Ranking Every Major League Soccer Expansion Team
Major League Soccer first began back in 1996. Since then, numerous expansion teams have come and gone over the years.
The inaugural MLS season is comprised of ten clubs – the founding members of the league. Before we go any further, let’s remind ourselves of the ten original Major League Soccer teams.
- Columbus Crew
- DC United
- New England Revolution
- New York/New Jersey MetroStars (Now New York Red Bulls)
- Tampa Bay Mutiny (Defunct)
- Colorado Rapids
- Dallas Burn (Now FC Dallas)
- Kansas City Wiz (Now Sporting Kansas City)
- Los Angeles Galaxy
- San Jose Clash (Now San Jose Earthquakes)
Due to multiple expansions, there are now 27 sides competing in North America’s premier division. The league plans to grow to 30 teams by 2023, with Charlotte, Sacramento, and St. Louis set to join.
With the league continuing to grow, I thought it would be fun to look back at the best and worst MLS expansion teams and rank them based on their achievements.
Let’s start with the worst sides before working our way up to the best expansion teams in Major League Soccer history.
17. FC Cincinnati
As you will discover later in this piece, some MLS expansion teams join the league and make an immediate impact. Unfortunately, that is not the case for FC Cincinnati.
The Orange & Blue entered Major League Soccer in 2019 and managed to pick up just ten wins in 57 games across their first two seasons – finishing rock bottom of the overall standings on both occasions.
In fact, their woeful 2020 campaign makes them one of the worst teams in MLS history.
Granted, it is still early days for the club. But as the Ohio outfit heads towards a third consecutive last-place finish, few would argue that Cincy isn’t the worst expansion team in MLS history.
16. Austin FC
I know what you’re thinking – Austin FC only joined the league in 2021, so how can they be one of the worst MLS expansion teams?
Well, it’s safe to say that Los Verdes have struggled to adapt to the demands of Major League Soccer during their maiden campaign. I mean, they are on course to finish last in the Western Conference and look set to rival Cincinnati for the wooden spoon.
Don’t worry, Austin fans – the only way is up!
15. Inter Miami
Inter Miami’s short stay in North America’s top tier has been shrouded in controversy.
After failing to declare Blaise Matuidi and Andres Reyes as Designated Players, the club received a $2 million fine in March 2021 for violating the league’s salary budget and roster guidelines.
Oh, and the team’s on-field performances have mirrored the inconsistencies behind the scenes.
Despite having the biggest wage bill in Major League Soccer, the Herons have a lot of work to do both on and off the field.
14. Vancouver Whitecaps
It wouldn’t be unfair to say that Vancouver has experienced a relatively uneventful decade in MLS.
Having joined the league in 2011, the Whitecaps have only managed four playoff appearances and have never finished higher than third in the overall standings.
Things have only gotten worse in recent years, too. The Caps finished second from bottom in the Supporters’ Shield table in 2019 before ending up fourth from bottom in the West in 2020.
There is plenty of room for improvement in British Columbia.
13. CF Montreal
Like their fellow Canadians, Montreal has endured a pretty monotonous stint in Major League Soccer up until now.
In actual fact, when the club changed its name from Montreal Impact to Club de Foot Montreal in January 2021, it was perhaps the most exciting thing to happen at Saputo Stadium in a long time.
Montreal arrived in MLS a year after Vancouver. Since then, the Quebec club has failed to finish higher than seventh in the overall standings.
|CF MONTREAL IN MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER|
12. Nashville SC
Although Nashville SC entered the league alongside Inter Miami in 2020, it feels like the team from Tennessee has enjoyed a far better start than the Herons.
Gary Smith’s men finished seventh in their inaugural MLS season – eight points ahead of Inter Miami – before beating Toronto FC en route to the conference semifinals.
The Boys in Gold ended up falling to eventual MLS Cup champion Columbus Crew, but they gave an excellent account of themselves throughout their debut campaign.
With another playoff berth on the cards in 2021, Nashville is heading in the right direction.
11. Orlando City
After failing to make the playoffs in each of their first five Major League Soccer campaigns, things were looking pretty bleak for Orlando City.
Since then, however, the Lions have established themselves as one of the strongest teams in the Eastern Conference.
Oscar Pareja led the Florida outfit to a fifth-place overall finish in 2020 before reaching the conference semifinals. The way things are going at the moment, they should feature in the postseason for a second-year running.
10. Minnesota United
Minnesota United’s opening two MLS seasons were not good, with a nineteenth-place finish in 2017 and an eighteenth-place finish in 2018.
The Loons upped their game in 2019, though, finishing seventh before competing in the playoffs for the first time.
Head coach Adrian Heath has continued to improve the team since then, taking the Loons to the conference semifinals in 2020. Another playoff appearance was on the cards in 2021.
With stars such as Emanuel Reynoso and Robin Lod leading the way, Minnesota could be one of the best MLS expansions teams in years to come.
9. New York City FC
New York City FC is the first club on this list to have won their conference. The Bronx Blues finished atop the East in 2019, six points clear of second-place Atlanta United.
