Everything you need to know about the Major League Soccer and its teams
A look at the MLS format, structure and some of the top teams.
In the last couple of years the Major League Soccer has seen a tremendous rise in popularity. It represents football’s highest level both in the United States and Canada. The professional league is sanctioned by US Soccer and has seen the arrival of several big European stars like David Beckham, Thierry Henry and Robbie Keane in recent years.
League format and structure
Unlike other leagues around the world, the Major League Soccer runs from March to October. The league is divided into the Eastern and Western Conferences consisting of 20 teams – 10 teams in each conference.
The fixtures don’t proceed in the traditional European format and instead the teams play 34 matches in an unbalanced schedule – 24 matches against the teams within their conference and 10 from the other conference. The team with the highest points at the end of the season is awarded the Supporter’s Shield.
The All-Star Game is played at the midway point of the season. This is a friendly game where the league’s finest players play against a major club from a different league.
The league’s spring-to-autumn schedule has come under criticism for its conflict with FIFA calendar and international tournaments like Euros and World Cup, but that doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon.
The investors play a big role in Major League Soccer; since the league is a single entity, teams are owned and controlled by the investors. The league’s closed membership makes it one of the few soccer leagues in the world that do not use promotion and relegation.
Top teams in the league
1. LA Galaxy
David Beckham, the former England international, is partly responsible for Los Angeles Galaxy’s popularity in other parts of the world. ‘Becks’, as he is famously known, arrived in LA Galaxy back in 2007 from Real Madrid for a deal reported to be worth $250 million over five years, as reported by BBC Sport.
Along with the high profile signature and the media frenzy it created, the club managed to put together a lucrative 5-year shirt sponsorship deal with Herbalife worth $20 million. The gate revenue for the club reached a high of 11,000 new season ticket holders, and they sold out luxury suites as well.
Apart from capturing the signature of David Beckham, LA Galaxy’s other significant signings include Robbie Keane, Giovanni Dos Santos and Landon Donovan. The club recently made the big name signing of former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, who is likely to end his career in Major League Soccer.
LA Galaxy is the league’s most decorated club, having won the MLS Cup five times – more than any other club in the league. The cabinet showcases other honours too, which include the Supporter’s Shield, the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup and the CONCACAF Champions League – which has been won only by two MLS teams so far.
2. New York Red Bulls
The New Jersey outfit competes in the Eastern Conference of Major League Soccer. The club has gone through several changes in its name; it was originally known as New York/New Jersey MetroStars. The club is currently owned by Red Bull GmbH, and its biggest achievement so far is winning the Supporter’s Shield back in 2013.
Despite its failure to win trophies, the club has attracted international names such as Tim Cahill, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Rafael Marquez and their biggest star to date – Arsenal legend Thierry Henry.
The Frenchman ended his career as a New York Red Bulls player, scoring 52 goals in 135 appearances. He led the MLS team to their first major honours, winning the Supporter’s Shield and Eastern Conference league in 2010 and 2013 respectively.
3. New York City FC
New York City was announced as the league’s 20th franchise on 21 May 2013. The newly established team began playing in the 2015 MLS season with the major signings of Spain’s all-time highest goalscorer David Villa and former Turin midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo.
New York City FC even revealed the club’s first ever jersey design, which is sponsored by Etihad, in an elaborate ceremony last year. The secondary sponsors of the club include Adidas and Heineken, and Chelsea legend Frank Lampard recently made a move to the club after the end of his loan spell with Manchester City.
4. Orlando City SC
The Orlando club, along with New York City FC made its debut in the league this season. This professional soccer team based in Orlando, Florida plays its home matches in the 61,000 capacity stadium named Citrus Bowl. The team’s expansion rights were purchased by Brazillian businessman Flavio Augusto da Silva and Phil Rawlins.
The club’s official kit is sponsored by Orlando Health and Adidas along with Papa Johns Pizza, who are the kit providers. Orlando City is captained by the Brazillian legendary playmaker Kaka, who is looking to make his mark in the MLS after a rather disappointing spell with Real Madrid.
5. Toronto FC
Toronto FC is the first Canadian team and 14th team to enter the MLS. The club plays its home matches at the BMO Field Toronto, Ontario, and its significant achievements to date include winning four consecutive Canadian Championships from 2009 to 2012.
The club boasts of a few international players including Benoit Cheyrou who played for Marseille, Lille and Liverpool. They also signed Italian international Sebastian Giovinco on an annual salary of $7 million, making him the highest paid player in the league ahead of Kaka.
Other teams competing in the MLS include Chicago Fire, Colorado Rapids, Columbus Crew SC, D.C. United, FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, Montreal Impact, New England Revolution, Philadelphia Union, Portland Timbers, Real Salt Lake, Seattle Sounders FC, Sporting Kansas City, Vancouver Whitecaps FC and San Jose Earthquakes.