Professional soccer leagues in USA

March 13, 2021 0 By Ibiye Ambille

The United States unlike other countries in the world has its first top-three divisions fully professional.


The only thing which separates the Leagues from each other in the U.S Soccer Federation license distinguishing every league.


The article highlights the various Professional Soccer Leagues in the United States of America.


1. Major League Soccer (MLS)


The Major League Soccer abbreviated for short as MLS is the highest men, professional Soccer league, in the United States with teams competing from nneighbouring Canada.


Founded in 1993 with over 27 teams, the league has continued to dominate the market share in North, Central and Latin America only to fall behind the likes of Mexican Liga MX, Argentina Primera Division and the Brazilian Serie A.


The first inaugural season was held in 1996 despite its establishment in 1993.

Level: 1

Teams: USA (majority) and Canada (Minority)

Structure: Franchise

Format: Double round robin and conference playoffs (Eastern Conference and Western Conference


The league has 24 teams from The USA and 4 teams from Canada and it is expected to expand to 30 teams from 2023.



The league awards titles although the winner of the league is always credited to the winner of the MLS Cup winner.


The main attraction in the league is the MLS Cup playoffs which comes up at the end of the regular season.

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The team with the most point at the end of the league is crowned the Supporters Shield.


Difference between The MLS Cup and the Supporters Shield


MLS Cup: At the end of the regular season, the team that eventually wins the playoffs are crowned Champions.


Teams are selected as per standings on the league table from the Eastern and Western Conference.


Supporters Shield The team that finishes top with most points at the end of the normal regular-season games.


As per an article by Bleacher Report, the Supporters Shield winner should be regarded as the true league winner.


The league was created to aid the bidding process for the 1994 FIFA World Cup.


2. USL Championship – United Soccer League Championship


The USL Championship league is the second tier Soccer competition in the united states after the major league Soccer with 31 teams with its inaugural season in 2011 despite its establishment in 2010.


Level: 2

Teams: 31

Format: Franchise


The Major League Soccer and the USL Championship league body had a major deal which is expected to integrate Reserve Teams of MLS clubs in the USL Championship to enable the development of players at a professional level.

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This move was aimed at quality player development for the United States men’s soccer teams from the youth level to the senior national team.


With the high influx of foreigners into the MLS, the USL Championship appeared to be the homegrown league for US Soccer players.


The league is also divided into two conferences following the regular season and end of season USL Championship cup playoffs to determine the league winner for the season.


Teams (2021):

Eastern Conference

Atlanta United FC, Chicago Fire FC, FC Cincinnati, Columbus Crew SC, D.C. 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.


Western Conference

Austin FC, Colorado Rapids, FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo FC, Sporting Kansas City, LA Galaxy, Los Angeles FC, Minnesota United FC, Portland Timbers, Real Salt Lake, San Jose Earthquakes, Seattle Sounders FC, Vancouver Whitecaps FC



3. USL League One and National Independent Soccer Association (NISA)


USL League One


The USL Championship League One is a professional league played by teams from the United States and Canada and is regarded as the third tier Soccer competition in the country.

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Founded in 2017, the league is aimed at expanding professional Soccer across minor US Cities with no professional Soccer team and with a population of about one million.


Level: 3

Teams: The united States and Canada


Just like the MLS and the USL Championship, the league runs a franchise system with no relegation or promotion.


Each team in every division is fully professional.



Teams (2021): Chattanooga Red Wolves SC, Fort Lauderdale CF, Forward Madison FC, Greenville Triumph SC, New England Revolution II, North Carolina FC, North Texas SC, Union Omaha, Richmond Kickers, South Georgia Tormenta FC, Toronto FC II, FC Tucson.



National Independent Soccer Association (NISA)


The National Independent Soccer Association is ma en’s professional Soccer competition in the united states founded in 2017 and is a third-tier league in the country alongside the USL League One.



As the name implies, it is an independent competition targeted at 10 to 12 teams.


Team (2021): California United Strikers FC, Chattanooga FC, Detroit City FC, Los Angeles Force, Maryland Bobcats FC, Michigan Stars FC, New Amsterdam FC, San Diego 1904 FC, Stumptown AC.


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