teams. 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.

In 1996, the players filed an antitrust lawsuit, Fraser v. Major League Soccer, challenging MLS's policy of centrally contracting players and limiting player salaries through a salary cap. The court ruled that the salary cap and other restrictions were a legal method for the league to maintain solvency and competitive parity.[24]

The early years of the league gave rise to D.C. United winning the MLS Cup in three of the league's first four seasons. The league added its first two expansion teams in 1998—the Miami Fusion and the Chicago Fire, with the Chicago Fire winning its first title in 1998. After its first season, MLS suffered from a decline in attendance.[25] The league's low attendance was all the more apparent in light of the fact that eight of the original ten teams began playing in large American football stadiums.

MLS experimented with rules deviations in its early years in an attempt to "Americanize" the sport. MLS implemented the use of shootouts to resolve tie games. MLS also used a countdown clock and halves ended when the clock reached 0:00. MLS 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.[26]

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. The league's financial problems led to the departure of then-Commissioner Doug Logan in August 1999. Don Garber, a former National Football League executive, was hired as commissioner that same month.[27]

Columbus Crew Stadium was built in 1999, becoming MLS's first soccer-specific stadium. This began a trend among MLS teams to construct their own venues instead of leasing American football stadiums.

Major League Soccer lost an estimated $250 million during its first five years, and lost more than $350 million between its founding and the year 2004.[28][29][30][31] MLS announced in January 2002 that it had decided to contract the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion. This left the league with 10 teams, the same number as when MLS began.


The 2002 World Cup, in which the United States unexpectedly made the quarterfinals, coincided with a resurgence in American soccer and MLS.[32] MLS Cup 2002 drew 61,316 spectators to Gillette Stadium, the largest attendance in an MLS Cup final.[33][34]

MLS adopted the IFAB rules and standards in 2003, which included changes such as limiting teams to three substitutions per game.

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 saw some of its homegrown stars depart for prominent leagues in Europe. For example, Tim Howard was transferred to Manchester United in one of the most lucrative contract deals in league history.[35] Many more American players did make an impact in MLS. In 2005, Jason Kreis became the first player to score 100 career MLS goals.[36]

MLS Cup and Supporter Shield Wins
Last CupSupp.
LA Galaxy420124201118
D.C. United420044200718
Houston Dynamo2200708
Sporting Kansas City220131200018
San Jose Earthquakes220032201216
Chicago Fire119981200316
Colorado Rapids12010018
Real Salt Lake1200909
Columbus Crew120083200918
New York Red Bulls01201318
The Miami Fusion ('01) and Tampa Bay Mutiny ('96) each won 1 Supporters Shield.
Teams that have yet to win either title: New England, Dallas, Chivas, Toronto,
Seattle, Philadelphia, Portland, Vancouver, and Montreal.

The league's financial stabilization plan included teams moving out of large American football stadiums and into soccer-specific stadiums. From 2003 to 2008, the league saw 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 MLS teams were now in soccer-specific stadiums.

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. 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 would materialize in 2007.


The 2007 season saw expansion reach beyond the United States' borders into Canada, beginning with Toronto FC.

Major League Soccer took steps to further raise the level of play in the league by adopting the Designated Player Rule, which helped MLS bring international stars into the league.[37] 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.[38] 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.

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. The 2010 season ushered in an expansion franchise in the Philadelphia Union and their new PPL Park stadium. The 2010 season also saw the opening of the New York Red Bulls' soccer-specific stadium, Red Bull Arena, and the debut of French striker Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls).[39]

The start of the 2011 season saw further expansion with the addition of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC, the second Canadian MLS franchise, and the Portland Timbers. The 2011 season saw Real Salt Lake reach the finals of the CONCACAF Champions League. During the 2011 season, the Galaxy signed another international star in Republic of Ireland all-time leading goalscorer Robbie Keane.[40] The 2011 season drew an average attendance of 17,872, higher than the average attendances of the NBA and NHL.[41]

In 2012, the Montreal Impact became the league's 19th franchise and the third located in Canada, and made their home debut in front of a crowd of 58,912.[42]

