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|Founded||December 17, 1993|
|Other club(s) from||Canada (3 teams)|
(North American Football Union)
|Number of teams||24|
|Level on pyramid||1|
|Domestic cup(s)||U.S. Open Cup|
|International cup(s)||CONCACAF Champions League|
|Current MLS Cup||Atlanta United FC (1st title) |
|Current Supporters' Shield||New York Red Bulls (3rd shield) |
|Most MLS Cups||LA Galaxy (5 titles)|
|Most Supporters' Shields||D.C. United|
(4 shields each)
|Most appearances||Nick Rimando (496)|
|Top goalscorer||Chris Wondolowski (151 goals)|
|2019 Major League Soccer season|
Major League Soccer (MLS) is a men's professional soccer league sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federation which represents the sport's highest level in the United States. The league comprises 24 teams—21 in the U.S. and 3 in Canada and constitutes one of the major professional sports leagues in both countries. The regular season runs from March to October, with each team playing 34 games; the team with the best record is awarded the Supporters' Shield. Fourteen teams compete in the postseason MLS Cup Playoffs through October and November, culminating in the championship game, the MLS Cup. MLS teams also play in 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. The league plans to expand to 27 teams with the addition of Inter Miami CF and Nashville SC in 2020 and Austin FC in 2021, with further plans to expand to 28 teams by 2022 and 30 teams at a later date.
With an average attendance of over 20,000 per game, MLS has the third highest average attendance of any sports league in the U.S. after the National Football League (NFL) and Major League Baseball (MLB), and is the seventh highest attended professional soccer league worldwide.
Major League Soccer was founded in 1993 as part of the United States' successful bid to host the 1994 FIFA World Cup. The first season took place in 1996 with ten teams. 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. Since then, MLS has expanded to 24 teams, soccer-specific stadiums have proliferated around the league, average attendance exceeds that of the National Hockey League (NHL) and National Basketball Association (NBA), the Designated Player Rule allows teams to sign star players such as David Beckham, MLS secured national TV contracts, and the league is now profitable.
Instead of operating as an association of independently owned teams, MLS is a single entity in which each team is owned by the league and individually operated by the league's investors. 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. 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. MLS headquarters is located in New York City.
Major League Soccer's regular season runs from March to October. Teams are geographically divided into the Eastern and Western Conferences, playing 34 games in a partially balanced schedule. For 2019, with 24 teams, each team plays two games (home & away) against teams in its conference and one game against each team from the opposite conference. Midway through the season, teams break for the annual All-Star Game, an exhibition 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 and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Unlike most major soccer leagues around the world, but similar to other leagues in the Americas, the MLS regular season is followed by a postseason knockout tournament. Fourteen teams participate in the MLS Cup Playoffs in October, which concludes with the MLS Cup championship game in early November.
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, causing several players to miss some MLS matches. While MLS has looked into changing to a fall-to-spring format, there are no current plans to do so. If the league were to change its schedule, a substantial winter break would still be necessary due to teams being located in harsh winter climates. It would also have to compete with the popularity and media presence of the National Football League (NFL) in the fall and winter as well as the National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Hockey League (NHL), which both run on fall-to-spring schedules.
MLS teams also play in other international and domestic competitions. Every year, five MLS teams — four from the U.S. and one from Canada — 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. 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 that has otherwise not qualified.
Canadian MLS clubs play against other Canadian clubs in the Canadian Championship for the one CONCACAF Champions League spot allocated to Canada. No MLS club has won the Champions League since it began its current format in 2008, but MLS teams have reached the final three times: Real Salt Lake in 2011, Montreal Impact in 2015, and Toronto FC in 2018.
Since 2018, the previous year's MLS Cup champion plays in the Campeones Cup, a single game against the Campeón de Campeones from Liga MX, hosted by the MLS team in September. The inaugural edition saw Tigres UANL defeat Toronto FC 3–1 on September 19, 2018, at BMO Field in Toronto. Another inter-league competition, the Leagues Cup, was established in 2019 and will pair four MLS clubs against four Liga MX clubs in a single-elimination tournament hosted in the United States.
