Highlighting every Major League Soccer Expansion team from 1996 to 2022 and the future teams from 2023 and beyond.
The MLS has been subject to expansion due to the gains made over the years. The league has been structured to allow every participating club to thrive and profit.
Unlike in the early years of the competition when some teams had to fold up, the league is more lucrative today than it was before.
About the MLS the Expansion
The reason for Major League Soccer to expand for more teams to come in is to create a levelled playing ground for every professional soccer club in the United States and Canada.
Since the league began to play in 1996, the expansion has occurred several times and moved into new markets like Canada.
The inaugural season of the competition, which began in 1996, only featured ten teams. The first two MLS expansion teams were the Chicago Fire SC and Miami Fusion.
Are new teams on the block for the 2022 season?
From the 2022 season, Charlotte FC will compete in the league as the newest team of the division.
The Charlotte-based club would compete as a member of the Eastern Conference. The club was awarded the franchise slot on December 17, 2019.
ALSO READ: All MLS teams for the 2022 season
Proposed expansion plans for the future
There are plans to expand the number of teams to 32 or more from 2023 and beyond. Teams like St. Louis City, SC, could be part of the league from 2023 or subsequent seasons.
MLS expansion plans for Detroit, Sacramento with Sacramento Republic FC and Las Vegas.
MLS expansion teams delayed? Sacramento Republic FC addition was delayed and put on indefinite hold. Other postponed teams, like Charlotte FC and St. Louis City SC, will debut in 2022 and 2023, respectively.
Why does Major League Soccer focus on expansion?
The goal to shift the focus on Europe towards the North American continent remains on the mind of the organisers of the league, who sought to make the MLS one of the top leagues in the world by 2022.
Also, the need to increase the national reach of the division to become the number one sport and increase the money accrued from Television broadcast rights has been behind the focus.
The criteria for approving teams
Before any team can compete, it must meet the most basic requirements such as decent financial wherewithal, decent soccer stadium, and potential market reach.
Here’s the breakdown
- Club owners interested in the franchise would commit to MLS with the zeal to invest in a team.
- Teams must have a soccer-specific stadium and have complete control of ownership as a means that would encourage revenue generation for the club and the league.
- The metropolitan area market size. Any team interested in the MLS should be in a large market capable of improving their standard.
- A local fan base or club culture would attract fans across the metropolitan area.
The league is purely business, just as the Premier League in England has repositioned itself to be a global brand.
All MLS Expansion teams from 1996 to 2022
1. St. Louis City SC (2023)
Full name: St. Louis City Soccer Club
City: St. Louis
St. Louis City SC is an expansion franchise scheduled to play in 2023.
The MLS chiefs turned down the club’s initial bid because it lacked many areas as stipulated in the requirements for any team.
ALSO READ: All-time best MLS teams ranked
Approval date: On August 20, 2019, it was announced the league had approved St. Louis as the league’s 28th franchise. The club was initially scheduled to play in the league from the 2022 season.
2. Charlotte FC – (2022)
Full name: Charlotte Football Club
City: Charlotte, North Carolina.
Charlotte Football Club is the newest team set to debut in the league in the 2022 season.
Based in North Carolina, the club was awarded the expansion franchise on December 17, 2019. Charlotte was also a destination for the league in the inaugural season but was not awarded.
Between 1996 and 1998, the city was a potential destination for the first expansion franchise but was not awarded and was passed over to other cities.
3. Austin FC – (2021)
Full name: Austin Football Club
City: Austin, Texas.
Austin FC became the 27th team in Major League Soccer when it debuted in 2021.
Austin Football Club based in Austin competes in Major League Soccer as a member of the Western Conference. The club was founded in 2018.
Austin FC is the only Texas-based professional soccer team in the MLS since Austin Aztex FC moved to Orlando in 2008 and eventually became Orlando City Soccer Club.
In late 2018, the owners began the remodelling of the club, which included the unveiling of its badge, agreement for the construction of a new soccer-specific stadium and a bid to join the MLS formally.
4. Nashville SC – (2020)
Full name: Nashville Soccer Club
City: Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville SC, based in Nashville, Tennessee, began to play in the league in 2020 as a member of the Eastern Conference.
The club was awarded the MLS franchise to continue the USL club of the same name. Preparations for a bid to be part of the Major League Soccer began in 2014 as board members met to raise funds to develop an MLS standard stadium.
Three years after the board met on raising funds for the stadium, the group unveiled their plans for a $275 million stadium and redevelopment.
The club made an official bid in 2017, which was confirmed in December of an expansion slot in 2020.
5. Inter Miami CF – (2020)
Full name: Club Internacional de Fútbol Miami
City: Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The club currently competes in the MLS as a member of the Eastern Conference. Club Internacional de Fútbol Miami, Inter Miami CF or simply Inter Miami, based in Fort Lauderdale, began to play in Major League Soccer in 2020.
