Major League Soccer

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For the defunct indoor soccer league, see Major Soccer League.
Major League Soccer
Image:MLS Logo.gif
Sport Soccer
Founded 1993
Inaugural season 1996
No. of teams 13
Country Image:Flag of the United States.svg USA
Image:Flag of Canada.svg Canada
Current champions Houston Dynamo
Official website MLSnet.com

Major League Soccer (MLS) is the top soccer league of both the United States and Canada. It is sanctioned by the professional division of the United States Soccer Federation (USSF or U.S. Soccer), which is a member of FIFA.

Contents

[edit] History

Image:Major League Soccer Map 2007 Season.PNG
Locations of Major League Soccer teams

MLS was formed on December 17, 1993, in fulfillment of Alan Rothenberg and U.S. Soccer's promise to FIFA to establish a "Division One" professional football (soccer) league in exchange for the staging of the FIFA World Cup USA 1994 in the United States. The league began play in 1996 with ten teams and had strong attendance the first season. Numbers declined slightly after the first year, but have stabilized in subsequent years. The original 10 teams were divided into two conferences: the Eastern Conference (Columbus Crew, D.C. United, New England Revolution, NY/NJ MetroStars, and Tampa Bay Mutiny), and Western Conference (Colorado Rapids, Dallas Burn, Kansas City Wiz, Los Angeles Galaxy and San Jose Clash).

[edit] Expansion, contraction, and relocation

The league expanded to 12 teams in 1998, adding the Chicago Fire to the Western Conference and Miami Fusion to the Eastern Conference. In 2000 the league was reorganized into Eastern, Central, and Western Divisions; Chicago, Tampa Bay, Dallas, and Columbus were moved to the new Central Division. However, following the 2001 season, both Florida teams (Miami and Tampa Bay) were disbanded and the league contracted back to ten teams. The league returned to Eastern and Western Conferences, with Chicago now in the Eastern Conference.

Following the 2004 season, the league expanded again, adding Real Salt Lake, located in Salt Lake City, Utah and C.D. Chivas USA, which shares The Home Depot Center with the Los Angeles Galaxy. The two new teams were placed in the Western Conference, with Kansas City moving East.

Following the conclusion of the 2005 season, the San Jose Earthquakes (formerly the San Jose Clash) were relocated to Houston and renamed Houston Dynamo. However, the Earthquakes' name and history was not transferred, with the possibility of an expansion club coming to San Jose as early as 2008. Therefore, Houston is considered an expansion club, much like the Baltimore Ravens in the NFL.

MLS will expand by one team for the 2007 season, with the plan to have three more expansion teams by 2010. Toronto has been approved by the league, the team simply named Toronto FC, and construction progessing on a soccer-specific stadium. Other current expansion possibilities, with according to rumors widely seen as legitimate, include San Jose (a return of the Earthquakes),<ref>Oakland A's ownership group purchases option to bring Major League Soccer back to Bay Area</ref><ref>Dear Earthquakes fans...</ref> Cleveland,<ref>Real estate fee hike could pay for stadium</ref><ref>Meeting the Don: Notes on a Media Round Table</ref> St. Louis,<ref>Meeting the Don: Notes on a Media Round Table</ref> Milwaukee,<ref>Fire work done, Wilt hopes to get franchise in Milwaukee</ref> and Philadelphia.<ref>MLS supports Rowan's stadium plan</ref> Other cities frequently mentioned for future expansion include Atlanta,<ref>Twenty questions with Commissioner Garber</ref> Rochester (home of a popular USL team), Seattle, Portland, San Antonio, Cincinnati, Detroit, Orlando, Las Vegas, San Diego, Hartford, Tulsa, Vancouver, Montreal, and a return to Miami. [citation needed]


[edit] Name changes

In 1997, after only one year in the league, the Kansas City Wiz changed their name to the Kansas City Wizards following a trademark dispute.

In 1998, the New York/New Jersey MetroStars dropped the New York/New Jersey tag, becoming simply the MetroStars.

In 2000, the San Jose Clash changed their name to the San Jose Earthquakes, an homage to a previous Earthquakes team that played in the North American Soccer League from 1974 to 1984 and a popular choice with the team's fans.

In 2005, the Dallas Burn changed their name to FC Dallas, with the FC standing for "Fútbol Club" according to the organization.