MLS's 24 teams are divided between the Eastern and Western Conferences. Each club is allowed up to 28 players on its first team roster. All 28 players are eligible for selection to each 18-player game-day squad during the regular season and playoffs.
MLS has regularly expanded since the 2005 season. The league plans to expand to 27 teams with the addition of Inter Miami CF and Nashville SC in 2020 and Austin FC in 2021, with further plans to expand to 28 teams by 2022 and 30 teams at a later date. MLS is currently the largest first division professional soccer league in the world.
The league features numerous rivalry cups that are contested by two or more teams, usually geographic rivals. Each trophy is awarded to the team with the better regular-season record in games involving the two teams. The concept is comparable to rivalry trophies played for by U.S. college football teams.
|Atlanta United FC||Atlanta, Georgia||Mercedes-Benz Stadium1||42,5004||2017||Frank de Boer|
|Chicago Fire||Bridgeview, Illinois||SeatGeek Stadium||20,000||1998||Veljko Paunović|
|FC Cincinnati||Cincinnati, Ohio||Nippert Stadium1 2||32,2504||2019||Yoann Damet (interim)|
|Columbus Crew SC||Columbus, Ohio||Mapfre Stadium||19,968||1996||Caleb Porter|
|D.C. United||Washington, D.C.||Audi Field||20,000||1996||Ben Olsen|
|Montreal Impact||Montreal, Quebec||Saputo Stadium||20,801||2012||Rémi Garde|
|New England Revolution||Foxborough, Massachusetts||Gillette Stadium1 2||20,0004||1996||Bruce Arena|
|New York City FC||New York City, New York||Yankee Stadium1 2||30,3214||2015||Domènec Torrent|
|New York Red Bulls||Harrison, New Jersey||Red Bull Arena||25,000||1996||Chris Armas|
|Orlando City SC||Orlando, Florida||Exploria Stadium||25,500||2015||James O'Connor|
|Philadelphia Union||Chester, Pennsylvania||Talen Energy Stadium||18,500||2010||Jim Curtin|
|Toronto FC||Toronto, Ontario||BMO Field3||30,991||2007||Greg Vanney|
|Colorado Rapids||Commerce City, Colorado||Dick's Sporting Goods Park||18,061||1996||Conor Casey (interim)|
|FC Dallas||Frisco, Texas||Toyota Stadium||20,500||1996||Luchi Gonzalez|
|Houston Dynamo||Houston, Texas||BBVA Stadium||22,039||2006||Wilmer Cabrera|
|LA Galaxy||Carson, California||Dignity Health Sports Park3||27,000||1996||Guillermo Barros Schelotto|
|Los Angeles FC||Los Angeles, California||Banc of California Stadium||22,000||2018||Bob Bradley|
|Minnesota United FC||Saint Paul, Minnesota||Allianz Field||19,400||2017||Adrian Heath|
|Portland Timbers||Portland, Oregon||Providence Park||25,218||2011||Giovanni Savarese|
|Real Salt Lake||Sandy, Utah||Rio Tinto Stadium||20,213||2005||Mike Petke|
|San Jose Earthquakes||San Jose, California||Avaya Stadium||18,000||1996||Matías Almeyda|
|Seattle Sounders FC||Seattle, Washington||CenturyLink Field1||39,4194||2009||Brian Schmetzer|
|Sporting Kansas City||Kansas City, Kansas||Children's Mercy Park||18,467||1996||Peter Vermes|
|Vancouver Whitecaps FC||Vancouver, British Columbia||BC Place1||22,1204||2011||Marc Dos Santos|
|Austin FC||Austin, Texas||Austin FC stadium||20,500||2021|
|Inter Miami CF||Miami, Florida||New Fort Lauderdale Stadium||18,000||2020|
|Nashville SC||Nashville, Tennessee||Nissan Stadium1 2||69,143||2020|
|Chivas USA||Carson, California||StubHub Center||2005–2014|
|Miami Fusion||Fort Lauderdale, Florida||Lockhart Stadium||1998–2001|
|Tampa Bay Mutiny||Tampa, Florida||Raymond James Stadium1||1996–2001|
League member Former member Future member Other leagues
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 existed from 1968 until 1984.
