The Decade in MLS

John Thorrington's goal ended David Beckham's first MLS Season
John Thorrington's goal ended David Beckham's first MLS Season

Top Seasons of the Decade:

  1. Kansas City 2000
  2. Columbus 2008
  3. DC United 2006
  4. Houston 2007
  5. Miami 2001

Top Teams of the Decade

  1. San Jose/Houston
  2. DC United
  3. Chicago
  4. Los Angeles
  5. New England

Top Coaches of the Decade

  1. Dom Kinnear
  2. Frank Yallop
  3. Steve Nicol
  4. Sigi Schmid
  5. Dave Sarachan

Top Moments of the Decade

  1. John Thorrington’s stoppage time goal lifts Chicago over LA in playoff deciding match, 2007
  2. San Jose’s epic comeback versus Los Angeles in the 2003 playoffs
  3. Carlos Ruiz’s winner in the 2002 MLS Cup during Extra Time
  4. Dwayne DeRossario’s winner versus New England in MLS Cup 2007
  5. Tony Meola’s second half saves while suffering from a concussion versus Chicago in MLS Cup 2000.

Biggest Stories of the Decade

  1. David Beckham’s signing
  2. Landon Donovan’s return to MLS from Bayer Leverkusen
  3. San Jose moves to Houston
  4. Soccer Specific Stadiums spring up around the country
  5. The continued failure of MLS’ signature franchise, DC United to get a stadium of its own

City Highlights

MLS grew from 12 teams at the beginning of the decade to 18 by decade’s end. Eight new teams (several which were “promoted from the A-League/USL-1) dwarfed the failure of the two Florida franchises.

Best New MLS City: Houston

Houston combined on the field success with an ability to market to all segments of the community and maintain a winning product.

A city that should have been involved in MLS from the beginning, the metropolitan area is probably as diverse culturally and ethnically as any in the US. South Asians, Latinos, East Asians, Arabs and Europeans of every stripe all make their way to Robertson Stadium to support the Dynamo.

The success of the organization in taping every segment of the community to build a fan base stands in direct contrast to the failures other, longer standing MLS cities have had in drawing ethnic fans to games, consistently.

New York, New England, Chicago and Dallas could learn a great deal about marketing and community outreach from Houston.

Market MLS Should Not Have Abandoned: Tampa Bay

MLS left both the Tampa Bay and South Florida areas after the 2001 season. Miami/Fort Lauderdale is a bad big league sports market, and the failure of FC Barcelona to penetrate the market demonstrated that MLS may have done the right thing in pulling the plug. Moreover, the lack of TV interest or ink spent in local papers on the Fusion’s demise further that thinking.

However, MLS absolutely did the wrong thing abandoning Tampa Bay. Ownership issues were a problem, but since 2001 it has been reported that interested in saving the Mutiny was high from several quarters including Malcolm Glazer, who now owns Manchester United.

Tampa Bay was the second best NASL market behind New York during that league’s glory days, and continues to have one of the biggest youth soccer programs in the country. Additionally, a US friendly in 2007, right after a disastrous World Cup was attended by almost 35,000 fans at Raymond James Stadium.

The local excitement and news coverage about a new second division professional team using the name of the old NASL Tampa Bay Rowdies, speaks volumes as to the potential in the market. Additionally, with US Soccer’s Bradenton Academy just down the road, Geography benefits having a strong first division presence in the market.