After the 2005 season, the San Jose club was relocated to Houston (with all records, and the team name, logo and colors held by the league to be used for a possible expansion team in San Jose). An online survey was held to select a name for the team, resulting in the name Houston 1836. The name was meant to refer to the year the city was founded, and echoed a tradition in some parts of the world (particularly Germany) of using years in football team names. However, some locals of Mexican descent (one of the primary target demographics for the team) resented the name, since 1836 was also the year of the war for Texan independence from Mexico and the defeat of General Antonio López de Santa Anna. Sylvia Garcia, Harris County's first Hispanic commissioner in more than a century, rallied a boycott against the 1836 name in a city where Hispanics, most of them of Mexican descent, surpassed Anglos as the largest ethnic group in the city in the 2000 census and are about 42 percent of the population. The name was dropped, due to this political pressure and pressure from potential Hispanic media and sponsors, on March 6, 2006, the 170th anniversary of the seizure of the Alamo. The team was renamed Houston Dynamo to honor Houston's energy industry, and a sliver of Houston's soccer past. The Dynamo name is also widely used in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union for teams such as FC Dynamo Kiev and FC Dynamo Moscow. Subsequently, MLS announced that after two unpopular online surveys (the other being Real Salt Lake), MLS will no longer use online polls to name future expansion teams.

In 2006, the MetroStars organization was renamed Red Bull New York after being purchased by Red Bull with the squad actually called the New York Red Bulls.

[edit] Stadiums

Image:Gillette Stadium.jpg
A near empty crowd at Gillette Stadium, note the NFL field and logos visible. This was changed in 2006, when Gillette Stadium switched to FieldTurf, with temporary football and soccer lines.

When the league was started, most teams played in stadiums built specifically for NFL or NCAA (college) American football. This was based on the record attendances achieved at the 1994 FIFA World Cup. However this turned out to be a considerable expense to the league because of modest attendance and poor lease deals. To provide better facilities as well as to control revenue for the stadium, a major goal of MLS management is to build its own stadiums, which are often called "soccer-specific stadiums" (though in reality, they often are also built to accommodate high school football, lacrosse, and concerts).

The move to "soccer-specific" stadiums has been seen by many as essential to building up attendance and fan support for MLS. So far every team that has built its own stadium has not only seen its game attendance rise, but also has helped MLS to come closer to the ultimate goal of breaking even financially. Thanks to their new stadium, the Los Angeles Galaxy were the first team to make a profit, and are projected to be followed in 2006 by FC Dallas. With the league's new TV rights kicking in next year, several more teams are projected to be profitable.

In 1999, Lamar Hunt personally financed the construction of Columbus Crew Stadium, the first major stadium ever built from the ground up specifically for soccer in the United States. The Crew formerly played at Ohio Stadium on the campus of The Ohio State University, but were forced to find a new home when the university began renovations on the stadium.

The Los Angeles Galaxy got a new home beginning with the 2003 season, The Home Depot Center (HDC) located in Carson, California. The Galaxy previously played at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. In 2005, expansion club C.D. Chivas USA joined the Galaxy as tenants at the HDC. Chivas USA does play a few games per season at the Los Angeles Coliseum, usually in tandem with its Mexican parent club.

Image:PHP 2005.jpg
A capacity crowd at Pizza Hut Park, a soccer specific stadium.

In August 2005, FC Dallas moved to Pizza Hut Park, a new soccer-specific stadium in the northern Dallas suburb of Frisco. The team, previously known as the Dallas Burn, played at the Cotton Bowl until the 2003 season, when they moved to Dragon Stadium in Southlake, Texas, an American football stadium belonging to the Carroll Independent School District. Like Chicago's home during this time, Dragon Stadium featured a FieldTurf surface with permanently-painted American football lines which were unpopular with fans. In 2004 they returned to the Cotton Bowl and announced plans for the Frisco stadium.

The Chicago Fire played at Soldier Field from 1996-2005, excluding the 2002 and 2003 seasons, when the stadium was undergoing renovations. While renovations took place, the club played at North Central College's Cardinal Stadium in Naperville, Illinois. The artificial turf permanently marked with lines for American football was a disappointment to the fans. In late 2003 renovations were completed and the Fire returned to Soldier Field, and that same year they announced plans for a new soccer-specific stadium in Bridgeview, Illinois, to be named Toyota Park. Ground was broken for the stadium in November 2004 and the facility played its first game in June 2006.

The Colorado Rapids played at Mile High Stadium and INVESCO Field at Mile High until 2006. They broke ground on Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado in 2005 and will move there for the 2007 season.

