Major League Soccer (MLS) was founded in 1993 by Lamar Hunt, Alan Rothenberg, and Philip Anschutz. The league had its first season in 1996, playing in large, American football stadiums. That first year the MLS fielded 10 teams. Previous attempts at establishing a top-level soccer league in the United States and Canada included the North American Soccer League (NASL) which was in existence from 1968 through 1984. The original ten franchises for the MLS included:
- The Colorado Rapids
- Columbus Crew
- Dallas Burn
- D.C. United
- Kansas City Wiz
- Los Angeles Galaxy
- NY/NJ MetroStars
- New England Revolution
- San Jose Clash
- Tampa Bay Mutiny
The league soon struggled, and the first few years saw games played in front of small crowds. The league was able to stay afloat by adding two expansion teams in 1998, including the Miami Fusion and the Chicago Fire. Financial problems persisted however, and the league folded two teams in 2002, the three year old Miami franchise along with the Tampa Bay Mutiny. In this period, the league did make some important strides, including having the nation’s first soccer specific stadium built for the Columbus Crew in 1999. This would become an important aspect of the leagues growth in the future. By 2008, most of the teams in the MLS were playing in their own soccer specific stadiums.
In 2005, the league attempted expansion again, adding teams in Salt Lake City and a second franchise in Los Angeles. In 2006, the San Jose franchise became the Houston Dynamo, with the San Jose Earthquakes being re-established in 2008.
The league expanded to Toronto 2007, Seattle in 2009, and Philadelphia in 2010. In 2011, the league added teams in Vancouver and Portland. By that year, the league was drawing an average of almost 18,000 fans per game, exceeding the average of the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League. In 2012, Montreal became the league’s 19th franchise.
Growth has continued, with the MLS adding New York City FC and Orlando City Soccer as new franchises to begin play in 2015. A team awarded to Atlanta will begin play in 2017. A team is also expected to play in Miami but its start date has not been announced.