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Guide To Major League Soccer Teams, Players, Fans and History

mls logo Guide To Major League Soccer Teams, Players, Fans and History

For sports fans who became enthralled by the World Cup coverage from Brazil, here’s a guide to Major League Soccer, the top flight league in the United States.

Major League Soccer has two conferences, Eastern and Western with five teams from each conference making the playoffs. There’s one wild card game between 4th and 5th placed teams, then the conference semis and finals are home and home aggregate series with MLS Cup as the championship game.

In the regular season, you play each team in your conference twice home and twice away then each team in the other conference once. All teams from all divisions of soccer in the U.S. play in the U.S. Open Cup, the U.S.’ equivalent to the FA Cup with Canadian teams playing in the Amway Canadian Championship. Four teams from MLS play in the CONCACAF Champions League and the best team in the MLS’s regular season wins the Supporters’ Shield. There is no promotion or relegation allowed within Major League Soccer.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

PORTLAND TIMBERS

Portland, OR
Stadium: Providence Park

Fan Support: A+

Best Players: Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri

Manager: Caleb Porter – Young coach. Extremely intense and competitive. Something of an attacking tactical genius at his best, cold and surly at his worst.

Colors: Forest Green, Gold, White (alternate color: Rose City Red)

History: Came into MLS in 2011, have existed in some form since 1975. Known for fantastic support, giving Portland the name Soccer City, USA. Won the Western Conference regular season title in their best year, 2013.

Rivalries: In the Cascadia Cup with Seattle and Vancouver. Rivalry with Seattle is vicious and one of the best in the world, while rivalry with Vancouver is a little friendlier.

Reputation: Appreciated and hailed as one of the league’s signature clubs. Rub some the wrong way with a sort of oppositional and feisty mentality.

Other: Owner Merritt Paulson is MLS’ Mark Cuban. Passionate, loud, controversial, and has had his share of fines from the league. Have sold out every MLS home game since day one. The Timbers Army is awesome.

 

SEATTLE SOUNDERS

Seattle, WA
Stadium: CenturyLink Field

Best Players: Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins

Manager: Sigi Schmid – One of the most successful managers in American soccer history. Has won MLS Cup with both LA and Columbus, and is the only coach in Sounders MLS history.

Colors: Rave Green, Blue

History: Existed in lower leagues like USL before coming to MLS in 2009, where they smashed records with attendance and fan support. Have made playoffs in all five years of MLS play, but have never made the final.

Rivalries: Cascadia Cup – not liked by Vancouver, but hated by Portland.

Reputation: Heralded as the model franchise. Average more than two times any other club in attendance by virtue of playing in a football stadium that draws as many as 67,000+ for big games. Detractors point at them as fake and a bandwagon type of club that claims to be original but in reality is just gimmicky.

Other: Has a lot of star-power, now and over the years. All sellouts in MLS play. Average around 40,000, only open upper decks up for big games. Won the US Open Cup three years in a row from 2009-2011. Drew Carey is a part owner. Team has a marching band and does a “March to the Match” through Seattle before every game.

 

LA GALAXY

Carson, CA
Stadium: StubHub Center

Fan Support: B+

Best Players: Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane

Manager: Bruce Arena – The top American manager of all time. Managed the US in two World Cups in 2002 and 2006. Won MLS Cup with LA in both 2011 and 2012.  Also won the 1996 and 1997 MLS cups with DC United. Won the 1998 CONCACAF Champions Cup with DC United. A New Yorker.

Colors: Blue and gold.

History: An MLS original team, founded at the start of the league in 1996. Won MLS Cup a number of times.

Rivalries: Play the California Classico against San Jose, a clash of Northern and Southern California. Have a rivalry against Chivas USA, who share a stadium with the Galaxy.

Reputation: Very much MLS’ glamour club, a spot cemented when they signed David Beckham in 2007. Also one of the most successful teams in the league. Mostly respected.

Other: Trailblazing club in terms of salary expenditure. Owned by AEG, who at one point owned as many as half the teams in the league. Alexi Lalas was the former GM.

 

COLORADO RAPIDS

Commerce City, CO
Stadium: Dick’s Sporting Goods Park

Fan Support: C+

Best Players: DeShorn Brown, Dillon Powers

Manager: Pablo Mastroeni – A Rapids legend who was sent off for the US against Italy at the 2006 World Cup. Retired last year, got this coaching job. A class act.

Colors: Burgundy and white.

History: Won MLS Cup for the only time in 2010 in extra time against FC Dallas. Not a traditionally successful club.