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. In 1993, U.S. Soccer selected Major League Professional Soccer (the precursor to MLS) as the exclusive Division 1 professional soccer league. Major League Soccer was officially formed in February 1995 as a limited liability company.
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. 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. D.C. United won 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; the Chicago Fire won its first title in its inaugural season.
After its first season, MLS suffered from a decline in attendance. 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. 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. 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.
Major League Soccer lost an estimated $250 million during its first five years, and more than $350 million between its founding and 2004. The league's financial problems led to Commissioner Doug Logan being replaced by Don Garber, a former NFL executive, in August 1999. MLS announced in January 2002 that it had decided to contract the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion, leaving the league with ten teams.
Despite the financial problems, though, MLS did have some accomplishments that would set the stage for the league's resurgence. Columbus Crew Stadium, now known as Mapfre 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. 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.
The 2002 FIFA World Cup, in which the United States unexpectedly made the quarterfinals, coincided with a resurgence in American soccer and MLS. MLS Cup 2002 drew 61,316 spectators to Gillette Stadium, the largest attendance in an MLS Cup final until 2018. MLS limited teams to three substitutions per game in 2003, and adopted International Football Association Board (IFAB) rules in 2005.
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. Many more American players did make an impact in MLS. In 2005, Jason Kreis became the first player to score 100 career MLS goals.
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 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.
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 formed in 2007.
In 2007 the league expanded beyond the United States' borders into Canada with the Toronto FC expansion team. 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. 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. 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 (now known as Talen Energy Stadium). 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.
The 2011 season brought further expansion with the addition of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC, the second Canadian MLS franchise, and the Portland Timbers. Real Salt Lake reached the finals of the 2010–11 CONCACAF Champions League. During the 2011 season, the Galaxy signed another international star in Republic of Ireland all-time leading goalscorer Robbie Keane. MLS drew an average attendance of 17,872 in 2011, higher than the average attendances of the NBA and NHL. 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, while the New York Red Bulls added Australian all-time leading goalscorer Tim Cahill.
In 2013, MLS introduced New York City FC as its 20th team, and Orlando City Soccer Club 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. 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, Jermaine Jones, and Michael Bradley from Europe; and DaMarcus Beasley from Mexico's Liga MX. By the 2014 season, fifteen of the nineteen MLS head coaches had previously played in MLS. 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.
In 2014, the league announced Atlanta United FC as the 22nd team to start playing in 2017. 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. 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) and Spain (David Villa); in the U.S. v. Germany match the U.S. fielded a team with seven MLS starters.
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 on their jerseys. 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. Sporting Kansas City and the Houston Dynamo moved from the Eastern Conference to the Western Conference in 2015 to make two 10-team conferences.
In early 2015, the league announced that two teams—Los Angeles FC and Minnesota United—would join MLS in either 2017 or 2018. 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. On December 6, 2015, MLS announced its intent to expand to 28 teams. MLS confirmed in August 2016 that Minnesota United would begin play in 2017 along with Atlanta United FC.
In April 2016, the league's commissioner Don Garber reiterated the intention of the league to expand to 28 teams, with the next round of expansion "likely happening in 2020". In December 2016, he updated the expansion plans stating that the league will look to approve the 25th and 26th teams in 2017 and to start play in 2020. In January 2017, the league received bids from 12 ownership groups.
In July 2017, it was reported that Major League Soccer had rejected a $4 billion offer by MP & Silva to acquire all television rights to the league for 10 years following the conclusion of its current contracts with Fox, ESPN, and Univision. While it represents a substantial increase over the current agreements, MP & Silva insisted that the deal would be conditional on Major League Soccer adopting a promotion and relegation system similar to other international leagues. Although the league stated that it rejected the offer due to the exclusive periods that the current rightsholders have to negotiate extensions to their contracts, it was pointed out by the media that Major League Soccer had long-opposed the adoption of promotion and relegation, continuing to utilize the fixed, franchise-based model used in other U.S. sports leagues. Furthermore, MP & Silva founder Riccardo Silva appeared to have a conflict of interest because he also owned Miami FC of the NASL, which stood to benefit from such a promotion and relegation system.