In 2013, MLS introduced New York City FC[43] as the league's 20th team, and Orlando City Soccer Club[44] as the league's 21st team, both to begin playing in 2015. Beginning in summer of 2013 and continuing in the run up to the 2014 World Cup, MLS began signing U.S. stars based in Europe, including Clint Dempsey and Maurice Edu from the English Premier League, and Michael Bradley from Italy's Serie A.[45] By the 2014 season, fifteen of the nineteen teams in MLS has a head coach who previously played in MLS.[46]

In 2014, MLS announced the league's 22nd team see the league return to Miami. The team will begin play in 2017 at the earliest depending on the completion of a new stadium.[47]


The 19 MLS clubs are divided among the Eastern and Western Conference. Each club is allowed up to 30 players on its first team roster.[48] All 30 players are eligible for selection to each 18-player game-day squad during the regular season and playoffs.[48]

Since the 2005 season, MLS has added nine new clubs. This period of expansion saw Los Angeles become the first two-team market, and the league's push into Canada in 2007.[49] The league will expand to 21 teams with the addition of New York City FC and Orlando City SC in 2015. The league plans to expand to 24 teams by 2020.[50]

Throughout MLS history, twenty one different clubs have competed in the league with nine having won at least one MLS Cup and eight winning at least one Supporters' Shield. Of the league's seventeen completed seasons, only six have witnessed the same club win both trophies.

Several teams compete annually for secondary MLS rivalry cups that are usually contested by two teams, usually geographic rivals (e.g., New York vs D.C.).[32] Each cup is awarded to the team with the better regular-season record. The concept is comparable to minor trophies played for by American college football teams.[51]

Since the 2012 season, teams were aligned as follows:[52]

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



Major League Soccer operates under a single-entity structure in which teams are centrally owned by the league.[2] Each team has an investor-operator that is a shareholder in the league. In order to control costs, the league shares revenues, negotiates player contracts, 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.[2] The court also ruled that even absent their collective bargaining agreement, players could opt to play in other leagues if they were unsatisfied.[2]

Having multiple clubs owned by a single owner was a necessity in the league's first 10 years.[54] At one time Phil Anschutz's AEG owned six MLS clubs in MLS, and Lamar Hunt's Hunt Sports owned 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 owner.[55] These changes included granting owners 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.[55]

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 owner.[56] The league has attracted new ownership that have injected more money into the league.[57] Examples include Red Bull's purchase of the MetroStars from AEG in 2006 for in over $100 million.[54][58]

The league now has 17 investor-operators for its 19 clubs. Hunt Sports owns only one team (FC Dallas). AEG is the only organization left with an ownership interest in multiple teams — AEG owns the LA Galaxy and retains a 50% interest in the Houston Dynamo.[59] Two of the league's teams are owned, at least in part, by a foreigner — Austrian Dietrich Mateschitz (New York Red Bulls), and Indonesian Erick Thohir (D.C. United).[57] Chivas USA has been owned by the league since February 20, 2014.

Player quality and salaries[edit]

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

The average salary for MLS players is $160,000 as of 2013,[60] lower than the average salaries in the Football League Championship, the second tier of English football ($322,670)[61] or Holland's Eredivisie ($445,000).[62] The median salary for MLS players is $100,000 as of 2013.[60]

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.[22] The salary cap survived a legal challenge by the players in the Fraser v. Major League Soccer lawsuit. For the 2013 season, the salary cap is $2.95 million per team and the maximum salary for any one player is $368,750.[63]

There are certain scenarios where player spending does not count against the salary cap. The Designated Player Rule allows teams to sign players whose salary does not count against the league's salary cap. The DP rule was instituted in 2007, and David Beckham was the first signing under the DP rule.[64] The league's "Core Players" initiative allows teams to re-sign players using retention funds that do not count against the salary cap.[65] Retention funds were implemented in 2013 as a mechanism for teams to retain key players instead of losing them to foreign teams.[65] Among the first high-profile players re-signed in 2013 using retention funds were U.S. national team regulars Graham Zusi and Matt Besler.

