Major League Soccer (MLS) is the highest level for professional football teams in the United States and Canada. The MLS concept was created in 1993 after FIFA requested that the United States establish a professional football league in order to host the 1994 World Cup, with the first season taking place in 1996. At this present moment, the MLS is occupied by nineteen teams, sixteen from USA, and three from Canada.
The nineteen teams that compete in the MLS are split in to two divisional conferences, Eastern (10) and Western (9), with the top five teams in both qualifying for the MLS Cup knockout rounds. After deciding the conference champions through the knockout stages, the two conference winners play a Cup final to decide the MLS Cup champion, which is currently held by Sporting Kansas City.
Each team is required to play thirty four games over the conference season. Alongside the MLS Cup, the Supporters Shield is a trophy that is decided once both the Eastern and Western conferences have completed their league stage. Both league tables are then compiled together to find out the overall winner of the league standings. New York Red Bulls are the 2013 champions.
The MLS has grown enormously in popularity outside of the States in the past few years, with more and more teams becoming household names. This has been helped by the likes of David Beckham moving to LA Galaxy in 2007, and Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill transferring to New York Red Bulls. DC United became familiar with some after wonderkid Freddy Adu made his debut at the age of 14 in 2004. However, Adu did not live up to the potential that many saw in him, and is currently now a free agent after being released by Brazilian side Bahia in 2013.
The nineteen team league will become twenty one in 2015, when New York City FC and Orlando City SC enter the MLS.
Bruce Arena is the eldest of those managing in the MLS, at 62. Arena is currently in charge at LA Galaxy and has been since 2008, winning two MLS Cups, two Supporters’ Shields, and three Western Conference titles in his time at the club. The American was in charge of DC United during the first two seasons of the MLS before taking the role as head coach of the national side and guiding them to both the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.
Former Ipswich Town defender and Canadian Frank Yallop became the head coach of Chicago Fire in 2013 after leaving San Jose by mutual consent in October. Yallop spent time in charge of the Canadian national team from 2004 to 2006 but was unable to qualify for the 2006 World Cup.
Mike Petke is the man behind New York Red Bulls’ 2013 Supporters’ Shield success in his first season in charge. The 37 year old American played for Red Bulls between 2008 and 2010, having had previous spells at Colorado Rapids, DC United, and MetroStars (now New York Red Bulls).
Former Blackburn Rovers defender Ryan Nelson and ex-Wolves and Norwich City midfielder Carl Robinson both made the decision to go in to management in the United States in 2013. Nelson, who retired from professional football in January 2013, joined Toronto in pre-season and took the side to 9th in the Eastern Conference. Robinson, on the other hand, was only announced as manager of Vancouver Whitecaps in December 2013 after Scotsman Martin Rennie was sacked in October. Vancouver finished 7th in the Western Conference, despite only being nine points behind the overall winners Portland Timbers.
USA’s Current Crop
21 year old forward Juan Agudelo has had a difficult start to his MLS career since making his debut for the New York Red Bulls in 2010. A knee injury forced Red Bulls to trade the striker to Chivas USA in 2012 but he couldn’t help them off the bottom of the Western Conference, which is where they finished. Agudelo switched allegiances to New England Revolution in May 2013 and quickly attracted the interest of Stoke City, but was unable to gain a work permit ahead of a proposed move in 2014.
Luis Gil of Real Salt Lake has caught the attention of a couple of Europe’s elite since coming on to the scene as a 17 year old. The small, tricky midfielder has been impressive for Salt Lake and the US youth sides during his time as a professional and featured in the 2013 FIFA Under 20 World Cup for the States, scoring the goal of the tournament against Spain.
Premier League fans might remember…
Once considered a future England International, former Derby County product Giles Barnes is now on the books of Houston Dynamo. After four years at the Rams, Barnes spent time at Fulham and West Brom before being released from The Hawthorns. After a season at Doncaster Rovers, the midfielder moved to Houston in August 2012 making thirty three appearances so far.
Mikael Silvestre signed for Portland Timbers in the 2013 pre-season after spending time in Germany at Werder Bremen. The former Manchester United and Arsenal defender signed a two year contract at Portland but only made eight appearances before injury ruled him out for the rest of the season.