In October 2017, Columbus Crew SC owner Anthony Precourt announced plans to move the franchise to Austin, Texas by 2019. The announcement spawned a league-wide backlash and legal action against the league by the Ohio state government. On August 15, 2018, the Austin City Council voted to approve an agreement with Precourt to move Crew SC to Austin, and on August 22, 2018, the club's new name, Austin FC, was announced. After negotiations between Precourt and Jimmy Haslam, owner of the Cleveland Browns, were announced, MLS made it clear that Austin would receive an expansion team only after a deal to sell Columbus to a local buyer had completed. The purchase of Crew SC by Haslam's group was finalized in late December 2018, and on January 15, 2019, Austin FC was officially announced as a 2021 MLS entry.
MLS announced on December 20, 2017, that it would be awarding an expansion franchise to Nashville, who would play in a yet-to-be-built 27,000-seat soccer-specific stadium, Nashville Fairgrounds Stadium, and are expected to join MLS in 2019 or 2020.
On January 29, 2018, MLS awarded Miami an expansion team, led by David Beckham. Inter Miami CF will start play in the 2020 season and open a proposed 25,000-seat stadium soon after. An expansion team was awarded to Cincinnati, Ohio on May 29, 2018, to the ownership group of USL's FC Cincinnati. The team, which will retain the existing FC Cincinnati name, will start MLS play in 2019 and move to a new stadium in 2021 with a minimum capacity of 26,000 seats.
On March 19, 2019, MLS announced a ‘multi-year strategic partnership’ that made casino operator MGM Resorts International the league's first official gaming partner. Roar Digital, a joint venture of MGM and UK gambling operator GVC Holdings, will become the league's exclusive sports betting partner.
In 2013, New York City FC agreed to pay a record $100 million expansion fee for the right to join MLS in 2015. This record was surpassed by the ownership groups of FC Cincinnati and a new Nashville team, which each paid $150 million to join MLS (FC Cincinnati in 2019 and Nashville in 2020).[a] The same amount was paid as an effective entrance fee by a group that bought Columbus Crew SC in 2018, which led to that team's previous operator receiving a new team in Austin, Texas that will likely join MLS in 2021. MLS has also announced the ownership groups of the 28th and 29th teams will each pay a $200 million entrance fee.
With an average attendance of over 20,000 per game, MLS has the third highest average attendance of any sports league in the U.S. after the National Football League (NFL) and Major League Baseball (MLB), and is the seventh highest attended professional soccer league worldwide.
The league plans to expand to 27 teams with the addition of Inter Miami CF and Nashville SC in 2020 and Austin FC in 2021, with further plans to expand to 28 teams by 2022 and 30 teams at a later date.
As of the end of the 2018 season, 26 different clubs have competed in the league, with 13 having won at least one MLS Cup, and 12 winning at least one Supporters' Shield. The two trophies have been won by the same club in the same year on seven occasions (two clubs have accomplished the feat twice).
MLS Cup titles and Supporters' Shield Wins
|LA Galaxy||5||2002, 2005, 2011, 2012, 2014||4||1998, 2002, 2010, 2011||9||23|
|D.C. United||4||1996, 1997, 1999, 2004||4||1997, 1999, 2006, 2007||8||23|
|San Jose Earthquakes||2||2001, 2003||2||2005, 2012||4||21|
|Sporting Kansas City||2||2000, 2013||1||2000||3||23|
|Houston Dynamo||2||2006, 2007||–||2||13|
|Columbus Crew SC||1||2008||3||2004, 2008, 2009||4||23|
|Seattle Sounders FC||1||2016||1||2014||2||10|
|Real Salt Lake||1||2009||–||1||14|
|Atlanta United FC||1||2018||–||1||2|
|New York Red Bulls||–||3||2013, 2015, 2018||3||23|
|Tampa Bay Mutiny*||–||1||1996||1||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. Each team has an investor-operator that is a shareholder in the league. 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. The court also ruled that even absent their collective bargaining agreement, players could opt to play in other leagues if they were unsatisfied.
