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The Major League Soccer regular season begins in March and concludes in October. Each team will play 34 games comprised of 2 games (one home and one way) for each team within their division and one dame against each team from the other division. The team with the best record by points is awarded the Supporters’ Shieldtrophy.
Fourteen teams qualify for the MLS postseason which is, like most American professional sports an elimination bracket. The playoffs take place from October until November when the MLS Finals take place with the winner hoisting the MLS Cup. Like many European leagues, Continental Champions League places are also awarded, however the allocation process is unique because two nations are involved.
Teams in the United States:
A total of four berths are awarded; one for winning the Supporter’s Shield, one for the best finisher in the non-Supporter’s Shield winning division, the MLS Cup winner (if American), and the final slot going to the winner of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Teams in Canada:
Only one Champions League place is awarded to a Canadian club and that berth the winner of the Canadian Championship. If a Canadian team would get a berth through any of the U.S. qualification places it is simply given to the U.S. team with the next best record.
Note: A Canadian Premier League team can also qualify meaning that in some cases the total Canadian teams allotted rises to two.
The current version of Major League Soccer (MLS) arose from a condition from FIFA allowing the United States to host the 1994 World Cup. As a result, the United States Soccer Federation organized a top-tier professional soccer league which initially debuted under the name Major League Professional Soccer in 1993. Although, by 1995 the name was changed to Major League Soccer and it was established as a limited-liability corporation. Play began in 1996 with ten teams, and 9 of the original teams remain, the only exception being the Tampa Bay Mutiny.
The early renditions of the MLS were fraught with gimmicky-rules that were intended to draw in more American fans by making the game for faced paced, refusing to end games, among others. Although the inaugural season was quite successful, primarily because of the inclusion of notorious members of both the United States Men’s National Team and the Mexican National Team, the league’s success was fleeting. After the poor showing in the 1998 World Cup and the massive losses endured through the first five years (expected to be $250M or more), the league had trouble maintaining popularity. In 1998, the early growth of the league occurred adding the Chicago Fire and the Miami Fusion, however, shortly in 2002, the league announced it would return to 10 teams by folding the Tampa Bay Mutiny and the Miami Fusion. Soon after the first additions, the league changed from inaugural commissioner Doug Logan, to current Don Garber (who had NFL experience).
The 2002 World Cup saw United States soccer with a shock return to prominence as they made the quarterfinals and a subsequent historic showing at the 2002 MLS Cup (around 62,000 at the Patriot’s Gillette Stadium). Shortly after this, the MLS adopted standard international rules (as outlined by FIFA) and began the process of creating soccer-specific stadiums (as opposed to the half-empty behemoths they had been playing in up to this point). In 2005, the league expanded again adding Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA — while technically the San Jose team took a three-year break from competition. The Houston Dynamo expansion franchise would come in 2006 from this shuddering, although a club in San Jose would reappear in a few short years. The MLS foray into Canada would begin the next major phase of expansion with Toronto FC joining the fray in 2007, followed by the San Jose Earthquakes in 2008, Seattle Sounders FC in 2009, Philadelphia Union in 2010, a duo of teams in 2011 of the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps, and Montreal Impact in 2012.
The league would remain this size for only a few short years before adding Orlando City SC and New York City FC in 2015, Minnesota United and Atlanta United in 2017, Los Angeles FC in 2018, FC Cincinnati in 2019 and more to come in 2020 (Inter Miami FC and Nashville FC) and 2021 (Austin FC). As a result of rapid growth, the league was divided up into two major conferences which compete amongst each other, while visiting non-conference opponents as well.