The club led by former Los Angeles Galaxy forward and Manchester United legend David Beckham was officially awarded an MLS slot after a long wait.
Since Miami Fusion folded following the 2001 season, Miami has been without an MLS team which could have ignited the renewed interest by MLS MLS commissioner Don Garber.
However, when the idea of David Beckham’s interest on an MLS franchise team, the league body held discussions that included Miami as a target.
Beckham’s ability to negotiate a franchise in the league resulted from the agreement that was in place when he signed for Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007.
6. FC Cincinnati – (2019)
FC Cincinnati, based in Cincinnati, Ohio, began to play the MLS as a member of the Eastern Conference.
FC Cincinnati succeeded the USL Championship team of the same name.
In 2018, the MLS awarded an expansion franchise to Cincinnati, and in 2019, the club began to play in the league.
7. Los Angeles FC – (2018)
Ever since Chivas USA, owned by Mexican soccer giants Chivas Guadalajara, was dissolved, Los Angeles was left with a single team in the MLS.
In October 2014, plans for the replacement of the already defunct Chivas USA slot in the league was revealed two months after the dissolution was officially confirmed.
A year after, the idea was made a working plan with an official name that shows the city’s true identity.
With the formation of the Los Angeles Football Club, the city would have two teams in the top flight along with Los Angeles Galaxy. The team began to play in 2018.
8. Minnesota United FC – (2017)
Since its formation, Minnesota has had no professional soccer team in Major League Soccer.
On April 16, 2014, the league announced it would award an expansion slot to Minnesota, and play was expected to begin in 2016.
Minnesota United officially began to play in the Major League Soccer in 2017 as a member of the Western Conference.
9. Atlanta United FC – (2017)
Atlanta United currently competes in Major League Soccer (MLS) as a member of the Eastern Conference as an expansion team.
Atlanta United began to play as an MLS expansion team in 2017 and is the first Atalanta based club in the league.
The club initially submitted a bid for an expansion franchise in 2008. The bid was later withdrawn in 2009, citing state and local government budget shortfalls.
In 2014, it was announced that MLS had awarded an expansion franchise to the club owners.
10. Orlando City SC – (2015)
In 2008, Austin Aztex FC moved to Orlando eventually became Orlando City Soccer Club.
In 2010, Orlando City SC announced its intentions of joining Major League Soccer.
A meeting between MLS commissioner Don Garber and Orlando City investors was successful, leading to the purchase of downtown land to build a $110 million MLS soccer stadium.
In November 2019, it was officially confirmed the approval of Orlando City SC bid to be part of the MLS, and in 2015, the club began to play in the league.
11. New York City FC – (2015)
New York City FC is owned by Manchester City owners City Football Group and Yankee Global Enterprises.
The club competes in Major League Soccer (MLS) as a member of the league’s Eastern Conference. New York City FC debuted the league in 2015 and Orlando City SC.
It was announced that the league’s 20th team could be situated in New York, thereby increasing the number of units in the New York area since New York Red Bulls was the only team competing at the highest level of soccer in the country.
In 2013, the official announcement for the award of the expansion slot to City Football Group and Yankee Global Enterprises was announced.
Chivas USA Dissolution
Following the 2014 MLS season, Chivas USA was dissolved after the MLS bought the franchise from the original owners Chivas Guadalajara of the Mexican Liga MX.
With the dissolution already confirmed, a new team in Los Angeles FC was initiated.
12. CF Montréal, formerly Montreal Impact – (2012)
CF Montréal became the third Canadian soccer team after Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps to join the MLS franchise.
In a bid to further expand to other Canadian cities following successful moves in Toronto and Vancouver, the Major League Soccer board considered the city as the next destination.
Although the plans for the city began in the inaugural season of 1996, the planning was only in stages.
In 2010, an official announcement was made regarding the Canadian-based franchise’s approval.
The club currently competes in the MLS as a member of the Eastern Conference as CF Montréal, although it was registered initially as Montreal Impact. CF Montréal began to play in 2012.
13. Portland Timbers – (2011)
Portland Timbers’s intentions to join the league in 2008 was fruitful as it was only a matter of time for the final appointment to be made.
To further push for approval by the MLS board, the club owners quickly renovated PGE Park.
MLS commissioner Don Garber confirmed the following year the approval of Portland Timbers as a member of the Major League Soccer.
Three years after the plans for an expansion was made, the club finally debuted the league in 2011. Portland Timbers competes as a member club of the league’s Western Conference.
14. Vancouver Whitecaps FC – (2011)
Vancouver Whitecaps became the second Canadian soccer team to be admitted.
Led by local businessman Greg Kerfoot, the bid for an expansion franchise in Vancouver was lauded by the league’s commissioner as one of the best he’d ever seen.