The first non-US MLS team will be based out of a brand new, public and privately funded, provincially approved soccer-specific stadium in Toronto. BMO Field will be owned by the City of Toronto, operated by Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, hold 20,000-25,000 fans, and cost roughly $80 million CAD. This team will be the sole expansion team to join the league in the 2007 season, with MLS receiving bids from several other major cities for league clubs to join in 2008.

Real Salt Lake plays in Rice-Eccles Stadium located on the University of Utah campus and host for the 2002 Winter Olympics opening and closing ceremonies. Their plans for a new stadium to be located in Sandy, Utah were delayed by the Utah legislature, which only recently approved a taxing authority that would allow the team and city to build the facility. Its completion is expected by the beginning of the 2008 season.

Red Bull New York plays at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. They are planning to move to Red Bull Park in Harrison, New Jersey in June 2008. D.C. United has proposed the new Poplar Point Stadium, seating some 30,000, in Washington D.C. to open in 2009. Their current status requires sharing RFK Stadium with the Washington Nationals of Major League Baseball.

The Kansas City Wizards was originally operated by the owners of the Kansas City Chiefs and played at Arrowhead Stadium. They will be moving to a yet-to-be-determined temporary home beginning in 2007 due to renovations to Arrowhead Stadium. The new ownership group has identified Overland Park, Kansas as the preferred site for a new stadium.

The New England Revolution is operated by the owners of the New England Patriots of the NFL and plays in Gillette Stadium. They have begun looking into a new, soccer-specific facility.[1]

From 1996-2005, the San Jose Earthquakes played in Spartan Stadium located at San José State University. Attempts were made to finance a soccer-specific stadium in the Bay Area, but failed, resulting in the club's relocation to Houston.

The Houston Dynamo plays its home matches at Robertson Stadium, located on the campus of the University of Houston. The club has a three-year lease with the university, allowing club officials to secure a deal for a soccer-specific stadium within that time frame.

[edit] Profitability

Major League Soccer since its founding has lost more than $350 million, according to a report by BusinessWeek in 2004.<ref>Soccer: Time To Kick It Up A Notch.</ref> However, several signs and trends in media, a landmark TV rights deal, and trends in the league itself suggest that situation is going to change within the next decade or so. The first reason for this change is the much greater availability of soccer on American television, with the Fox Soccer Channel, ESPN, ABC, ESPN2, and other channels now having coverage of MLS, various Latin American leagues, the English Premier League, the German Bundesliga and Italian Serie A, as well as the World Cup. The exposure to so much more soccer on television helps to erase the image of MLS as being a league of a 'niche' sport.

The second trend noticed is the growing amount of money and profit to be had in soccer in the US due to increasing advertisements and the building of soccer-specific stadiums to better control revenue and earnings. All new MLS clubs are now expected to have soccer-specific stadium plans, and only a few of the old teams in the league do not have stadiums under construction or on the drawing board.

According to The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, VA), "The Los Angeles Galaxy made a profit the year they opened their new stadium, the Home Depot Center, in 2003. They've made a profit every year since. FC Dallas, opened is own stadium, Pizza Hut Park, in August 2005. According to the [Fort Worth] Star-Telegram, FC Dallas has turned a profit for the first time in its 11 year history in the 2006 season. Several more MLS stadiums are in various stages of development." Some say the Chicago Fire are also on their way to being profitable, with Fox Soccer Channel's Jamie Trecker reporting that "Season tickets sales have doubled; 31 of the 42 club suites (which range from $25,000-$60,000) are spoken for and 80% of the 1000 'swanky' club seats are locked down." Official site information shows however that shortly after his visit to the Fire's new stadium, the central club seat section was sold out for the entire season, with the others filling up rapidly. With more soccer-specific stadiums being built, increasing TV coverage, and a steadily growing fanbase, it appears MLS is on its way to profitability, albeit slowly.

Moreover, The Virginian-Pilot reported in 2005 that the league appeared to be in negotiations for broadcast rights fees, which would allow the league to outlive the old NASL and MISL. According to the article, American media has more interest in soccer than just covering the World Cup, saying "The interest also extends beyond the World Cup. Part of the agreement for 2010 and 2014 includes a handshake deal that likely will extend Major League Soccer's television contract with ABC/ESPN, and give the league its first rights fees. The fees may even be enough to immediately make MLS profitable, and thus do the same for nearly all its teams."

The Los Angeles Times reported "As a further indicator of the league's health, MLS season-ticket sales rose by 25% this off-season, the highest jump in league history, Garber said." The LA Times quoted Commissioner Garber as saying, "In addition, MLS soon will announce new television contracts with ABC, ESPN and Univision". These will take effect in 2007 and will include "the first rights fees that MLS, and I believe professional soccer, has ever had from major network broadcasters."