The league has developed several additional initiatives to improve quality of players—particularly young players—while still maintaining the salary cap. These initiatives have brought about an increase in the league's ability to compete on the field.[66]

The league has required all of the league's teams to operate youth development programs since 2008.[67] Team have the ability to sign up to two of its own home grown players to the senior team each year, which gives the league's teams an incentive to improve the quality of the league's home-grown talent. One of the most 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 2008.[68] The various MLS teams' development academies play matches in a developmental league against youth academies from other leagues such as the Division II NASL and Division III USL Pro.

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.[69] 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.

The league operates the MLS Reserve League, which gives playing time to players who are not starters for their MLS teams. The Reserve League has been in place since 2005 (with the exception of the 2009 & 2010 seasons).[70] Since 2013, MLS has integrated its Reserve League with the Division III USL Pro competition.[71]


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.[72] The soccer-specific stadiums have yielded positive financial results, with teams no longer having to pay to rent out facilities, and teams able to control revenue streams including concessions, parking, naming rights, and hosting non MLS events.[72][73] Several teams have doubled their season-tickets following the team's move into a soccer-specific stadium.[74] The establishment of soccer-specific stadiums is considered the key to the league and the ability of teams to turn a profit.[75] In 2006, Tim Leiweke, then CEO of Anschutz Entertainment Group, described the proliferation of soccer-specific stadiums as the turning point for MLS.[75]

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

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) now played in soccer-specific stadiums. Red Bull Arena, the new home of the New York Red Bulls opened for the start of the 2010 season. The Philadelphia Union opened PPL Park, midway through their inaugural season, in June 2010. The following season, in 2011, the Portland Timbers made their MLS debut in a newly renovated Jeld-Wen Field (originally a multi-purpose venue but turned into a soccer-specific facility), and Sporting Kansas City opened their new Sporting Park (originally Livestrong Sporting Park). The Houston Dynamo moved into their new BBVA Compass Stadium in 2012. The Montreal Impact has played most of its home games in the soccer-specific Saputo Stadium since June 2012, when it was expanded to hold over 20,000, although the Impact use nearby Olympic Stadium for games that require a larger capacity.

The development of additional MLS stadiums is in progress. The San Jose Earthquakes, who currently play at Buck Shaw Stadium, broke ground for their new stadium in 2012, with construction expected to be completed before the 2015 season. The Orlando City SC expansion team intends to begin constructing a soccer-specific stadium in 2014 to be completed in 2015.[76]

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 20,000-25,000-seat soccer stadium in Washington, D.C., but that project has made little apparent progress since then.[77] The New York City FC expansion team intends to move into a new soccer-specific stadium, although not in time for the 2015 season. The New England Revolution play home games at a National Football League venue, Gillette Stadium, but are searching for a suitable urban location for a stadium site.[78][79]

Several remaining clubs play in stadiums not originally built for MLS and have no current plans to move. The Seattle Sounders FC play at CenturyLink Field, a dual-purpose stadium used for both American football and soccer. The Vancouver Whitecaps FC moved into a refurbished BC Place in October 2011, a stadium designed to accommodate Canadian football as well as soccer.

Media coverage[edit]

United States[edit]

When MLS began in 1996, it had TV contracts in place with ABC/ESPN for English-language coverage. MLS also had deals with Univision, Galavision, and UniMas in Spanish, but those lapsed after a few years. From 2003 through 2012, Fox Sports owned partial cable rights to the league for Fox Soccer.[80]

MLS reached an eight-year deal with ESPN in 2006 for the 2007—2014 seasons, the first in the league's history for which MLS sold television rights to networks for a fee.[8] ESPN's coverage featured a live match each week. Univision and its networks resumed MLS broadcasts in 2007 as well, with most matches airing on TeleFutura and Galavision.

In 2011, MLS signed a three-year deal with NBC Sports for the 2012-2014 seasons to nationally televise 40 matches per year, primarily on NBC Sports Network, but also with select matches broadcast on the NBC network.[81] MLS moving from Fox Soccer to the more widely distributed NBC Sports Network proved successful, with MLS 2012 viewership on NBC Sports double the 2011 viewership on Fox Soccer.[82]

MLS's contracts with ESPN and NBC Sports expire at the end of 2014, and the league is currently in negotiations for a new set of contracts. In January 2014, it was reported that the league was negotiating a $70 million-dollar contract between ESPN and Fox Sports. Fox had also recently acquired rights to FIFA events.[80]

Games not televised nationally are broadcast regionally, often by regional sports networks (such as the LA Galaxy and Time Warner Cable SportsNet).[41]


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

Coverage of MLS expanded into Canada in 2007 with the addition of Toronto FC. From 2007 to 2010, CBC, Sportsnet, and later GolTV Canada, broadcast Toronto FC games nationwide, and GolTV carried broadcasts of selected regular-season games not involving Toronto FC.