Rivalries: Play the Rocky Mountain Cup against Real Salt Lake.

Reputation: A mostly bland club, the Rapids have fair-weather fan support that only gets good in the summer in good weather. A good young team now, rarely has big stars.

Other: Owned by Arsenal and St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke.

 

REAL SALT LAKE

Sandy, UT
Stadium: Rio Tinto Stadium

Fan Support: A

Best Players: Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales

Manager: Jeff Cassar – Jason Kreis’ assistant and former MLS player, took over from the boss when he left to manage expansion NYCFC last offseason.

Colors: Claret and Cobalt

History: Founded in 2005, a big success in MLS. Perennial playoff team under Kreis playing an attractive, attacking brand of football while building a strong fan-base. Won MLS Cup in Seattle against LA on penalties in 2009, lost it in 2013 on penalties against SKC.

Rivalries: Colorado in the Rocky Mountain Cup.

Reputation: Well liked for the strong team spirit and unity. Not exactly a destination club though. Never sign by DPs.

Other: Never play on Sunday at home because of Mormon religious beliefs.

 

VANCOUVER WHITECAPS

Vancouver, BC
Stadium: BC Place

Fan Support: A-

Best Players: Pedro Morales, Erik Hurtado

Manager: Carl Robinson – Welshman played in England, MLS, and took over for Martin Renne after the end of last season. Tough, and well-liked. His first head coaching job.

Colors: Blue and white.

History: Another promoted USL club, came into MLS with the Timbers in 2011. Haven’t done well on the field so much in MLS, but have a good young team now. Always play very entertaining games.

Rivalries: Cascadia Cup against Seattle and Portland.

Reputation: Able to sign some big players due to playing in a beautiful city and being willing to spend. We’ll see how this young team develops.

Other: Play in BC Place, a football stadium. Only open up about 22,000 seats, but usually sell out. Had Golden Boot winner last year in Camilo, who left for Mexico. Fun team to watch.

 

CHIVAS USA

Carson, CA
Stadium: StubHub Center

Fan Support: F

Best Players: Erik Torres, Carlos Bocanegra

Manager: Wilmer Cabrera – Longtime assistant in MLS, former USYNT coach, getting a shot at the top job with the Goats.

Colors: Red, white, and blue.

History: Started in 2005 as Chivas Guadalajara’s sister/minor league club under the same ownership. Things were going okay until 2013, when both clubs came under new ownership that tried to make the club all-Latino. Club was sued for discrimination by white employees, as always shaky fan support plummeted. Owner was forced out before 2014 season, when it was announced the team would be sold and rebranded for the 2015 season. This is the last year of Chivas USA. Did have some good years under Bob Bradley in the late 2000s.

Rivalries: Against LA, who they’re something of a little brother to. We’ll see what happens after the club is sold. MLS says they’ll stay in LA.

Reputation: The laughing stock of the league. An embarrassment. Sounders get more fans in one game than they have gotten all year.

Other: None.

 

SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES

Santa Clara, CA
Stadium: Buck Shaw Stadium (replaced by new stadium for 2015 season)

Fan Support: A-

Best Players: Chris Wondolowski, Clarence Goodson

Manager: Mark Watson – Got the job on an interim basis last year and got it full-time after a strong finish to the season. Struggling mightily this year though – may be in over his head.

Colors: Blue, black

History: Founded as San Jose Clash as an MLS original team in 1996. Changed name to Earthquakes shortly thereafter. Won MLS Cup with Landon Donovan on the team in the early 2000s, but moved to Houston after being unable to secure a stadium deal in the middle of the decade. San Jose was awarded an expansion team a few years later to bring back the Quakes. Won the Supporters’ Shield (for best regular season team) in 2012.

Rivalries: LA in the California Classico, which they host every year in front of a sellout crowd of over 50,000 at Stanford Stadium.

Reputation: Mostly hated for playing one of the ugliest and most aggressive brands of soccer in the league. Picked up the nickname “Goonies” in 2012 during a string of incredible late-game comebacks.

Other: Rebranded this year in advance of move to brand new stadium next year. Now, they are playing at the smallest venue in the league on the campus of Santa Clara.

 

FC DALLAS

Frisco, TX
Stadium: Toyota Stadium

Fan Support: B-

Best Players: Mauro Diaz, Blas Perez

Manager: Oscar Pareja – Has some similarities to Roberto Martinez. A Colombian who likes a slick style, he was in the Dallas organization for more than a decade before getting the Colorado job. Bolted at the chance to come back to Dallas last offseason.