Less than a year after that article was written, MLS and ESPN announced that the network would be paying the league its first ever rights fees to air its games, and would produce the games instead of MLS and also promote the sport on its networks with more time on SportsCenter and a primetime slot on Thursday on ESPN2 right after SportsCenter [2]. The deal is said to be worth between $7-8 million a year, and will extend from the 2007 season through to 2014. This deal is said to be a landmark event for professional soccer in the United States. Combined with other broadcasting rights deals (Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Sports en Español (combined rights deal), HDNet, and Univision), the league in 2007 will take in around 20 million dollars in TV rights for the first time. ESPN,<ref>TV deal highlights State of the League address</ref> Fox Soccer Channel,<ref>FOX Soccer Channel, Soccer United Marketing sign new five-year programming pact</ref> HDNet,<ref>MLS Announces Three-Year Deal With HDNet and 2006 Television Schedule</ref> and Univision<ref>Univision acquires rights to broadcast Major League Soccer</ref> are at an estimated $15 million a year as of 2007 before the Univision deal.<ref>Major League Soccer on ABC/ESPN</ref>

In another new commercial development, MLS has announced it will start selling ad space on the front of jerseys next year to go along with the league-wide sponsorship partners who are already advertising on the back of team jerseys currently [3]. The league has established a floor of $500,000 per shirt sponsorship, with the league receiving a flat fee of $200,000 per deal. Also, teams cannot sell sponsorships to hard liquor companies or online casinos. The latter is a common source of sponsorship in Europe (Middlesbrough FC being a notable example), but United States law prohibits the use of American credit cards to place bets online. On November 17, 2006 Real Salt Lake was the first MLS club to announce a jersey sponsor. Beverage maker XanGo will appear on team jerseys starting in 2007. The company reached an agreement with the club to be the team's jersey sponsor from the 2007 through 2010 seasons, for an amount estimated to range from $4 million to $5 million. The LA Galaxy are rumored to be in negotiations for a multimillion dollar deal. This development appears to be in line with others giving individual team owners more incentive to invest their time and money in their club, and is a small step away from the single-entity nature of MLS.

Major League Soccer has several other things beginning to turn its way as well, not least of which is money invested in it. In the last two years, over 1 billion dollars of investment money was poured into the league investing in everything from new stadiums, to the Adidas shirt/soccer promotion sponsorship, to Soccer United Marketing's (marketing arm of MLS) 425 million dollar sale of the US English and Spanish broadcast rights for the next two World Cups. Besides investment, fan support appears to be strengthening, with season tickets sales some 20% higher than last season's. With the addition of 6 more stadiums by 2010, MLS will finally have a solid majority of its teams in venues that will allow them to earn more, create a better atmosphere (and more die-hard fans), and will be able to expand in a more careful manner because the league will be much more financially stable and may make a profit for the first time. Time will tell when, if ever, MLS has its "breakout year" in terms of profits, growth, media exposure, and an improved quality of play.<ref>A Breakout Year For Soccer?</ref>

Recently MLS Commissioner Don Garber said<ref>MLS:Franchises to profit by 2010</ref> that he expects the league's clubs to be profitable by 2010 overall, saying that the FC Dallas and LA Galaxy clubs are already profitable, with several other clubs nearing profitability according to earlier remarks: the Chicago Fire and New England Revolution. Once the league expands to 16 teams and 10 stadiums by 2010, it is anticipated that Major League Soccer will make a profit overall for the first time ever. The only difficulty for the league is getting the stadiums constructed, as many international clubs like Chelsea and others have expressed interest in or already have formed partnerships with MLS clubs and owners in the league, meaning ownership issues are no longer as acute as they once were.

[edit] Ownership

Arguably, the most important reason for the long-term success of MLS is because of its single entity organization and ownership structure. In this organization structure, revenues are shared amongst the league, and player contracts are negotiated by the league. There is also a team salary cap of about 2 million dollars, although this number increase slightly each year, and not every dollar paid to players counts against the cap. Still, this system has mostly kept costs under control, player salaries centrally controlled, losses minimized. Thanks to this, the decision to terminate the two money losing Florida clubs, and heavy financial support from Anschutz Entertainment Group, Lamar Hunt, and Bob Kraft, MLS has managed to survive its first decade of existence.