Having multiple clubs operated by a single investor was a necessity in the league's first ten years. 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. 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.
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. The league has attracted new investors that have injected more money into the league. Examples include Red Bull's purchase of the MetroStars from AEG in 2006 for over $100 million. 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. The league eventually dissolved the team, in favor of awarding rights to a second soccer club in the Los Angeles area to a new investor group on October 30, 2014.
The league now has 27 investor-operators for its 24 current and 3 future 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.
Don Garber has been the commissioner of Major League Soccer since 1999, serving as the league's chief executive. The league's first commissioner was Doug Logan, who served in the role from 1995 to 1999.
Mark Abbott, a former MLS business partner, has served as the league's President and Deputy Commissioner since 2006.
The average salary for MLS players is $373,094, lower than the average salaries in England's second-tier EFL Championship ($420,000 in 2015), the Netherlands' Eredivisie ($445,000), or Mexico's Liga MX ($418,000 in 2015). The league's minimum player salary increased in 2017 to $65,000 for most players, and roster players #25–30 saw their minimum salary increased to $53,000.
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 and to prevent a competitive imbalance among teams. The salary cap survived a legal challenge by the players in the Fraser v. Major League Soccer lawsuit. The 2017 salary cap increased to $3.845 million per team.
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. 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. MLS teams have a limited number of international roster slots that they can use to sign non-domestic players. However, MLS teams often obtain green cards for their non-domestic players in order to qualify them for domestic status and thus free up international roster slots. In 2015, 49% of MLS players were born outside of the U.S. and Canada, with players from 58 countries represented.
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.
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 $480,625 (the maximum non-DP salary) against the cap in 2017. Instituted in 2007, England's David Beckham was the first signing under the DP rule. 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. 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.
The league's "Core Players" initiative allows teams to re-sign players using retention funds that do not count against the salary cap. 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. 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. 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. High-profile players for which TAM funds were used include Hector Villalba and Zlatan Ibrahimović.
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.
MLS has required all of its teams to operate youth development programs since 2008. MLS roster rules allow teams to sign an unlimited number players straight from their academies and bypassing the draft process. There is also supplementary salary budget made by MLS only for homegrown players that are registered using senior roster slots called homegrown player funds. 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. The various MLS teams' development academies play matches in a U.S. Soccer developmental league against youth academies from other leagues such as the North American Soccer League (NASL), which had been a Division II league prior to 2018, and USL Pro, originally a Division III league but now the Division II USL Championship.
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. 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, 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 that 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). MLS began integrating its Reserve League with the league then known as USL Pro in 2013, 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. 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. Several teams have doubled their season tickets following the team's move into a soccer-specific stadium. The establishment of soccer-specific stadiums is considered the key to the league and the ability of teams to turn a profit. In 2006, Tim Leiweke, then CEO of Anschutz Entertainment Group, described the proliferation of soccer-specific stadiums as the turning point for MLS.
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. The Los Angeles Galaxy followed four years later with the opening of the Home Depot Center, now Dignity Health Sports Park, in 2003. FC Dallas opened Pizza Hut Park, now Toyota Stadium, in 2005, and the Chicago Fire began playing their home games in Toyota Park, now SeatGeek Stadium, in 2006. The 2007 season brought 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) 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, and the Philadelphia Union opened PPL Park, since renamed Talen Energy Stadium, in June 2010, midway through their inaugural season.
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. Also in 2011, Sporting Kansas City moved to new Livestrong Sporting Park, now Children's Mercy Park. The Houston Dynamo relocated to their new home at BBVA Compass Stadium in 2012. 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. The San Jose Earthquakes, who had played at Buck Shaw Stadium from 2008 until 2014, opened their new Avaya Stadium before the 2015 season. The Orlando City SC expansion team intended to begin constructing Orlando City Stadium, a soccer-specific stadium, in 2014 to be completed in 2015. 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. Orlando City played at the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium, now Camping World Stadium, while awaiting the construction of their new venue through the 2016 season. Their new venue, Orlando City Stadium, hosted its first MLS match on March 5, 2017 against New York City FC.