Colors: Red, white

History: An MLS original team as the Dallas Burn, the team was rebranded FC Dallas at the beginning of the century. Made MLS Cup Final in 2010, but not a whole lot of success. Until this year, wore hooped jerseys.

Rivalries: Play the Texas Derby, against the Houston Dynamo. Don’t much care for Colorado either.

Reputation: Team can be a bit nasty, but no one thinks much of them one way or another.

Other: Owned by Clark Hunt, the owner of the Kansas City Chiefs. Interest has picked up in the last few years.

 

EASTERN CONFERENCE

DC UNITED

Washington, DC
Stadium: RFK Stadium

Fan Support: C+

Best Players: Eddie Johnson, Bobby Boswell

Manager: Ben Olsen – A gutty player who was on the US World Cup roster in 2006, he got the DC job at a young age in 2011. Survived the all-time worst season by an MLS team last year. Wears his heart on his sleeve.

Colors: Black and red.

History: Traditionally the most successful team in MLS history, the club has won MLS Cup four times, including the first two under Bruce Arena – but their last triumph came in 2004. Won US Open Cup last year despite only winning three league games in the entire season. A blue-blood of American soccer.

Rivalries: Plays New York Red Bulls for the Atlantic Cup.

Reputation: DC is a gritty sort of team. Perhaps their glory days have past them by, but people like seeing them succeed. Small but passionate fan base.

Other: Been trying to build a soccer specific stadium to get out of outdated RFK for years. The issue is going through city council right now. An MLS original team.

 

NEW YORK RED BULLS

Harrison, NJ
Stadium: Red Bull Arena

Fan Support: B

Best Players: Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill

Manager: Mike Petke – A career Metro Stars/Red Bulls player and coach, Petke had a phenomenal first season that saw his team end their trophy draught. Still has learning to do as a coach, but his forthright manner (he got into a fist-fight with Henry at a training session last year) and his sweater vests serve him well.

Colors: Red, white (alt. blue)

History: An MLS original, were the New York MetroStars and then rebranded as the New York Red Bulls when Red Bull bought the team. Riddled with the Curse of Caricola, after one unfortunate Metro Stars player, the team has had some incredibly bad luck and difficult barren runs over the years. The LA Galaxy of the Eastern Conference, have always had big name players but never won anything until the Supporters’ Shield last year.

Rivalries: Philadelphia and DC for now, but the rivalry with splashy NYC outfit NYCFC is already booming.

Reputation: A cursed club, the Red Bulls talk a big game but rarely back it up. They haven’t exactly made the impact people expected from them.

Other: Former Liverpool manger Gerrard Houllier is head of player recruitment. Former players include Claudio Reyna, Tim Howard, Jozy Altidore and Rafa Marquez. One of the league’s big four glamour clubs with Seattle, LA, and Toronto.

 

COLUMBUS CREW

Columbus, OH
Stadium: Columbus Crew Stadium

Fan Support: C+

Best Players: Federico Higuain, Will Trapp

Manager: Gregg Berhalter – A savvy defender in his playing days, was on the US’ 2006 World Cup squad and won the 2011 MLS Cup with LA. Cut his teeth coaching in the second division in Sweden before getting this job. Also the Crew’s sporting director.

Colors: Yellow and black.

History: One of the original MLS teams, Columbus built the first ever soccer-specific stadium in the country in 1999. The Crew are one of the smallest clubs in the league, but they did win MLS Cup in 2008.

Rivalries: Columbus’ main rivalry is against the Chicago Fire, but they also play Toronto FC for the Trillium Cup and FC Dallas for the Lamar Hunt Memorial Cup.

Reputation: Their slogan is the “Hardest Working Club in America,” and Columbus generally are well-liked for their trailblazing status as the first club with a soccer-specific stadium and their steady presence in the league.

Other: The club will rebrand next year, as the hardworking blue-collar mantra isn’t a great fit for the city of Columbus. The team was recently bought by young, energetic owner Anthony Precourt. Crew Stadium is the spiritual home of US Soccer and Dos A Cero – it has hosted the US-Mexico World Cup qualifier in every year it has been held since 2001.

 

SPORTING KANSAS CITY

Kansas City, MO
Stadium: Sporting Park

Fan Support: A+

Best Players: Matt Besler, Graham Zusi

Manager: Peter Vermes – A top US Soccer player in the 1990s, the incredibly intense, combative and imposing Vermes has been in charge of SKC since 2009, and is very much a large part of the club’s identity.