In 2011, the TSN networks announced a six-year deal for national MLS broadcast rights in Canada for the 2011-2016 seasons. TSN and TSN2 broadcast 24 games during the 2011 season and a minimum of 30 games during each of the subsequent five seasons, 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.[83] GolTV Canada continues to carry selected all-U.S. MLS matchups.[84]

As in the United States, the individual Canadian teams have also negotiated separate broadcast deals for games not aired under the TSN/RDS national contract. Toronto FC regional games are currently split between the TSN and Sportsnet networks. Sportsnet also airs Vancouver Whitecaps FC games,[85] and TVA Sports airs Montreal Impact games.[86]


MLS signed an international television contract in 2008 through 2013 with sports media company MP & Silva.[87][88] The figure is reportedly an "eight-figure deal."[87] MP & Silva explained that high-profile, international players who were lured to MLS by the designated player rule have raised the popularity of MLS in international markets.[88] ESPN International purchased the rights to broadcast MLS in Great Britain and Ireland in 2009, and other ESPN networks around the world also broadcast games.[89][90]

Profitability and revenues[edit]

Jersey sponsorships
TeamSponsorAnnual Value
Chicago FireQuakerUndisclosed[91]
Columbus CrewBarbasolUndisclosed[92]
D.C. UnitedLeidosUndisclosed[93]
FC DallasAdvoCareUndisclosed[94]
LA GalaxyHerbalife$4.4 million[95]
Montreal ImpactBank of MontrealUndisclosed[96]
New England RevolutionUnitedHealthcareUndisclosed[97]
Orlando City SCOrlando HealthUndisclosed[98]
Philadelphia UnionBimbo$3 million[99]
Portland TimbersAlaska AirlinesUndisclosed[100]
Real Salt LakeLifeVantage$3 million[101]
Seattle Sounders FCXbox$4 million[102]
Sporting Kansas CityIvy Funds$2.5 million[103]
Toronto FCBank of MontrealC$4 million+[94]
Vancouver Whitecaps FCBell CanadaC$4 million+[104]
The N.Y. Red Bulls jersey sponsor is Red Bull, which owns the club.
Teams without a jersey sponsor:
Chivas USA, Colorado Rapids, Houston Dynamo and San Jose Earthquakes.

Major League Soccer has demonstrated positive signs of long-term profitability since 2004. The single-entity ownership structure, salary cap, and the media and marketing umbrella Soccer United Marketing (SUM) have all contributed towards MLS's financial security.[29] As soccer-specific stadiums are built, ownership expands, and television coverage increases, MLS has seen its revenues increase while controlling costs.

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.[105] 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.[106][107] In 2011, MLS earned $150 million when it sold a 25% stake in SUM.[8]

In early 2005, MLS signed a 10-year $150 million sponsorship deal with Adidas.[29] 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. The league established a floor of $500,000 per shirt sponsorship, with the league receiving a flat fee of $200,000 per deal.[108] As of June 2012, fifteen teams have signed sponsorship deals to have company logos placed on the front of their team jerseys (and another team is directly owned by its shirt sponsor), and the league average from jersey sponsors is about $2.4 million.[109] D.C. United had a jersey sponsorship by Volkswagen over a five year period from 2008-2013.[110]

The 2003 season saw the Los Angeles Galaxy make a profit in their first season at The Home Depot Center,[28] while FC Dallas turned a profit after moving into Pizza Hut Park in 2005.[111] MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in 2006 that he expected the league's clubs to be profitable by 2010 overall. He reported that FC Dallas and the Los Angeles Galaxy were already profitable, with several other clubs nearing profitability. A year later, he revealed that the Chicago Fire, the Colorado Rapids, and Toronto FC were on track for profitability by 2008.[111] However in 2008 there were only three profitable MLS clubs; Los Angeles Galaxy, Toronto FC and FC Dallas.[112] According to the League, in 2009 there were only two profitable MLS clubs, the Seattle Sounders FC and Toronto FC.[113]

