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The Inception and Evolution of Major League Soccer in Its 26-Year Tenure

Source: Sven Kucinic on Unsplash

European football (otherwise known as soccer in the United States) is among the most popular sports to sweep the world. With multiple leagues in many countries, competitions are held on an annual basis to promote the joys of the sport. However, every coach and player’s highlight is the FIFA World Cup, as it invites international teams to compete for the top spot. Because it occurs every four years, the association gets together to discuss potential venues. In the ’90s, the World Cup was held in the United States. The hosting decision paved the way for the modern league, Major League Soccer.

While soccer has been around for a long time, the sport’s popularity usually spikes when the World Cup starts looming around the corner. In the United States, its popularity reached great heights following the announcement that the country would be hosting the event for 1998. However, to gain the rights to hosting, the national organization had to establish a Division 1 professional league, leading to Major League Professional Soccer (which acted as the precursor to the MLS). 

Before the inception of MLS, there had only been two professional Division 1 leagues in the United States and Canada called the American Football Association and the National American Soccer League. Each league faltered due to their low attendance. The prospect of hosting a national sports event sparked an interest in soccer that brought hope to the latest league in the country. Fortunately, the league attracted some of the country’s top athletes and even foreign players.

Major League Soccer started with ten teams in 1994, allocating four marquee players across the first ten squads. Despite the World Cup’s success, most of the teams struggled as attendance continued to plague the sport, coupled with a recurring revenue issue. To pique viewers’ interest, the league made a couple of rule changes to break the deadlock in tie games and added two more teams in ’97. When the World Cup arrived, the national team was quickly eliminated, marking the first signs of the league’s downfalls. They suffered more when the international players decided to leave. 

As the 2000s rolled in, the league continued toward a shutdown, losing millions in its first years of operation. Additionally, two teams were forced to fold. However, the 2002 World Cup hosted by South Korea and Japan led to a shift in the winds. The United States national team managed to do the unthinkable and knock out Portugal and Mexico, advancing to the quarterfinals. Although they lost, Major League Soccer finally started picking up. 

The MLS Cup, the association’s championship game, was met with crowds filling arenas as the 2002 finals recorded the then-largest attendance in its history. The league continued to rise as megastars started attracting more audiences. Freddy Adu, a promising young player, helped usher in a new era in the league. By 2007, English superstar David Beckham penned a deal with Los Angeles Galaxy, making the switch from European giants Real Madrid. His arrival started a trend that appealed to other stars, prompting French superstar Thierry Henry to join the New York Red Bulls. Over the years, more teams began joining the league.

Since then, Major League Soccer has become the premier league in the country, with more superstars following Beckham’s footsteps, adding prestige to the sport and sparking interest across the nation. Today, Beckham is the owner of Inter Miami FC, helping the league continue its growth.


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