The development of additional MLS stadiums has continued to progress. D.C. United had played their home games at 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 new soccer stadium in Washington, D.C., and a final deal was reached in late 2014. In late February 2017, D.C. United finally broke ground on their new stadium, Audi Field. After 21 years of playing at RFK Stadium, DC United played their first game at Audi field in July 2018.
Two 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. New York City FC play 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.
Several remaining clubs play in stadiums not originally built for MLS and have not announced plans to move. The Seattle Sounders FC 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, a retractable-roof stadium that hosts Canadian football as well as soccer.
Of the three teams that made their MLS debuts in 2017 and 2018, one opened a soccer-specific stadium in 2019, a second is playing in a shared football stadium, and the last opened a soccer-specific stadium for its inaugural 2018 season. Minnesota United FC, which debuted in 2017, built Allianz Field in St. Paul which hosted its inaugural game against New York City FC on April 13, 2019. Until that time, the team played in Minneapolis at TCF Bank Stadium, home to University of Minnesota football. Atlanta United FC began play in 2017 at a college football facility, Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium, before moving into its permanent home at the retractable-roof Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which it shares with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons; the two teams share a common owner and the stadium is equipped with screens to cordon off the upper tiers for most matches. Los Angeles FC, which began play in 2018, opened Banc of California Stadium on the former site of the Los Angeles Sports Arena in April of its inaugural season.
FC Cincinnati, debuting in 2019, will initially play at Nippert Stadium, the football home of the University of Cincinnati. The stadium had been home to FCC's USL Championship predecessor for all of its three seasons of play. The club plans to move within Cincinnati to the new West End Stadium in 2021. Inter Miami currently plans to play in a temporary facility in 2020 before opening its own stadium in 2021. The Nashville team has announced it will play the 2020 season at an NFL facility, the Tennessee Titans' Nissan Stadium, before opening the Nashville Fairgrounds Stadium in 2021. Austin FC plans to open its own stadium when it begins play in 2021.
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. 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. 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. In 2011, MLS earned $150 million when it sold a 25% stake in SUM.
|Atlanta United FC||AmFam||Undisclosed|
|Columbus Crew SC||Acura||Undisclosed|
|FC Cincinnati||Mercy Health||Undisclosed|
|Houston Dynamo||MD Anderson||Undisclosed|
|LA Galaxy||Herbalife||$4.4 million|
|Los Angeles FC||YouTube TV||Undisclosed|
|Minnesota United FC||Target||Undisclosed|
|Montreal Impact||Bank of Montreal||US$4 million|
|New England Revolution||UnitedHealthcare||Undisclosed|
|New York City FC||Etihad Airways||Undisclosed|
|New York Red Bulls||Red Bull||Owns club|
|Orlando City SC||Orlando Health||Undisclosed|
|Philadelphia Union||Bimbo Bakeries USA||$3 million|
|Portland Timbers||Alaska Airlines||Undisclosed|
|Real Salt Lake||LifeVantage||$3 million|
|San Jose Earthquakes||Sutter Health||Undisclosed|
|Seattle Sounders FC||Zulily||Undisclosed|
|Sporting Kansas City||Ivy Funds||$2.5 million|
|Toronto FC||Bank of Montreal||C$4 million+|
|Vancouver Whitecaps FC||Bell Canada||C$4 million+|
In early 2005, MLS signed a 10-year, $150 million sponsorship deal with Adidas. 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. 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. All MLS teams have had jersey sponsors since February 2016. Sleeve sponsorship will be introduced to MLS in the 2020 season, with the teams able to sell a 2-by-2-inch (51 by 51 mm) section on the right arm where the league logo patch is normally positioned.
The Los Angeles Galaxy made a profit in 2003 in their first season at The Home Depot Center, and FC Dallas turned a profit after moving into Pizza Hut Park in 2005. For each season between 2006 and 2009, two to three MLS clubs (generally clubs with a soccer-specific stadium) were reported as profitable by the league.