The league has continued to improve upon its fiscal health. In November 2013, Forbes published its first valuation of MLS teams since 2008, and revealed that ten of 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.[73]

Rules and officials[edit]

MLS follows the rules and standards of the International Football Association Board. In 2005, the league adopted a playoff extra time structure that followed new IFAB standards: two full 15-minute periods, followed by a penalty shootout if necessary. The away goals rule is not used in any playoff round.

As part of the league's "Game First" initiatives aimed at improving the league, U.S. Soccer hired the first full-time professional referees in league history in 2007.[114] In 2011, the league adopted the use of vanishing spray to assist referees in requiring defensive players to be ten yards away from the ball on ceremonial restarts.[115]

Team names[edit]

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.[116]

D.C. United and Miami Fusion F.C. were the only two original teams to adopt European naming conventions.[117] 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).

The C.D. Chivas USA name does not specify a geographic area; rather, the club is named for the Mexican team C.D. Guadalajara, who are often known by its nickname "Chivas". The Mexican club and Chivas USA formerly shared the same ownership.[118] The beverage company Red Bull owns the New York Red Bulls as well as other sports teams.[58]

Player records[edit]

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

Regular Season only
1United States Jeff Cunningham134
United States Landon Donovan134
3Bolivia Jaime Moreno133
4United States Ante Razov114
5United States Jason Kreis108
6Canada Dwayne De Rosario103
7United States Taylor Twellman101
8United States Edson Buddle98
9United States Roy Lassiter88
Guatemala Carlos Ruiz88

Last Updated October 28, 2013

Regular Season only
1United States Steve Ralston135
2United States Landon Donovan117
3Colombia Carlos Valderrama114
4United States Preki112
5Bolivia Jaime Moreno102
6United States Brad Davis101
Bolivia Marco Etcheverry101
8United States Cobi Jones91
9Jamaica Andy Williams86
10United States Chris Henderson80
El Salvador Mauricio Cienfuegos80
Goals Against Average
Regular Season only, 4500+ min
1Denmark Jimmy Nielsen0.99
2United States Kasey Keller1.06
3Jamaica Donovan Ricketts1.10
4Senegal Bouna Coundoul1.13
5Canada Pat Onstad1.14
6United States Nick Rimando1.19
7Puerto Rico Josh Saunders1.20
8United States Kevin Hartman1.21
United States Will Hesmer1.21
10United States Jon Busch1.22
United States Tally Hall1.22
Games Played
Regular Season only
1United States Kevin Hartman416
2United States Steve Ralston378
3United States Jeff Cunningham365
4United States Nick Rimando346
5United States Joe Cannon342
6Bolivia Jaime Moreno340
7Jamaica Tyrone Marshall337
8United States Pablo Mastroeni334
9United States Chris Klein333
10Jamaica Andy Williams332

Player records (active)[edit]

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

1United States Landon Donovan134
2Canada Dwayne De Rosario103
3United States Edson Buddle98
4United States Chris Wondolowski79
5United States Kenny Cooper72
1United States Landon Donovan117
2United States Brad Davis101
3Canada Dwayne De Rosario77
4United States Brian Mullan58
5United States Justin Mapp57
1United States Nick Rimando108
2United States Jon Busch76
3United States Troy Perkins48
4Jamaica Donovan Ricketts46
5United States Matt Pickens40
Games Played
1United States Nick Rimando346
2United States Kyle Beckerman325
3Canada Dwayne De Rosario324
4United States Brian Mullan323
5United States Brad Davis313

Updated March 2, 2014

MLS commissioners[edit]

MLS awards[edit]

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.[119]

See also[edit]