However, some critics regularly alleged that the league showed preferential treatment to big-market or profitable teams with regards to player allocation and the salary cap (indeed, the highest paid players earn nearly $1 million per season, but only about $250,000 of it counts against the cap). The league also fought a bitter legal battle with its players over its economic system, but this was eventually resolved with the players gaining some improved benefits in return for accepting the single entity structure. A court had also ruled that even absent a collective bargaining agreement (which MLS now has), players could opt to play in other leagues if they were unsatisfied.

The league's controlled costs have attracted new ownership that can put more money into the league and improve it by focusing their money and attention on fewer clubs. Examples include the Anschutz Entertainment Group's sale of the MetroStars to Red Bull. According to the Los Angeles Times, MLS Commissioner Garber said that "the sale was part of a plan to have AEG decrease its holdings in MLS. We're pushing Hunt Sports to do the same thing."

It appears that Commissioner Garber and MLS management has said it is pushing these changes as part of a new ownership strategy, one in which each owner has a single club (although it seems likely that AEG will own at least two clubs well into the future), and is better able to focus their resources upon that club, as with the owners of the New York Red Bulls and Real Salt Lake. This also reduces the possibility of MLS being perceived as running a rigged league in favor of a select few teams. Commissioner Garber has stated that having multiple clubs owned by a single owner was a necessity in the first 10 years of MLS, but now that the league appears to be on the brink of overall profitability and has significant expansion plans, it wants each club to have its own owner.

In order to help bring this about, the league is now giving more incentive to be an individual club owner, with all owners now having the rights to any player they develop through their club's academy system, sharing the profits of the commercial soccer company Soccer United Marketing, the preeminent soccer company in North America, and now for the first time, allowing owners to have individual team jersey sponsors, although the deals must still be approved by the league office. The league, while not abandoning the single-entity nature that has preserved it (and Garber has said that he does not believe MLS will do so in the foreseeable future, in order to avoid repeating mistakes of the NASL), is increasingly dismantling central controls in favor of owner diversification and a more open competition.

According to the The New York Times, Red Bull paid the Anschutz Entertainment Group "in excess of $100 million" for the MetroStars, which includes complete ownership of the team, naming rights to their new stadium (now known as Red Bull Park), and a 50% stake in the stadium itself, with AEG being responsible for the stadium's operations (as it is for most soccer-specific venues other than Toronto FC's). Red Bull also gained certain sponsorship rights to MLS, although a separate deal with Gatorade means the sponsorship will likely be phased in over a few years. This transaction is a record for MLS, and brings MLS closer to having the more diversified owner-investors group it wants. For an example of just how undiversified MLS ownership was, the elimination of the league's two Florida clubs left MLS with 10 clubs, six of which were owned by billionaire Philip Anschutz's AEG.

Since that time AEG has sold two of those clubs, and has attempted to also sell D.C. United and at one time, their former San Jose club, the San Jose Earthquakes. AEG's remaining clubs are the successful L.A. Galaxy (leads the league in attendance and profit), the popular Chicago Fire, the accomplished D.C. United, and the recently moved Houston Dynamo. An example of AEG's utter dominance of MLS financially and competition-wise is the MLS Cup: AEG-owned clubs have been in every Cup since the league's founding in 1996. The other major owner-investor in MLS is the Hunt Sports, which owns the Columbus Crew and FC Dallas. AEG and HS owned MLS clubs can between them lay claim to every single MLS Cup title.

On August 31, 2006, Hunt Sports sold the Kansas City Wizards to a local six-man ownership group led by Cerner co-founders Neal Patterson and Cliff Illig. The other members of the group are Rock Island Capital’s Robb Heineman, Greg Maday and David French, and Pat Curran, founder of C3 Holdings.

[edit] Rule changes

In an attempt to "Americanize" the sport, MLS experimented with rule changes in its early years. The clock, which counts up in international soccer, would instead count down, and would stop on dead ball situations, at referee's discretion. Once the clock hit 0:00, the game would be over. The other major change was the inception of shootouts to resolve tie games. If the game ended in a draw, a situation similar to a penalty shootout would ensue. A shootout attempt mimicked a penalty shot in ice hockey in that it consisted of a player getting the ball 35 yards from the goal and five seconds to put it past the goalkeeper. Just like with penalties, it was a best-of-five competition, and if the score was still tied, the tiebreaker would head to an extra frame. MLS did faeture a fourth "goalkeeper only" substitue until the end of the 2003 season when Metrostars coach Bob Bradley used a loop hole in the rule to insert Eddie Gaven as an extra fourth field player substitue. The old NASL also used many of these rules. The team that won the shootout would get one standings point(as opposed to three for the regulation win), the losing team zero.