Having entered the league in 2015, NYCFC recorded four straight top-three finishes in the East between 2016 and 2019 – announcing themselves on the scene in style.
Still, it could be argued that New York City has underachieved over the years. Despite owning some of the best overseas players in MLS history, the Bronx Blues have yet to get their hands on any silverware.
8. Los Angeles FC
On the topic of silverware, Los Angeles FC is the first MLS expansion team on this list with a trophy to their name.
After finishing fifth overall in their debut season, the Black & Gold clinched the Supporters’ Shield in 2019. They picked up eight points more than NYCFC to beat their expansion rivals to the crown.
Carlos Vela produced the greatest MLS Golden Boot-winning campaign of all time that year, as well as taking home the MVP award. The following season, teammate Diego Rossi won the Golden Boot.
Considering LAFC has achieved more in three seasons than many of the league’s oldest clubs have achieved in decades, Bob Bradley’s side has to be viewed as one of the best expansion teams in MLS history.
|LAFC IN MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER|
7. Philadelphia Union
Following ten seasons without any silverware, the Union finally got their hands on a trophy in 2020. Jim Curtin’s men secured the Supporters&’ Shield by the barest of margins, finishing ahead of second-place Toronto on a points-per-game basis.
Philly has also reached the playoffs five times over the years and has claimed three top-three finishes in the Eastern Conference.
Following their Shield triumph, Curtin’s men have gone from strength to strength. There is a sense that more silverware could be going to Pennsylvania sooner or later.
6. Real Salt Lake
Real Salt Lake burst onto the scene back in 2005.
The Claret & Cobalt didn’t finish outside the top six in the Western Conference in each of their first ten seasons and even managed to clinch the MLS Cup in that time.
Between 2015 and 2020, however, the Utah club failed to qualify for the playoffs on three occasions – slumping to a disappointing eleventh-place finish in the West last year.
Let’s see what RSL can achieve in the coming years.
5. Chicago Fire
If it weren’t for the team’s recent downturn, Chicago would certainly rank higher on this list. However, the club has taken a turn for the worse over the past few years.
The Fire won the MLS Cup back in 1998, capping off a remarkable maiden season. They also reached two MLS Cup finals before securing the Supporters’ Shield in 2003.
Yet, over the past 11 seasons, Chicago has failed to qualify for the playoffs on no fewer than nine occasions. Since 2017, the Illinois outfit has recorded overall finishes of 20th, 17th, and 22nd.
Hopefully, the Fire can find its feet again and return to the glory days.
4. Atlanta United
I would go as far as to say that Atlanta United has made the biggest instant impact of any MLS expansion team.
Having finished fourth in their debut season, the Five Stripes clinched the MLS Cup in only their second campaign – claiming a memorable 2-0 victory over Portland in the final.
Although 2020 was a year to forget for the club, there is no hiding from the fact that ATL UTD sealed three straight, top-four finishes after joining Major League Soccer.
Oh, and Atlanta also boasts the best stadium in MLS for good measure.
3. Toronto FC
Following a decade in the wilderness, Toronto FC reached – and lost – their first MLS Cup final in 2016. The following year, they lifted the trophy in style.
After clinching the 2017 Supporters’ Shield, TFC sealed a famous Shield-Cup double. To this day, only nine teams have achieved that feat.
Between 2016 and 2020, the Reds finished outside the East’s top four just once in five seasons. Although 2021 hasn’t gone to plan, you can bet your bottom dollar that TFC will compete for more trophies soon enough.
2. Portland Timbers
The Timbers have remained a consistent force in Major League Soccer ever since they arrived in 2011.
Not only have they won the MLS Cup, but they have also finished atop the West on two occasions. On top of that, Portland finished as the 2018 MLS Cup runner-up before winning the MLS is Back Tournament in 2020.
Head coach Giovanni Savarese has been in charge for almost five years now – and his longevity continues to benefit the team.
With star players like Eryk Williamson, Yimmi Chara, and the evergreen Diego Valeri leading the way, the Timbers are destined for more success in the future.
1. Seattle Sounders
With two MLS Cups and one Supporters’ Shield to their name, there is no denying that the Seattle Sounders are the most successful Major League Soccer expansion team.
Seattle picked up their first piece of MLS silverware in 2014, winning the Supporters’ Shield. They then clinched two MLS Cups in four seasons between 2016 and 2019, underlining their dominance.
Remarkably, the Sounders have qualified for the playoffs in each of their 12 top-flight campaigns to date. They have also never finished outside the top four in the West!
Not only do the Sounders have one of the greatest MLS goalkeepers of all time in their ranks, but they also boast one of the best MLS coaches in history.
With Brian Schmetzer at the helm, Seattle will continue to win trophies.
Closing Thoughts on the MLS Expansion Teams
Ranking every expansion team in the history of Major League Soccer is no easy task. After all, we have seen many good – and not so good – clubs enter North America’s top division since 1996.
That said, it is difficult to imagine any of the current strugglers emulating the achievements of expansion greats such as Seattle and Portland – at least for now.
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