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Major League Soccer (MLS) is the United States' and Canada's top-tier professional Soccer league. Its predecessor league, the North American Soccer League (NASL) went out of business in 1984. MLS was founded in 1993 as a condition FIFA imposed on the US Soccer federation in exchange for allowing the United States to host the 1994 World Cup. MLS operates more like the other North American professional sports leagues. Unlike other Association Football leagues in the world it currently does not have a relegation/promotion system. Each of the teams in the league are franchises granted by the league, as opposed to being completely individual entities like their European counterparts. MLS also relies on an American-style playoff format to determine its championship. It has 19 teams, 16 in the U.S. and three in Canada.
A regular MLS Season is played in a double round robin format, with all 19 teams playing 34 regular-season games. The standings are determined by the standard FIFA point system, with a win equal to 3 points, a draw with 1 point, and none for a loss. At the end of the regular season, the team with most points wins the Supporter's Shield trophy, and gains the number 1 seed at the playoffs.
The 2 top teams in each conference (including of course the regular season champion) are automatically guaranteed a spot in the MLS Playoffs, then the last 4 slots are allotted to the next 4 teams with the best regular season record, regardless of conference. This may cause a bit of a Mind Screw for spectators, especially when teams from a conference dominate the last 4 standings. (This makes it possible for a Western Conference team to play in the Eastern Conference playoffs and vice-versa, making the whole concept of conferences pointless.) The quarterfinals of the postseason are two games each, with the team garnering higher aggregate goals advancing to the semifinals (or the Conference Finals, if the competing teams came from the same conference), where the conference winners will play for the MLS Cup. For the Semifinals and Finals however, only one game is played, in the case of ties, the game will go on to extra time, if it still fails to settle the score, penalty kicks will be utilized.
The league is divided into the Eastern and Western Conferences. Though team names originally followed the American convention of [City] [Nickname], many teams have switched to European-style names (Ex: The Kansas City Wizards are now Sporting Kansas City), or a hybrid of the two (Ex: "Seattle Sounders FC"). Many teams, especially those brought into the league in the last few years, are reincarnations of teams from lower-tier national leagues such as the USL and NASL (Ex: Portland Timbers). Officially, such teams are disbanded and the new team formed with the same management, and staff, but they generally acknowledge continuity with the prior franchise for record-keeping purposes.
Eastern Conference teams
- Chicago Fire
- Columbus Crew
- D.C. United - the most decorated MLS club, with 4 MLS Cups and 4 Supporters' Shields. One of the founding members of MLS, the name "United" was adapted from English club names (like Manchester United and Leeds United) and is a reflection of Washington D.C.'s status as the capital of the United States. For most of the early years of MLS, D.C. United had the only European-style name.
- Houston Dynamo - originally the San Jose Clash/Earthquakes, which moved to Houston due to stadium issues in the San Jose area. Originally named "Houston 1836" to reflect the year Houston was founded and to have a European-style name along the lines of Schalke 06. However, the name displeased the Hispanic community in Houston, who related 1836 with the war for Texas independence. "Dynamo" comes from Houston's energy industry and many former Soviet Union-era clubs such as Dynamo Moscow.
- Montreal Impact
- New England Revolution
- New York Red Bulls - the only MLS team to have their sponsor included in the team name. Current team of Thierry Henry.
- Philadelphia Union
- Sporting Kansas City - formerly the Kansas City Wizards, they adapted the "Sporting" name in association with European Club names. Won the MLS Cup and the Supporters' Shield in 2000, as well as the US Cup in 2004. Most notable for defeating Manchester United in a friendly on July 25, 2010. Their home stadium is in Kansas City, Kansas, whereas most franchises in the Kansas City area play their home games in Kansas City, Missouri (which is the larger of the two).
- Toronto FC
Western Conference teams
- CD Chivas USA - under the same ownership with its parent club, the Mexican team Club Deportivo Guadalajara, whose nickname is "Chivas" (Spanish for goat). It regarded by both Guadalajara and Chivas USA fans as the B-team of CD Guadalajara, making the former the only football club in the world with a reserves team playing in another country in another league.
- Colorado Rapids
- FC Dallas - formerly the Dallas Burn, they changed their name upon transferring to a soccer-specific ground, Pizza Hut Park in 2005.
- Los Angeles Galaxy - Current MLS Cup and Supporters' Shield Champions, they are the second most decorated club after D.C. United. Made big news in 2007 by signing David Beckham. Current team of Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane.
- Portland Timbers - Joined the league in 2011, replacing the United Soccer Leagues team of the same name.
- Real Salt Lake - based on Utah, the "Real" in it's name is meant to associate themselves with Real Madrid as well as having a European-sounding name. It was not until 2006 when Real Salt Lake and the Los Blancos established a mutual partnership, with RSL and Real Madrid meeting twice a year for a friendly (one at home and one away), the training of RSL players at Santiago Bernabeu, and the establishment of a Real Madrid youth academo in Salt Lake City.
- San Jose Earthquakes - an expansion team that replaced the original Earthquakes a year after they moved to Houston. They played some of their better-drawing games in Oakland due to the stadium issues that were still present. However, they will soon have a new stadium thanks to the vote going their way in a recent voter referendum.
- Seattle Sounders FC - Joined the league in 2009. Has had a good run in the league so far, leading the league in ticket sales each year and winning the U.S. Open Cup three years in a row. Partially owned by comedian and game-show host Drew Carey.
- Vancouver Whitecaps FC - Began MLS play in 2011, having also played in the USL with Seattle and Portland. The second Canadian team, along with Toronto and soon to be joined by Montreal.
As in any league, rivalries exist between teams. Many arise on their own, whether based on the teams' shared history (such as New York-DC, two of the league's founding teams) or geographic proximity (LA-Chivas or such as Seattle-Portland-Vancouver). Others, were deliberately created by teams under common ownership (Dallas-Columbus) or other unconventional premises (Columbus-Toronto, whose Trillium Cup competition began with a bet between the two cities' mayors, and is named for the official flower of both Ohio and Ontario).
Many such rivalries are officially recognized by the teams and have been assigned a trophy. While most such contests award the conventional plaque or cup, the Texas Derby awards possession of an 18th century cannon. The Other Wiki has plenty of information on recognized MLS rivalries.