The rule changes, especially the shootout, failed to bring in a wider American audience, and alienated some traditional fans. The shootout was gone after the 1999 season. The upward-counting clock came in to use in 2000. MLS experimented in settling tie games with golden goal overtime periods from 2000 to 2003 similar to those in college soccer (the tie would stand if no team scored after ten minutes; in college soccer, it is twenty minutes), but in 2004 dropped the extra session, turning to a more traditional model of letting ties stand. Each team receives one point. Victories are worth three, as in other leagues.

From 1996 to 2004, MLS playoff games did feture golden goals if a tie needed to be broken. The most famous MLS golden goals were the 1996 and 2003 MLS Cup winning goals for D.C. United and Los Angeles Galaxy.

[edit] Previous 1st division professional soccer leagues

There have been several previous professional soccer leagues in the US and Canada, most notably the North American Soccer League (NASL; 1968-1984), which featured, among others, soccer legends Pelé and Franz Beckenbauer. The NASL failed for a number of reasons, ranging from short-sighted spending policies to overexpansion to over reliance on foreign players. Following the collapse of the NASL, only the original Major Indoor Soccer League operated as a first division league in the United States. However, this league was disdained by soccer purists and faced many of the same problems as the NASL. It ceased operation in 1992, and there was no major first division league in the United States until the formation of MLS, even though FIFA had demanded that one be created as a condition of hosting the World Cup.

Top-level American soccer leagues have generally struggled, even though the amateur and semipro levels of the game have flourished. (On an amateur participation level, it is arguably the most popular team sport in North America, with the exception of basketball and gridiron football, although lacrosse is gaining quickly.) There are a variety of theories which have been offered to explain this fact. Some blame the continual nature of soccer, with relatively few set plays or fixed positions. This pace has a feel that may be relatively unfamiliar to the average American, as the action in the most popular American sports comes in fairly distinct units (i.e., the baseball at-bat, the football play, even the basketball possession). Likewise, kids who play soccer do so for its fitness benefits more than a desire to be Ronaldinho, or even Landon Donovan. Once they turn older, the theory goes, they will turn to watching and playing other sports.

Others attribute failures to the low-scoring nature of the game; still others blame the perception of soccer as a "foreign" sport for immigrants from Europe and Latin America (especially Mexico- television ratings for Mexican Football League games on Univision often beat some major American sporting events, while teams like Chivas Guadalajara routinely fill NFL stadiums for exhibition games in the US).

In the age of cable TV and the internet, American professional soccer also suffers from the comparison with European and Latin American competitions whose games can easily be followed in the states (in the past, such coverage was limited at best) and are often considered to be of a higher standard. Still, MLS is much younger than most other soccer leagues (England has had organized professional soccer leagues for over 100 years), and only time will tell how much the league can grow.

However, even though MLS is not expected to reach the perceived status of a major professional league in the foreseeable future, the survival of the league for at least several more years appears secure. In turn, this is expected to benefit the US National Team and the CONCACAF region as a whole. MLS has become the primary destination for players from Caribbean islands such as Jamaica, as well as Central America. The best players, both American and foreign, routinely draw the interest of major European teams.


[edit] Organization

In contrast to most other established professional sports leagues in the United States and abroad, but like most recently founded leagues, MLS is organized as a "single-entity" organization, in which the league (rather than individual teams) contracts directly with the players, in an effort to control spending and labor costs, share revenue, promote parity and maximize exposure. This also differs from most other soccer leagues around the world. Still, teams may do their own scouting, and if they identify a potential signing, and MLS can negotiate a salary with the player, the discovering club will typically get that player. Each team has an owner/investor and the league allows an owner to have more than one team, although this may be more because of the lack of willing investors than the single-entity structure itself.

Unlike most European leagues, which generally have fairly loose roster limits, the full roster for each MLS team is limited to a maximum of 18 senior players, plus a maximum of ten roster-protected players to stock reserve teams. Of the 18 senior players, MLS teams are allowed a maximum of four senior (over the age of 25) international players on their active roster, as well as three youth international players (under the age of 25). In MLS, a player is not considered an international (regardless of eligibility to play for the U.S. National Team) if he is a U.S. citizen, is a resident alien (green card), or is under asylum protection. International players are so defined by the United States Soccer Federation, the sport's overall governing body in America, to accord with U.S. Immigration and Naturalization laws, which prohibit an employer from limiting the number of permanent or temporary residents, refugees, and asylees.