In 2009, it was officially confirmed the decision to award the franchise slot to the team.
15. Philadelphia Union – (2010)
With Major League Soccer gradually becoming a significant force in the country, it became a concern the absence of a professional soccer team in Philadelphia which is the largest metropolitan area.
On February 28, 2008, the league officially announced that a franchise would be awarded to Philadelphia.
The desire to bring an MLS franchise team to Philadelphia could be attributed to the intense passion of fans for a team in the largest metropolitan area.
In 2009, the new franchise team was named after the metropolitan area, and in 2010, the club began playing 2010 as an expansion team.
Philadelphia Union currently competes in the MLS as a member of the Eastern Conference.
16. Seattle Sounders FC – (2019)
The fan buzz for a soccer team in Seattle pushed for the creation of Seattle Sounders.
The MLS awarded the franchise to Seattle, and following the push for a franchise in the city, the club was named after it.
The Sounders based in Phoenix began to play in the league in 2009 as an MLS expansion team competing as a member of the Western Conference.
The club could have been part of the MLS inaugural season, but it was not included. Thistle may not be unrelated to the presence of the old American Professional Soccer League side Sounders, which thwarted establishing an MLS team in Seattle.
17. San Jose Earthquakes – (2008)
San Jose Earthquakes were among the original MLS founders who went on hiatus then as San Jose Clash.
But following the revival of the club under new ownership in 2007, it was approved as an expansion team that began to play in 2008.
18. Toronto FC – (2007)
As part of plans to expand the new soccer franchise to Canadian cities, Major League Soccer announced the approval of an expansion franchise in Toronto to Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment.
The approval was justified following the heavy investment by the Toronto City Council, which had previously approved $9.8 million in funding for a $62.8-million stadium.
The rest of the funding for the new soccer-specific stadium was from Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, the federal government, and the provincial government.
Toronto FC currently competes in the MLS as a member of the Eastern Conference. The club began to play in the franchise in 2007 and was the first Canadian soccer team to participate in the MLS.
19. Houston Dynamo – (2006)
San Jose Clash was forced to go on hiatus due to the failure on their part to provide a soccer-specific stadium as part of requirements set by the MLS.
This led to the transition to an expansion team in Houston, which began to play as Houston Dynamo.
The club played its first season in the league in 2006 as a member of the Western Conference.
20. Chivas USA – (2005)
It was announced the decision to expand the MLS further and also increased the number of teams from the Los Angeles area based on the demand to grow US soccer in general.
The MLS awarded the new franchise to Chivas USA, partly owned by Mexican soccer club Chivas Guadalajara owner Jorge Vergara in 2014.
The team began to play in the league in 2005 as a member of the Western Conference until its dissolution in 2014.
21. Real Salt Lake – (2005)
As part of plans to further strengthen the Major League Soccer following the gains recorded by the US Men’s National Team in the FIFA World Cup hosted in the country, more teams were projected, which included Salt Lake City.
Real Salt Lake was established in 2004 and was awarded the franchise slot for the following season.
The club debuted Major League Soccer in 2004.
The Major League Soccer expanded to include two new teams, bringing the total number of units to twelve.
23. Chicago Fire FC (1998), formerly Chicago Fire SC
Chicago Fire FC was the first MLS expansion team to play in 1998.
22. Miami Fusion – (1998)
Miami Fusion and Chicago Fire FC were the first two MLS expansion teams. The club, however, folded after four seasons in the league.
Benefits of the expansion
The expansion would open up more windows of revenue generation for both participating teams and the league organisers.
The expansion would increase television coverage and competition throughout the league.
As the MLS set the target to become one of the most significant soccer leagues globally, more steps would be mapped out to ensure it becomes a reality.
About the MLS
Major League Soccer is the top tier professional soccer league in the United States and Canada.
The league is subdivided into Eastern and Western Conference with over 28 teams with further plans to increase the number.
List of teams in the MLS
Atlanta United FC, Chicago Fire FC, FC Cincinnati, Columbus Crew, DC United, Inter Miami CF, CF Montréal.
Nashville SC, New England Revolution, New York City FC, New York Red Bulls, Orlando City SC, Philadelphia Union, Toronto FC.
Austin FC, Colorado Rapids, Houston Dynamo, FC Dallas, Sporting Kansas City, LA Galaxy, Los Angeles FC.
Minnesota United, Portland Timbers, Real Salt Lake, San Jose Earthquakes, Seattle Sounders, Vancouver Whitecaps FC
The MLS expansion teams have helped increase competition, popularity and revenue generation.
Clubs should be empowered to provide a levelled playing ground through which the league can achieve the set target.
The explosion of the Premier League, La Liga and Bundesliga is proper finding, standard infrastructure, heavy investment and proper regulations.