I could write an entire dissertation about the mistakes MLS made in the Tampa Bay market, but will rest my case on this issue stating that by pulling out the 13th largest TV market in the country while having teams in several markets ranked below 30th in the nation affects TV ratings dramatically. As MLS looks to expand into the future, it would be wise to take another look at Tampa, especially if the NASL or USL Rowdies are successful at the gate. (As I suspect they will be)

Best Fan Culture

  1. DC United
  2. Seattle
  3. Toronto FC
  4. Houston
  5. Chicago

70 thoughts on “The Decade in MLS”

  1. “Miami/Fort Lauderdale is a bad big league sports market, and the failure of FC Barcelona to penetrate the market demonstrated that MLS may have done the right thing in pulling the plug…”

    The Barcelona issue was a lack of marketing by Claure and Barcelona you should know that Kartik. The Miami Ultras fan club -volunteered – to hand out flyers, which was all the Barca folks did to get the word out. It was yet another shortsighted ambitious rich man not willing to put some bucks and get the word out and Barcelona backing out due to the “Economy” (Not willing to pay 40 million).
    Furthermore, The Fusion were on their way up with attendance in 2001. The Media was picking up on them and Latin TV was too. Had they stuck around one more year MLS would still be in South Florida today. People were starting to care.

    Tampa a better market? We’ll have to see what happens with the Rowdies. But I disagree with your claims that the Tampa Bay Mutiny should have been saved instead of South Florida. The first incarnation of NASL is ancient history and that example of the Rowdies back in the day doesn’t apply, if that were the case the Mutiny would also still be around. The fact the Glazers didn’t save the Mutiny speaks for itself. The Mutiny and San Jose should have been the teams shut down by MLS not Miami.
    MLS needs to be in South Florida, not Tampa.

  2. D.C. United gets the 2nd best team of the decade but they don’t have a single coach on the top coach list? I would make a case for Peter Novak. Won a championship in his first year and coached the 2006 United team to a Supporters Shield. He steered United out of the dark ages and made team relevant again. I say Philadelphia are in good hands next season.

  3. For the record, the decade doesn’t end until after 2010, just like the Year 2000 didn’t mark a new millenia…2001 did (No such thing as A.D. 0)

      1. I think Lars is right… theoretically if you were to start counting from the first year ever, you would start with year ONE. The end of the decade would be end of the year 10.

        Just saying….

      2. Interesting. So tell me, did the first decade of the AD era begin on BC 1?

        Because there was no year zero.

        So we have decades of 9 years now. Interesting concept.

        1. I can appreciate your correctness but since decades have been objects of historical reflection and starting points in popular culture, they run 0-9. Those would be ten year decades. We merely accept the error in such a practice and allow convention to dictate. It’s convenient that way.

  4. And Seattle is better than TFC for culture? Puhleeze. Seattle was ENTIRELY corporate organized. I can accept DCU and will give props for the pick, but definitely not Corporate Flounders F.C.

    Those ACES guys seem to have good heads on them.

    1. All the props TFC, but we absolutely were not organized by the Sounders FO.

      What’s an “ACES” again? What do they stand for…?

  5. Thanks for throwing New England in there… most MLS Cup finals appearances, most MLS Cup finals losses. 8 straight playoff appearances – best record in all of Boston sports.

  6. Lars…..just give it up. Honestly, this is an American soccer website. Why don’t you create your own league up there? I sure don’t want you guys. Half of that is me not wanting Canadian teams in MLS, and the other half is me wanting a competitive Canadian national team. Even your new manager said you need a league up there. Or did you not know that Canada hired a new manager?

    1. Come on 2010. Don’t you know that only Canadians have the right to contemplate their own league even though the absence of one results in encroachment on ours and episodes of bad blood?

      You have to remember, 2010, that because of their purity and indisputable goodness, they are never wrong. And because we Americans are universally and rightly hated, they are universally loved. Therefore, we should be glad to have them in our league. You must also acknowledge and respect their sacrifice; it must be difficult to be part of a league established by people who are hated.

      1. We will have our own league. It’s called NASL…or have you forgot that it will seek to be sanctioned as Canada’s 1st Division?

      1. You’re on a roll, huh, Lars? You must be bummed out that the Nigerian didn’ succeed over Detroit.

        Anyway, you seem to be concerned with interesting concepts. That two of Canada’s largest cities should have “major league” teams competing outside of that soon-to-be-sanctioned Canadian first division must be one of them.

  7. This article is the biggest joke of Kartik long and sorry soccer writing career.

    First- Kansas City 2000? WTF? Nobody can even remember that team, let alone agree it was any good. It was the Wizards for f’s sake!