MLS has also announced plans to phase-in youth academies, where teams could develop young players and promote them to the first team, much as clubs in other countries often do. Currently, all high school and college players go through a draft. Red Bull New York and a few other teams already do run youth development programs, perhaps to ensure a steady stream of talented teenagers for MLS teams to draft, beyond those cultivated at U.S. Soccer's residency program in Bradenton, Florida (run in conjunction with IMG).

As a result of these restrictions, most of the players in the league are from the United States, but some are renowned international players, with Latin America and the Caribbean being the home region for the largest number of international players.

Toronto FC, the new MLS team for 2007, is negotiating a different set of rules with MLS regarding internationals. Due to Canadian immigration laws, there can be no restrictions on the number of Canadians playing for a Canadian team — and International players will be considered non-Canadians.

In Europe, MLS is often viewed as a 'retirement league' on par with the old NASL, where stars who are past their prime can collect easy paychecks. Although this may have been true of the early years of the league, far fewer older players have been imported recently. Lothar Matthäus spent a forgettable year with the MetroStars, Mexican star Luis Hernández was a big flop in LA, Korean star Hong Myung-Bo failed to earn a position in the Galaxy's starting lineup, and the league has seen a high percentage of failures from less notable foreign veterans. One of the few recent exceptions to this trend is Youri Djorkaeff, who retired in 2006 after two successful seasons with Red Bull New York. The league has instead focused more on acquiring talented young players from the CONCACAF region, such as recent successes Amado Guevara, Carlos Ruiz, and Damani Ralph. MLS has also become a springboard for young American players looking to join wealthier European teams, with Tim Howard, Carlos Bocanegra, Clint Mathis, Bobby Convey and DaMarcus Beasley being the most notable recent exports. Many of the players developed in MLS were sold for considerable transfer fees, adding to the league's revenue. Mathis has since come back to MLS, currently playing for the Colorado Rapids. A number of young Americans have also chosen to come back to play in the league instead of languishing on Europe's benches and reserve teams including Gus Kartes, Taylor Twellman, Philip Salyer, and Kenny Cooper. Another young American, Landon Donovan, was, at his request, loaned to MLS by his German Bundesliga club, Bayer Leverkusen and, after briefly returning to Germany, subsequently purchased by the league. Currently, he plays for the Los Angeles Galaxy.

A number of high-profile players, such as David Beckham<ref>Beckham might end career in United States</ref> and Ronaldo,<ref>MUTUAL ADMIRATION SOCIETY Red Bulls interested in Ronaldo and vice versa</ref> have made statements about playing in MLS towards the end of their career. The 2007 season will allow teams to sign such players without salary cap considerations (See also: Designated Player Rule).

Unlike most other nations, there is currently no system of promotion and relegation in American soccer; although repeated suggestions for such a system have been made, such an organization does not exist in any sport in America, and the disparity in both attendance and revenue between divisions makes such a vertical integration impractical. It is highly unlikely that any professional sport in the United States will have any such system in the foreseeable future due to lack of popular minor league teams on par with major league teams, certain opposition from team owner/operators in top-level professional leagues (including MLS) and even geographical considerations (America's huge landmass is often cited as a reason promotion and relegation never took hold there in the first place; Brazil and Russia have comparable proportional areas, but only Russia has a steady promotion and relegation scheme).<ref>The major football leagues of Europe cover land areas comparable to those of one or two U.S. states. For example, England is only slightly larger than Mississippi, Italy is about the size of New Mexico, and Spain is about twice the size of Oregon. Likewise, the concept of fans traveling to away games (common in other countries) is generally limited to a few regional rivalries, such as NY-DC United and of course LA-Chivas USA.</ref>

[edit] Competition format

The format for the 2007 season is as follows:

  • Season runs from April 2007 to a championship match played November 18, 2007.
  • 13 teams split into two conferences: the Western Conference will have six teams, while the Eastern Conference will have seven, with Toronto FC as the newest addition. Each team plays 30 games, evenly divided among home and away matches. Each team will play every other team twice, home and away, for a total of 24 games. The remaining 6 games will all be intra-conference, with each team playing it's fellow conference members an additional game. In the Western Conference, an additional game will be added to the above, highlighting a local rivalry (Los Angeles v Chivas USA, Houston v FC Dallas, Salt Lake v Colorado).
  • At season's end, the top two teams of each conference will make the playoffs; in addition, the next four highest point totals, regardless of conference, will also be in the playoffs. In the first round of this knockout tournament, aggregate goals over two matches determine the winners; the Conference Championships are one match each, with the winner of each conference advancing to MLS Cup. In all rounds, draws will be broken with 2 15-minute periods of extra time, followed by penalty kicks if necessary. The away goals rule is not used.
  • The team with the best record in the 30 game regular season wins the MLS Supporters' Shield and qualifies for the next CONCACAF Champions' Cup. The MLS Champion also qualifies for the CONCACAF Champions' Cup. If the Supporters Shield winner wins the MLS Cup, the runner up to the Supporters Shield is the second qualifier.
  • During the season, all MLS teams may also compete in the U.S. Open Cup (except Toronto), the current CONCACAF Champions' Cup, select international tournaments, and various exhibitions.
  • A new United States-Mexico club competition will also make up the 2007 season schedule, with matches occurring midweek. MLS teams will qualify for the tournament based on regular season performance.

[edit] Major League Soccer teams

Eastern Conference
Team City/Area Stadium
Chicago Fire Bridgeview, Illinois (Chicago Area) Toyota Park
Columbus Crew Columbus, Ohio Columbus Crew Stadium
D.C. United Washington, D.C. RFK Stadium
Kansas City Wizards Kansas City, Missouri Arrowhead Stadium
New England Revolution Foxborough, Massachusetts (Boston Area) Gillette Stadium
Red Bull New York East Rutherford, New Jersey (New York City Area) Giants Stadium
Toronto FC Toronto, Ontario, Canada BMO Field
Western Conference
Team City/Area Stadium
C.D. Chivas USA Carson, California (Los Angeles Area) The Home Depot Center
Colorado Rapids Commerce City, Colorado (Denver Area) Dick's Sporting Goods Park
FC Dallas Frisco, Texas (Dallas Area) Pizza Hut Park
Houston Dynamo Houston, Texas Robertson Stadium
Los Angeles Galaxy Carson, California (Los Angeles Area) The Home Depot Center
Real Salt Lake Salt Lake City, Utah Rice-Eccles Stadium

[edit] Defunct teams

[edit] Past MLS Regular Season Champions and Runners-up

[edit] Past MLS Cup Championship games

Main article: MLS Cup

[edit] Notable players

 

[edit] Notable former players

   

[edit] MLS commissioners

[edit] MLS awards

[edit] Average attendances

[edit] Regular season/playoffs

  • 1996: 17,406/17,673
  • 1997: 14,619/16,015
  • 1998: 14,312/17,885
  • 1999: 14,282/16,339
  • 2000: 13,756/10,274
  • 2001: 14,961/11,805
  • 2002: 15,821/13,872
  • 2003: 14,899/13,776
  • 2004: 15,559/13,954
  • 2005: 15,108/14,390
  • 2006: 15,504/21,330

[edit] MLS Cup Attendance

  • 1996: 34,643
  • 1997: 57,431^
  • 1998: 51,350
  • 1999: 44,910
  • 2000: 39,159
  • 2001: 21,626^
  • 2002: 61,316^
  • 2003: 27,000^
  • 2004: 27,000^
  • 2005: 21,193^
  • 2006: 22,427^
  • All Time Average: 37,096

^=sell-out crowd

[edit] Sources

<references/>

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

Major League Soccer 2007

Eastern Conference
Chicago Fire | Columbus Crew | D.C. United
Kansas City Wizards | New England Revolution
Red Bull New York | Toronto FC

Western Conference
C.D. Chivas USA | Colorado Rapids
FC Dallas | Houston Dynamo
Los Angeles Galaxy | Real Salt Lake

Historical teams
Miami Fusion | San Jose Earthquakes | Tampa Bay Mutiny
Miscellaneous

MLS Cup | All-Star Game | USSF | CSA | Central Division | U.S. Open Cup 
Supporter's Shield | MLS two-team Cups | Current Players | Foreign Players | MLS Drafts | MLS Stadiums


Preceded by:
APSL
Division 1 Soccer League in the United States
1996-Present
Succeeded by:
Current League
Soccer in the United States}"> |
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National federation National Team: M, W Venues, (cap) List of clubs
League system SSS Champions History
Competitions in American Soccer
MLS USL First Division USL Second Division PDL
Super-20 MISL NPSL PCSL
Open Cup W-League WPSL Y-League
Soccer in Canada}"> |
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National Association National Team: M, W List of coaches List of clubs
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Competitions in Canadian Soccer
MLS USL First Division USL Second Division PDL
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Major League Soccer

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