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Major League Soccer

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Major League Soccer (MLS) is the top soccer league in the United States in the American Soccer Pyramid, sanctioned by the professional division of the United States Soccer Federation (USSF or U.S. Soccer), a member of Fdration Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).

The quality of play in MLS has improved since the league was founded in 1996 and the success of the United States Men's National Team in the FIFA World Cup 2002 Korea/Japan, reaching the quarterfinals for the first time since 1930, has been partly attributed to the experience gained by playing in MLS. Many of the members of the team at that World Cup were current or former MLS players.

Contents

History

MLS was formed on December 17, 1993, in fulfillment of U.S. Soccer's promise to FIFA to establish a "Division One" professional football 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 surprisingly 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).

Expansion and contraction

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 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. MLS is expected to expand by two new teams by the 2007 season, with one of those teams most likely being in Houston. Other expansion possibilites include Toronto, Seattle, and Milwaukee.

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. The Dallas Burn changed their name for the 2005 season to "FC Dallas". All the changes have reflected a rejection of flashy, "innovative" marketing-oriented monikers to more traditional names, reflecting the rich history soccer has in the United States and abroad.

Stadiums

When the league was started, most teams played in stadiums built specifically for NFL or NCAA (college) American football. However this is a considerable expense to the league, and 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".

The Miami Fusion played in Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which was a former high school stadium converted into a soccer-specific stadium. However, the Miami Fusion ceased operation in 2001 and Lockhart is no longer used by MLS for regular season matches. Currently, spring training practices and matches are conducted there on occasion.

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 formally 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) in Carson, California. In the first year of operation, the HDC hosted the MLS All Star Game, the 2003 Women's World Cup (including the championship final), and the 2003 MLS Cup Final. The Galaxy previously played at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. In 2005, expansion team Chivas USA joined the Galaxy as tenants at the HDC.

Also in August of 2005, FC Dallas will move to Pizza Hut Park, a new soccer-specific stadium in the 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, a 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 football lines and was unpopular with fans. In 2004 they returned to the Cotton Bowl and announced plans for the Frisco stadium.

Two teams, the New England Revolution and the Kansas City Wizards, are operated by the owners of their cities' respective NFL teams and use those teams' stadiums: Gillette Stadium and Arrowhead Stadium, respectively. The remaining teams rent stadiums to play in: Colorado Rapids play at Invesco Field, Chicago Fire play at Soldier Field, D.C. United play in Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, MetroStars play in Giants Stadium, Real Salt Lake play in Rice-Eccles Stadium at the University of Utah, and San Jose play in Spartan Stadium at San Jose State University.

While Soldier Field was undergoing renovations, the Chicago Fire played their 2002 and 2003 seasons 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 2004 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.

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 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. The winning team would get one point (as opposed to three for the regulation win), the losing team zero.

Unfortunately for MLS, the rule changes, especially the shootout, alienated more fans than they brought in. The hated tiebreaker was gone after the 1999 season. MLS experimented in settling tie games with golden goal overtime periods from 2000 to 2003 (the tie would stand if no team scored after ten minutes), but in 2004 dropped the extra session, turning to a more traditional model of letting ties stand.

Previous 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 legend Pel. 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, there was no major first division league in the United States until the formation of MLS.

American soccer leagues have not generally been considered to be successes, for a variety of reasons. Some blame the continual nature of soccer, with relatively few set plays, fixed positions, timeouts and goals, may make the sport seem dull to some Americans; others attribute failures to the low-scoring nature of the game; still others blame the perception of soccer as a "foreign" sport.

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. 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.

The full roster for each MLS team is limited to a maximum of 18 senior players, plus a maximum of ten roster-protected players. 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 U.S. Soccer 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.

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.

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 Matthus spent a forgettable year with the MetroStars, Mexican star Luis Hernndez 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. 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. 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, and Philip Salyer. 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.

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 attendance 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, both because of lack of popular minor league teams, and certain opposition from team owner/operators in top-level professional leagues, including MLS.

Current member teams

Eastern Conference

Western Conference

Defunct Teams

Past MLS Cup Championship games

Notable players

Notable former players

MLS Commissioners

MLS Awards

Average Attendance(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: 14,898/14,978
  • 2004: 15,559/13,954

See also

External links

Template:Major League Soccerpt:Major League Soccer sv:Major League Soccer de:Major League Soccer ja:アメリカプロサッカーリーグfr:Championnat des tats-Unis de football

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