    Second- How is New England who never won a title ranked ahead of Columbus, Real Salt Lake and Kansas City that did?

    Third- Steve Nicol and Sigi Schmid ahead of Jason Kreis and Peter Nowak both of whom turned sorry teams into champions? Schmid inherited a good LA team, and Nicol is a loser in big games.

    Fourth- John Thorrington’s goal? Pleeeeeeeeeeeeze.

    Fifth- Houston better new city than Toronto or Seattle? WTF! How can anyone not be put away for such a stupid statement. Houston does well because THEY INHERITED A WINNING TEAM FROM SAN JOSE, OR DARE I SAY STOLE A WINNING TEAM FROM SAN JOSE.

    Toronto took an expansion team and sold more seats and created more of an atmosphere than Houston despite not winning. If Houston had gotten an expansion team, they’d be in Miami/Kasnas City/Tampa Bay territory, which leads me to my next point……

    Six. Only a complete moron would say a hick town like Tampa deserves a team more than a world class town like Miami. Aren’t you from Miami? You must realize Miami is the capitol of Latin America and gets among the highest TV ratings for the US National team. Compare the skylines. Miami has 10 times the tall buildings of Tampa, and tens times the potential soccer fans. The Fusion were turning the corner when the plug was pulled, while the Mutiny were last in attendance.

    Seven, best fan culture, DC United? Ahead of Seattle or Toronto. And yet again Houston makes your list.

    Kartik, some advice. Stick to writing about the Premier League, which you clearly understand and like better than MLS.

  8. The rest of the article I do not care about, but claiming Tampa should get a team before Miami is just sick.

    Thankfully Don Garber and MLS don’t apply your perverse illogic.

  9. I’m not sure Houston is the best new MLS city. Toronto and Seattle have shown the rest of the league what support looks like. And Houston had the advantage of being handed a championship team.

    Also, I don’t know much about the Tampa/Miami debate, but throwing around TV market size like it’s the clinching argument is just silly. You have to consider what other sports franchises the MLS is/would be competing with. You had me convinced of your logic until you threw that out there.

    1. Seattle may end up being the best new MLS city, but Houston was for this decade. Toronto might have an argument as it may be a better MLS city, but Houston has been the the best new city for MLS.

  10. Seattle AND Toronto over Chicago for best fans? HA! We’ll see about that next year. I think a decade of solid support should trump one year of organized reach-arounds in honor of Drew Carey.

    1. One year ?!?! At a bare minimum the Sounders will more than double Chicago’s attendance next year.
      QWest, the best place to watch soccer in the world, will be sold out every game, with 30,000 being season tickets, with 35,500 or closer to 40,000 attending, depending on how many seats they open up. Every luxury box will be sold for the season.

      If anything the first year wasn’t that great. Just a starting point.

      1. Re: Charles…Qwest Field is the best place to watch soccer in the world…your joking right? Ever been to Ibrox or Celtic Park, Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge, Upton Park, Wembley, Camp Nou, etc…

        1. Kind of funny you would leave out ALL of South America….
          including a stadium that seats 200,000

          QWest is still the best. You ever been ?

  11. Steve Ralston played for the Tampa Bay Mutiny from day one to their demise. I was there. The real reason the Mutiny went under was because the Glazers took all of the revenue from parking and refreshments which was part of their deal with Hillsborough County. Had the Glazers had not been so greedy the Mutiny would still be in Tampa. The other reason they went under is because the MLS did a terrible job of promoting the franchise.

    So what is going to happen with Ralston?

    1. i actually like the MUTINY name over the Rawdies. it just sounds better in my head plus i was born in 1983 so the NASL was never on my radar til recently.

  12. Houston over Seattle or Toronto as the best new MLS City?

    I’m done with this crapistic site.

    Only someone in need of psychiatric assistance or already in a mental hospital would make that argument.