Colors: Light blue, dark blue, and white.

History: The ultimate success story of American soccer: An original team as the Kansas City Wiz, the team played in front of tiny crowds in Arrowhead Stadium before moving to a minor league baseball stadium and being renamed the Kansas City Wizards. But under energetic new ownership, the franchise built a sensational new soccer stadium, rebranded as Sporting Kansas City, and now have one of the most passionate soccer cultures in America. Won MLS Cup in 2013.

Rivalries: No major rivals.

Reputation: Under Vermes, a tough, physical team. Hailed as soccer’s standard-bearer in the midwest, Sporting Park has hosted the US national team consistently over the last few years.

Other: Owner Robb Heineman is very much like Portland’s Merritt Paulson. The club has a vibrant supporter group called The Cauldron.

 

HOUSTON DYNAMO

Houston, TX
Stadium: BBVA Compass Stadium

Fan Support: B

Best Players: Brad Davis, Oscar Boniek Garcia

Manager: Dominic Kinnear – One of the most successful managers in league history, the Scotsman has led his team to two MLS Cups and four finals, and has been manager for almost a decade. He has a relaxed demeanor and the team is renowned for making late-season playoff runs.

Colors: Orange and white.

History: The team moved to Houston from San Jose ahead of the 2006 season, and won MLS Cup in their first two years in Houston. Built beautiful BBVA Compass Stadium, which opened in 2012.

Rivalries: The Texas Derby against Dallas.

Reputation: Very well-respected club for their record of success.

Other: Owned by AEG, who also own the LA Galaxy. Not accustomed to having star players, but have only missed the playoffs once in franchise history.

 

NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION

Foxborough, MA
Stadium: Gillette Stadium

Fan Support: C-

Best Players: Diego Fagundez, Keylen Rowe

Manager: Jay Heaps – A former Revs player, a young manager in his first coaching job like Mastroeni and Petke.

Colors: Navy blue, red, white.

History: An original MLS team, the Revs had some success in the early years of the league and then were a perennial playoff force under Liverpool legend Steve Nicol in the 2000s. But the team never won MLS Cup, coming up short against Houston in both 2006 and 2007 as well as against the LA Galaxy in 2002.

Rivalries: The Revs’ main rival is the New York Red Bulls, stemming from other New York – Boston rivalries.

Reputation: Something of a sorry club, considering that they’ve never been able to make any headway on building their own stadium while attendances remain low under Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots, who has shown very little interest in soccer.

Other: Under the Revolution theme, there are Minute Men at the stadium who shoot off guns every time the Revs score.

 

PHILADELPHIA UNION

Chester, PA
Stadium: PPL Park

Fan Support: A-

Best Players: Christian Maidana, Maurice Edu

Manager: Vacant – Club sacked John Hackworth this season. Rene Meulensteen and Fabio Cannavaro have been linked with the job.

Colors: Blue and gold.

History: Club came into the league in 2010 to much fanfare, but overall success on the field has been hard to come by.

Rivalries: The Union’s main rival is the New York Red Bulls, but they also have a bit of a rivalry with DC United.

Reputation: The most successful club on the American East Coast, Philly has been identified as a soccer hotbed. The club, however, has the reputation of landing most often on the dysfunctional side.

Other: The club have a booming supporters group, the Sons of Ben. PPL Park is one of the prettiest stadiums in the league.

 

TORONTO FC

Toronto, ON
Stadium: BMO Field

Fan Support: A

Best Players: Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe

Manager: Ryan Nelsen – Affable New Zealander captained the All Whites to an undefeated 2010 World Cup. He retired in the middle of the 2012-2013 with QPR season to manage TFC. Finding his way after a tough start.

Colors: Red and white.

History: When they came into the league as an expansion franchise in 2007, Toronto was a major force in fan support and finances. They are credited with starting MLS supporters culture. However, the club has traditionally been the worst and most dysfunctional in the league. They’ve never made the playoffs, with the longest draught in league history heading into this season.

Rivalries: TFC’s biggest rival is the Montreal Impact, but there are bitter lesser rivalries with Vancouver and Columbus.

Reputation: TFC’s reputation of losing was swept away in the offseason when they signed Julio Cesar, Michael Bradley, Gilberto, Jermaine Defoe, and Dwayne De Rosario. The club sold all their season tickets within minutes of singing Bradley, and now feel something like Manchester City did when they first started buying big players.