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  12. ^ "Competition Rules and Regulations". Major League Soccer. Retrieved May 5, 2012. 
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  26. ^ CNN Sports Illustrated, Shootout banned; TV lineup changed, Nov. 18, 1999,
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  28. ^ a b Holmes, Stanley (November 22, 2004). "Soccer: Time To Kick It Up A Notch". Businessweek. Retrieved May 11, 2008. 
  29. ^ a b c New York Times, For M.L.S., the Sport's Future Is in the Eye of the Beholder, Nov 11, 2005,
  30. ^, MLS fans in several cities wait nervously for contraction decision, Dec 27, 2001,
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  35. ^ Yanks Abroad, Tim Howard club career,
  36. ^ ESPN Soccer, Jason Kreis still has something to prove, April 28, 2011,
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  38. ^ Lalas, Greg (April 17, 2007). "Foreign exchange program". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved April 22, 2007. 
  39. ^ "New York Red Bulls sign international star Thierry Henry". New York Red Bulls. July 14, 2010. Retrieved July 14, 2010. 
  40. ^ "Spurs striker Robbie Keane joins MLS side LA Galaxy". BBC Sport. August 16, 2011. Retrieved August 22, 2011. 
  41. ^ a b L.A. Times, MLS steadily builds toward goal of profitability, Nov 18, 2011,
  42. ^ "Fire tie Impact in MLS opener". Associated Press. March 17, 2012. Retrieved April 27, 2012. 
  43. ^ "Major League Soccer announces New York expansion team: New York City Football Club". Retrieved May 21, 2013. 
  44. ^ "MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER AWARDS EXPANSION TEAM TO ORLANDO". Orlando City Soccer Club. Retrieved November 20, 2013. 
  45. ^, FC Dallas technical director Fernando Clavijo waits on US internationals: "More players are coming", Jan. 30, 2014,
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  47. ^ "David Beckham's Miami partner Marcelo Claure says team hopes to begin play in 2017". 
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  49. ^ Bleacher Report, MLS considers expanding to Montreal, Dec. 9, 2009,
  50. ^ Galarcep, Ives (August 1, 2013). "Garber: MLS to expand to 24 teams by 2020". Soccer By Ives. 
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  55. ^ a b Sports Illustrated, Garber, Horowitz discuss MLS contraction, Jan 9, 2002,
  56. ^ Sports Business Daily, MLS’ Don Garber Talks State Of The League With The Daily, April 5, 2007,
  57. ^ a b Forbes, Major League Soccer's Billionaire Owners, Nov. 20, 2013,
  58. ^ a b New York Times, Red Bull Is New Owner, and Name, of MetroStars, March 10, 2006,
  59. ^ "Chicago Fire sold to Andell Holdings". Chicago Fire Media Relations. September 6, 2007. Retrieved May 11, 2008. 
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  61. ^ Soccerlens, Finance in English Football: Wage Disparities Between the Divisions, April 30, 2012,
  62. ^ It's all about sports, Dutch football: financial difficulties of clubs should be no surprise, Dec 3, 2009,
  63. ^ SB Nation, Designated Players Explained: How they affect the salary cap and what is the Houston Dynamo DP situation, Jan. 15, 2014,
  64. ^ Forbes, Has The "Beckham Rule" Worked For MLS?, August 5, 2012,
  65. ^ a b, Retention funds explained: MLS reveals list of 14 players like Graham Zusi re-signed under initiative, August 2, 2013,
  66. ^ Martin, Pat (May 4, 2007). "MLS comes out of the gates strong in '07". Retrieved May 11, 2008. 
  67. ^ "MLS launches youth development initiative". November 10, 2006. 
  68. ^ Bell, Jack (June 5, 2008). "Spanish Soccer Team Strikes Deal for Altidore". United States: Retrieved October 11, 2011. 
  69. ^ "US U-20 players headline 2006 class". January 11, 2006. Retrieved September 15, 2013. 
  70. ^, Commissioner reveals details of Reserve Division, Nov. 16, 2010,
  71. ^ "MLS, USL Pro reach deal on restructured Reserve League". January 23, 2013. Retrieved January 27, 2013. 