  13. I like the posts…even Lars’ posts 😉

    Kartik, I was reading the top 5 stories of the league and thinking how can a league, that has averaged 15k fans per game for 15 years, have a team that comes in with 31k strong and it not be one of the top 5 stories ?

    Then I get to the Best Fan Culture, sure everyone thinks theirs is, but Seattle will increase their season tickets by 8,000 this year after drawing twice as many fans as the rest of the league. DC ? They couldn’t even draw 20k for the US Open Cup Final. IF that had been played in Seattle there is NO doubt a 67,000 sell out would have been here ZERO DOUBT. Nowhere else in MLS could come close. But like I said everyone thinks theirs is the best.

    BUT BEST NEW MLS CITY !?!?! It was like you invented the catagory for Seattle. Come on.
    I think maybe you just put Houston up there to get more posts.

    1. No controversy at all in my mind.

      Houston has done a better job of marketing to multiple ethnicities and bringing in the types of fans MLS long term needs than Seattle or Toronto. The Mexican League still gets four times the TV viewers of MLS in the US and Houston has built real community ties and has a highly integrated fan culture. It’s not overly European or white, and not totally copy cat European in the way they sing songs and support. That’s why DC United’s 14 years of building a fan culture stands out to me as well.

      As for Seattle, do it long term and bring some new ethnic fans in and you’ll win the award next decade. Truthfully, I was borderline dubious about Seattle because as someone who follows USL, I always saw Portland and Vancouver as better markets with better support. But you guys did impress me this year for sure, and proved me wrong.

      Then again Portland could outdo you in 2011, so we’ll wait and see.

      I don’t base best fans purely on attendance numbers. If I did, LA would have been first in every category since 1996, because they have consistently drawn the most fans to the games. Houston and DCU win more for other factors than just pure crowd numbers.

      1. We are getting in a tit for tat arguement, sorry, but you have obviously never been to a game in Seattle.
        Here is the solution, come to Seattle and you can have my other season ticket, my treat. Let me know what game. Not opening game, Houston ( lot of ex-Sounders ), LA or Salt Lake…other than let me know.
        Then you can see what ethnic is. How many Asians at the Houston game ?

        Try this, post that Houston is the best new MLS City on the Sounders website and post that Seattle is on the Houston site. Then see what happens. hmmmm…..Maybe I should forward this to the Sounders site…

        1. The Dynamo do get a good number of Asians to the matches, plus Texian Army has several members of Asian descent. The crowds are rather diverse at Dynamo matches and do reflect the city’s diversity. The big thing is that they’ve made inroads with the FMF fans who would otherwise ignore MLS.

      2. Toronto FC have several supporter groups…that represent MULTIPLE ETHNICITIES…Tribal Rhythm Nation reprsents the Caribbean community…NEE has many Middle Eastern. You look around RPB, I bet you can find 30 or 40 different mother tongues spoken within the group.

  14. Good piece Kartik.

    Tampa BLOWS South Florida out of the water in this sport. This isn’t the NBA or College Football or NASCAR where South Florida has a successful race.


    Tampa outdrew Miami three of the four years both had MLS teams


    Tampa outdrew Fort Lauderdale every year both had NASL teams


    Tampa’s expansion NASL II team gets more local press and interest than Miami’s five year old NASL II team


    Tampa has a more organized and larger youth soccer structure


    Miami got the least signatures and elast ticket desposits of any city seeking an MLS expansion team for 2011


    Glazer offered to buy the Mutiny, while NOBODY were willing to take the Fusion off Horrowitz’s hands


    Tampa generates more interest in US soccer today- 34,000 for a firendly between the US and Ecuador in 07. The last US game in Miami versus Costa Rica in 04 got less than 6,000 fans.

    Only the small cadre of dedicated “miami ultras” really believe Miami deserves another MLS team. I comend their persistence but they are a small group and need not frame the debate.

  15. Houston sucks they stole a championship team from San Jose and they still have worse support than Seattle or TFC or DCU or Columbus.

