Here at MLS Multiplex we want to do all we can in order to grow the game here in the states, and throughout the world. So, as our own Adam suggested, let’s do a series of pieces leading up to the season. In this piece I will detail the origins of Major League Soccer, and how its grown since the beginning.
Soccer in America dates way back to the old North American Soccer League days. In early 1967 the United Soccer Association emerged from European and South American teams, along with the National Professional Soccer League. In December 1967, the two leagues merged to create the NASL. Many attribute the need for an American soccer league to England winning the 1966 World Cup, however.
So, in 1968 the NASL began play with 17 teams, using the one level pyramid with no relegation or promotion. Teams were made up of mainly foreign players, which resulted in high salaries and many teams losing money. These factors combined with poor attendance created many rule changes, including the shootout. These changes gave us the glory days of the NASL in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when players like Pele were in the league. The Cosmos were dominant, and attendance was skyrocketed. However, this all came crashing down in 1984 when the NASL had to fold. After expansion to 24 teams, the league could not handle the extra pressure and went bankrupt.
Fast forward to June 4, 1988, and the US bid to host the 1994 World Cup. FIFA awarded the US with the World Cup, based on the pledge to create a top division professional soccer league in America. Thus, Major League Soccer was technically born. After the USA’s break out performance at the World Cup, soccer was at a new high point in America. So, in February 1995 Major League Soccer was officially born (as a limited liability company.)
The inaugural MLS season began in 1996 with ten teams, which were Columbus, DC, New England, Metro Stars, Tampa, Colorado, Dallas, KC, LA, and San Jose. The league was fueled by the popularity of USA stars like Alexi Lalas, Tony Meola, and Eric Wynalda. The early years belonged to Bruce Arena and DC United. Arena led DC to 3 MLS Cups in the first 4 years of the league. However, in 1998 MLS added Chicago, and Miami which gave the league 12 teams. And the Chicago Fire became the first team besides DC to win the MLS Cup.
The first few years were not without issues though, In 1996 the case of Fraser v Major League Soccer emerged. The case, which was started by 8 MLS players, said MLS and the USSF were unlawfully devaluing the players by providing small salaries in order to create a monopoly on professional soccer. The case was decided in 2002, and ruled MLS was not devaluing its players.
In 1999 Don Garber became the new commissioner for MLS, and the first soccer specific stadium in America was built for the Columbus Crew. In the early 2000s, stars like Landon Donovan, and Brian McBride emerged from MLS. After the remarkable run at the 2002 World Cup, MLS was officially on the world map. The league came into its own after the use of shootouts, and golden goal overtime periods was abolished. And into the mid to late 2000s, an influx of MLS stars became household names in England and other parts of Europe, such as Clint Dempsey and Carlos Bocanegra.
The league has grown tremendously since 1995, and is now thriving. Attendance rivals that of the NBA; while the league incorporates a mix of American standouts with foreign stars. Major League Soccer is smartly expanding, with clubs like Manchester City and owners like David Beckham. The best has yet to come for MLS and soccer in America.