  72. ^ a b New York Times, M.L.S. Continues to Bolster Growing Brand With New Stadium in Houston, May 12, 2012,
  73. ^ a b Forbes, Major League Soccer's Most Valuable Teams, November 20, 2013,
  74. ^ Sports Business Journal, MLS club presidents on the season ahead, March 4, 2013,
  75. ^ a b Sports Business Journal, Soccer’s visionary: Phil Anschutz, June 5, 2006,
  76. ^ Orlando Sentinel, Architects, Dyer and Lions to brainstorm ideas for MLS stadium design, Jan. 7, 2014,,0,4518538.story
  77. ^ Washington Port, Ambitious timeline for new soccer stadium slips, Nov. 30, 2013,
  78. ^, New England Revolution stick to long view on stadium hunt: "An urban location ... is critical", March 7, 2013,
  79. ^ Scott Van Voorhis (August 2, 2007). "Revolution's the goal: Somerville talks stadium with Krafts". Boston Herald. 
  80. ^ a b "NBC to end MLS deal in 2015; ESPN, Fox pay $70 million per year for new rights package". The Goalkeeper. Retrieved 3 February 2014. 
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  83. ^ TSN (February 14, 2011). "TSN Becomes Official Broadcaster of MLS in Canada with Landmark Six-Year Deal". Retrieved February 19, 2011. 
  84. ^ GolTV (Canada). "GolTV Canada Matches for March 11–17, 2011". Retrieved March 11, 2011.  (lists carriage of a Los Angeles vs. Seattle MLS game)
  85. ^ Sportsnet (March 3, 2011). "ROGERS SPORTSNET IS THE NEW HOME FOR VANCOUVER WHITECAPS FC". CNW Group. Retrieved March 3, 2011. 
  86. ^ Delia-Lavictoire, Yvan (July 14, 2011). "Impact sign multimedia deal, name TVA Sports broadcaster". Retrieved August 7, 2011. 
  87. ^ a b "MLS in 'eight-figure deal' for foreign TV rights". Sports Illustrated ( December 23, 2008. Retrieved December 23, 2008. 
  88. ^ a b Mickle, Tripp (December 22, 2008). "MLS sells international TV rights to MP & Silva". Sports Business Journal. Retrieved December 23, 2008. 
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  90. ^ Parker, Robin (July 28, 2009). "ESPN channel takes shape with international fixtures". Broadcast Now. Retrieved July 28, 2009. 
  91. ^ McCarthy, Jack (January 17, 2012). "Feeling their oats: Fire get jersey sponsorship deal with Quaker". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved January 17, 2012. 
  92. ^ McCarthy, Jack (February 15, 2012). "Crew partner with Barbasol as new jersey sponsor". MLS. Retrieved February 15, 2012. 
  93. ^ "Leidos becomes official sponsor of D.C. United". February 24, 2014. Retrieved February 24, 2014. 
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  95. ^ "Herbalife Renews Sponsorship With MLS Galaxy For A Record 10 Years, $44M". Sports Business Daily. March 16, 2012. Retrieved March 16, 2012. 
  96. ^ "BMO to become Impact's lead MLS sponsor". Sportsnet. June 14, 2011. Retrieved January 31, 2012. 
  97. ^ "UnitedHealthcare, New England Revolution Announce Partnership". April 22, 2011. Retrieved October 11, 2011. 
  98. ^ "Orlando City locks in Orlando Health as healthcare partner and jersey sponsor for MLS". November 18, 2013. Retrieved February 27, 2014. 
  99. ^ "Union soccer team wins sponsorship from Bimbo bakery". January 11, 2011. Retrieved October 11, 2011. 
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  102. ^ Futterman, Matthew (May 28, 2008). "WSJ. Xbox sponsorship deal with Seattle Sounders FC". Retrieved October 11, 2011. 
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  113. ^ [1][dead link]
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  116. ^ Prost America, Toye: Fans are delighted the old NASL names, Sounders, Timbers, Whitecaps and Quakes were saved, Sep. 24, 2012,
  117. ^ Dure, Beau (2010). Long Range Goals: The Success Story of Major League Soccer. Dulles, Virginia: Potomac Books. pp. 21–23. ISBN 978-1-59797-509-4. 
  118. ^ "Chivas USA executives". Retrieved October 11, 2011. 
  119. ^ MLS Press Box, MLS Announces 2013 Awards Finalists, Nov. 20, 2013,

External links[edit]

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