  16. I think people need to go back and read Kartik’s explanation for picking Houston as the best new MLS city. It’s about marketing and outreach to all the segments of Houston. The Dynamo have managed to create a good, strong, fan base that is as culturally and ethnically diverse as the city itself is. Furthermore, the team has managed to insert itself into the local media on a regular basis, gaining a higher local profile than most other MLS teams. Players like Stu Holden are recognized in public, which again is rare for most MLS teams. Finally, thanks to the presence of the Dynamo, there are two soccer specific shows on local sports talk radio. Yes Seattle has gotten the crowds out, but are the Sounders a part of their community to the same degree the Dynamo are?

    1. Brian, glad you love the Dynamo, I rooted for them before the Sounders joined MLS. Ching, Kinnear, and the other ex-Sounders on the team.

      Sounders are a big time sport in Seattle. No different from the Mariners, Astros, Seahawks and Texans. They outdrew the Mariners per game. All the players and Sigi are recognized where ever they go.
      The announcer was the old Supersonics announcer and has his own talk show where he talks Sounders and soccer just like every other sport, with a pregame show leading up to the game. Every game is televised in HD ( except FSC low def ), and then shown 3 times in replay.

      I just dont think the average sports fan has embraced any team in any MLS city except Seattle.

      ps. that is cool Houston has two talk shows. Can I get the soccer shows on podcast or live streaming?

    2. I have read and re-read the explanation for picking Houston as the best NEW MLS city, but I still disagree. TFC and the city of Toronto have created a brand with the football team that encompasses the slogan, “All For One!” First of all, Toronto is a much more culturally diverse and racially different city that Houston is. When you go to BMO Field, first of all it is a packed stadium, something that does exist at Robertson Field, and furthermore, there is a wide variety of nationalities at the game. If you think Houston is more diverse because of the Mexican population, sure Houston as a more Mexican influence than Toronto, but Toronto has Italians, Greeks, South Americans, Poles, Indians, Pakistanis, Arabs and North Americans. The argument made that Houston is more diverse than Toronto is poor and needs to be re-visited.

      Now, the second argument that Houston is more active in the community is also flawed. Congrats on your two sports radio shows on the Dynamo, but in Toronto there is one soccer-only TV station, GOL TV Canada, different than GOL TV in the US. It is operated and run by MLSE, the owners of TFC. Furthermore there are 5 daily newspapers that follow TFC, three sporting channels each with TFC only programming and opinions, and furthermore there are endless radio shows.

      I think the author of this article needs to examine his facts and make a more accurate argument

    3. like i said above, Toronto draws plenty of people from their multi-cultural city…on top of that, I think they do a damn good job of marketing their. Talk about recognizable players, why do you think Adrian Serioux, DeRo, JDG, Jim Brennan were brought in. During the off-season they have local pub runs that bring out fans, you can meet the players etc…Panos hit the rest of the stuff right on the nail

  17. Columbus is one of only 3 teams to win 5 trophies this decade, how they are not in your top 5 teams of the decade is dumbfounding. (3 Supporter’s Shields, 1 MLS Cup, 1 US Open Cup)

  18. A glaring omission from your best seasons section is that of the 2003 Chicago Fire.

    Open Cup Winners
    Supporters Shield Winners
    MLS Cup Finalists

    It’s the closest anyone has come to winning the American treble.

    That team had Zach Thornton, Carlos Bocanegra, Damarcus Beasley, Ante Razov, Chris Armas, and Damani Ralph all on the same team.

    And Clem, Columbus isn’t in it because they’ve been good the last two seasons. Most of the rest of the decade they were the joke of the league. How one team misses the playoffs 4 out of 5 years when only 1-2 teams in each division miss the playoffs is mind-boggling.

    1. Chicago 03 was actually 6th on my list- they just missed the cut off- reason they weren’t top 5 was that 2002, 2003 and 2004 are in my opinion the weakest seasons the league overall had talent wise since the league began play in 1996.