By 2012 the league had shown a marked improvement in its financial health. In November 2013, Forbes published a report that 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.
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 updated its MLS franchise values with the most profitable team measuring $245 million and the least $105 million. The average value jumped from $103 to $157 million.
As of 2018 Forbes estimates Atlanta United FC are the most valuable MLS team, worth $330 million, while the Colorado Rapids are the lowest value, at $155 million. These valuations do not include the value of stadiums or training facilities owned by the respective clubs.
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.
U.S. Soccer hired the first full-time professional referees in league history in 2007 as part of the league's "Game First" initiatives. 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.
In the early years of MLS, teams were typically given official nicknames in the style of other U.S. sports leagues (e.g., Columbus Crew, Los Angeles Galaxy, New England Revolution). Several club names in MLS originated with previous professional soccer clubs, such as the 1970s-era NASL team names San Jose Earthquakes, Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps.
D.C. United and Miami Fusion FC were the only two MLS teams to adopt European naming conventions during the 1990s. In recent years, European-style names have become increasingly common in MLS, with expansion teams such as Real Salt Lake, Toronto FC, New York City FC, Atlanta United FC, Minnesota United FC, and FC Cincinnati, along with rebrandings such as FC Dallas (formerly the Dallas Burn) and Sporting Kansas City (formerly the Kansas City Wizards).
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 UniMás 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 share in coverage of the playoffs, while ESPN and FS1 alternate broadcasting the MLS Cup final in English. In total, at least 125 matches are aired per-season across all three networks. 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.
Matches not televised nationally are broadcast regionally, often by regional sports networks like Fox Sports Networks, Comcast SportsNet, Spectrum Sports and Root Sports, and sometimes by terrestrial stations like KTXA, WRDQ anad KMYU. Regionally televised matches are available outside their local markets on ESPN+.
From 2012 to 2014, MLS matches were broadcast by NBC Sports, with 40 matches per year—primarily on NBCSN, and select matches broadcast on the NBC network. 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.
Coverage of MLS expanded into Canada in 2007 with the addition of Toronto FC. Currently, English-language national MLS broadcast rights in Canada are held by the TSN networks through a five-year deal first renewed in 2017. The networks primarily broadcast matches involving the league's Canadian franchises, in combination with separate "regional" rights deals giving TSN exclusive rights to all Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps FC matches. A limited number of matches are also carried by CTV.
TVA Sports holds exclusive French-language rights to MLS in Canada as of the 2017 season. As part of a separate "regional" rights deal, it also holds exclusive rights to all Montreal Impact games.
In 2018, online streaming service DAZN obtained Major League Soccer's digital out-of-market service MLS Live—with live and on-demand streaming of matches featuring U.S. teams (matches with Canadian teams are only available after a 48-hour delay to protect the league's main rightsholders TSN and TVA Sports).
MLS also entered into a four-year contract with Sky Sports to broadcast two MLS matches per week in the United Kingdom and Ireland from 2015 to 2019. As part of the new agreement, Sky Sports will broadcast at least two MLS regular-season matches each week, as well as the MLS All-Star Game, every MLS Cup Playoff game, and the MLS Cup final. The matches will appear across Sky's family of networks. It will also carry weekly MLS highlights across various platforms, including Sky Sports News and SkySports.com. 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.
BeIN Sports will televise matches live across Southeast Asia and Australia. The agreement runs from the 2013 to 2018 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 MLS All-Star Game, at least two matches from the newly created Decision Day, all MLS Cup Playoff games and the MLS Cup final. In addition, beIN SPORTS will carry highlights, player features, and other MLS content across its digital platforms.
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 2000, Konami released ESPN MLS GameNight, and two years later, they released its sequel, ESPN MLS ExtraTime 2002. The league made its first appearance in the management series Football Manager 2005 in 2004.
Statistics below are for all-time leaders. Statistics are for regular season only. Bold indicates active MLS players.
Statistics below are for all-time leaders who are still playing. Statistics are for regular season only.
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.
Major League Soccer is structured as a single, limited liability company (single-entity). In the single-entity business structure, club operators own a financial stake in the League, not just their individual team.
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