Other: President Tim Leiweke came over from AEG and the Galaxy, and is the biggest force in MLS player acquisitions in the league.

 

MONTREAL IMPACT

Montreal, QC
Stadium: Stade Saputo

Fan Support: B+

Best Players: Marco Di Vaio, Jack McInerney

Manager: Frank Klopas – Hired by the Impact after he was sacked by Chicago last year. He’s had an up and down managerial career, and is under pressure in Montreal. Was on the USA’s 1994 World Cup team.

Colors: Royal blue, white.

History: Another the promoted minor league sides, the Impact came into the league in 2012. In three years, they’ve had three managers. Made the playoffs for the first time in 2013, but had three players sent off and lost 3-0 to the Houston Dynamo.

Rivalries: Their main rivalry is with Toronto, who they beat to win the Canadian Championship in 2014. The two sides have been playing at some level for almost 40 years.

Reputation: There’s always a lot of drama in Montreal, one way or another. Joey Saputo is one of the most interesting and trigger-happy owners in the league.

Other: The team plays in cold whether months at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

 

CHICAGO FIRE

Bridgeview, IL
Stadium: Toyota Park

Fan Support: C

Best Players: Mike Magee, Harry Shipp

Manager: Frank Yallop – A career MLS manager with successful stops in LA and San Jose, Yallop is one of the most respected managers in the league, despite not being regarded as a transcendent soccer mind. An affable Canadian.

Colors: Red, dark blue.

History: The first MLS expansion team, the Fire came into the league in 1998 and immediately won the US Open Cup – MLS Cup double under manager Bob Bradley. The Fire have won the US Open Cup more times (four) than any other club in the country. These days, success has been harder to come by.

Rivalries: Chicago doesn’t have a heated rivalry with any team, rather small-time rivalries with a number of Eastern Conference comes.

Reputation: Traditionally a successful and respected club, but less so in recent years.

Other: Only missed the playoffs once in their first decade of existence. Have signed some high-profile players over the years – their best player was Mexican Cuauhtémoc Blanco.

 

EXPANSION TEAMS

ORLANDO CITY (2015)

Orlando, FL
Stadium: Citrus Bowl (replaced after 2015 by new soccer-specific stadium)

Best Players: Kaka

Manager: Adrian Heath – Had a long career in the English top flight and managed the likes of Burnley and Sheffield Wednesday before joining Orlando City’s USL side. Won the USL championship in his first two years in charge.

Colors: Purple, white.

History: USL side moved to Orlando from Austin before 2011. Side will begin MLS play in 2015.

Rivalries: As the only club in the Southeast, Orlando won’t have any rivalries geographically until Atlanta and Miami join the league.

Reputation: Club is under Brazilian ownership and there are a large number of Brazilian immigrants in Orlando, making Kaka a natural signing. Robinho is also linked. Fan support promises to be huge.

 

NEW YORK CITY FC (2015)

Bronx, NY
Stadium: Yankee Stadium

Best Players: David Villa

Manager: Jason Kreis – The hottest American manager in the game, Kreis turned Real Salt Lake into a juggernaut in his time there, winning MLS Cup in 2009. Kreis leaped for the NYCFC job after his side lost the 2013 MLS Cup Final. He spent six months with Manchester City over the last winter.

Colors: Light blue, white

History: Expansion side entering play in 2015. Owned jointly by Manchester City and the New York Yankees.

Rivalries: The New York Red Bulls will be natural rivals.

Reputation: Splashy. In the heart of NYC while the Red Bulls play in New Jersey, this outfit has promised to spend. Xavi and Frank Lampard are heavily linked.

 

ATLANTA (2017)

Atlanta, GA
Stadium: Atlanta Falcons new stadium

Colors: Red, black

History: Expansion team owned by Falcons owner Arthur Blank. Will start play in 2017.

 

MIAMI (TBD)

Miami, FL
Stadium: To be determined (either Sunrise or downtown Miami)

History: Expansion team owned by David Beckham. Having trouble finding a stadium location, this team is slated for Miami but could be moved if there is no resolution. They’re a long ways away from starting play.


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About Abe Asher

Abe Asher lives in beautiful Portland, Oregon. He fell in love with the intensity, stakes and spirit of football during the 2006 World Cup, especially during the Netherlands – Portugal Round of 16 game, which featured 34 yellow cards, 12 red cards, 129 screams, and 645 dives. Abe loves the Portland Timbers, and mostly tolerates his favorite European club, Chelsea FC. Abe is on Twitter @AbesWorldSports.
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