      I’d say from a quality of play standpoint the 1999-2001 period and 2007-2009 period have been the best times, so I am partial to teams during those periods.

  19. Are you really going to count Supporters Shields ?
    An unbalanced schedule left Seattle play Chivas an extra time ? Who did Columbus play ? New York ? Someone played NY as an extra game.

    Plus, Columbus lost to champion Salt Lake 3 out of 4 times they played them this year, at the very least the Supporter’s Shield is a secondary trophy to MLS Cup.

  20. You all must be joking. You cant take this weak ass league seriously.. I mean, cmon.. Best moment of the decade, john thorrington’s goal?? Are you stupid? Who the hell is john thorrington anyway?? This stupid weak league just lost the best player it ever had, and ever will have.. and no, its not the overrated beckham, or balding boy Donovan, or even that no name Colombian from seattle who scores little weak ass goals… It’s kartik’s DAD.. Cuauhtemoc.. Now that he’s gone, all you little rat bastards will realize what a boring, incompetent little league this is. I don’t give a f if they bring henry, ronaldinho, or CR9 himself to play here, the skill is low… SUPER LOW.. the players are stupid and slow, they cant pass, they cant shoot, they think that playing rugby on the pitch makes them good footballers, MLS IS GARBAGE!!! And don’t get me started on the national team…

    1. wow did this guy sneak over the border again still looking for a job that his country can’t provide. I laugh at you because you are so insecure that you have to rag onour league and country. so have fun its the closest that you will ever get to feeling good about urself.

  21. Given Kartiks celebratation of any USA loss and Mexico win, I am stunned he did not rank any moment involving Canadian teams or foreign players.

  22. Just like to add that the match between the NE Revs and DC United for the 2004 Eastern Conference Final (3-3 draw with United winning in PK’s – Rimando again!) was single best game in league history. Considering the quality of play, the importance of the match, the back and forth (NE came from behind 3 times to equalize), the absolute sick goals (Esky’s bomb, Moreno’s cheeky near poster and Gomez’ looping header) and the atmosphere make it the best game ever in MLS history.

    You can have the 5-4 Beckham carpet match, give me that Final any day of the week.

    That match HAS to be among the top moments of the past decade.

  23. Ignoring the moronic foul-mouthed postings, I am amazed that neither the article nor the postings has anything to say about the most skillful/entertaing teams/players of the decade. Either Kartik and all of his readers have decided that there was no skillful play in MLS or else they, like most American sports fans, have finally become obsessed by numbers and are now ignoring what makes the beautuful game “beautuful”.
    To remedy this Kartik, you need to name the most entertaining/skillful teams of the decade. My vote goes to Chicago and DC in a very close 1 – 2.
    Houston/San Jose doesn’t make the list. If we only looked at the past year, my heart woulsd break but I would vote for Seattle.

  24. I love Seattle and think the Sounders have been great for the game.

    But please, please, stop using “sell out” to describe your attendances.

    When you close down a large section of the stadium, not selling tickets for all seats and then declare ‘sell out’ – it doesn’t count.

    Seattle has had good crowds, great crowds by MLS standards – but no sell-outs.

    1. Good point and I agree, even though I called them sell out crowds in previous posts…..but what if you build a stadium that only hold 20-27k and then call it a sell out ?
      ie. Toronto and soon to be Vancouver, maybe Portland style ? Those ARE sellouts ?

  25. Tampa Bay Rowdies will prove once again that they are the best and the most fan-supported team in FL.

    Miami fans are just arrogant thinking that they deserve MLS…….

  26. is u serious LA is not in best fan culture top 5…when we have the second highest attendence secodn 2 seattle r u kidding??dats a joke i mean u guys saw the friendly at the rosebowl against barcelona …..yea right

    1. explain why the attendance figures have dropped this year if you have such great fan support…friendly at rose bowl was ppl their to see barca and messi not to see the galaxy

  27. that wasn’t charles wife moron, it was ur sister who is really ur brother because ur parents never told you about its sex change.

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