North America’s Major League Soccer division is in its infancy compared to its European counterparts. The league was established in 1993 as the United States made its bid to host the 1994 FIFA World Cup, but its inaugural season didn’t commence until 1996 with only ten teams.
Despite suffering countless setbacks, sixteen years later, the MLS continues to grow and is becoming a prominent division in the world of soccer. MLS is now one of the most significant top-level soccer leagues, with 28 soccer clubs – 25 from the U.S. and three from Canada.
In 2023, MLS will add another club to its roster (29), and 30 soccer teams are expected to be present by 2025. But when evaluating one of the youngest soccer leagues in one of the most sports-driven countries in the world, everybody wants to know the best teams.
Soccer hasn’t become one of the top three most popular sports in the United States; however, Major League soccer has witnessed an incredible evolution since its birth 26 years ago, and some of the current soccer franchises have reached an emblematic place in the sport. Below, we’ve compiled a list of the best clubs in the history of the MLS based on their success and contributions to North American soccer.
Most notable player: David Beckham
MLS Cups: 5 (2002, 2005, 2011, 2012, 2014)
MLS fans won’t be surprised to see the Los Angeles Galaxy at the top of our list. The California-based club has won more MLS Cups than any other team in the league, with five titles, in addition to four Supporters’ Shields successes.
Winning the MLS Cup in 2002, 2005, 2011, 2012, and 2014 has positioned LA Galaxy as the most successful U.S soccer franchise in the league’s history. Their trophy-lifting moments extend as they are also two-time U.S. Open Cup champions and CONCACAF Champions League winners from the year 2000.
However, LA Galaxy isn’t topping our list just because of their trophy-winning achievements. When the club signed David Beckham from Real Madrid in 2007, the landscape of North American soccer would change forever. The introduction of Designated Players saw the removal of salary caps, thus allowing big-named stars from around the world to join the league and assist in its expansion.
Operations at LA Galaxy, on and off the pitch, altered MLS forever, and the league has been on an uptrend ever since.
Most notable player: Wayne Rooney
MLS Cups: 4 (1996, 1997, 1999, 2004)
Winning three of the first four MLS Cups positioned D.C. United was one of the most popular teams in MLS during its infancy. Their dominance translated into their former home, RFK Stadium, a ground that boasted some of the highest attendance records in the division’s early years.
Obtaining eight of the country’s most notable titles – four MLS Cups and four Supporters’ Shields – has etched the Washington-based team into MLS history. However, they haven’t won a significant trophy in 15 years.
Despite their downtrend over the past decade, claiming three U.S. Open Cups and the CONCACAF Champions League in 1998 is an achievement most U.S teams cannot claim.
And let’s not forget the arrival of Wayne Rooney in 2018, who became Major League Soccer’s second most significant Designated Player signing since David Beckham. The former Manchester United superstar and England National team all-time leading scorer joined the Black-and-Red. His contributions as a top player earned him a 2018 Landon Donovan MLS MVP nomination. After returning to England in 2019, Rooney came back to Washington, but this time as D.C. United’s manager, a job he’s still working to this day.
Most notable player: Brian McBride
MLS Cups: 2 (2008, 2020)
Founded in 1994, Columbus Crew is one of MLS’s oldest soccer clubs. They are the fifth club to collect two MLS Cup victories, achieved in 2008 and 2020, respectively. In addition to their MLS Cup success, the Ohio-based franchise picked up three Supporters’ Shields in 2004, 2008, and 2009, proving to be a well-oiled machine at the dawn of the 21st century.
While the club’s success isn’t as glaring as LA or D.C., they did win the U.S. Open cup in 2002 and most recently lifted the Campeones Cup in 2021 – a club competition for the U.S. and Mexican soccer leagues.
Having undergone total rebranding, the club’s new ownership and plans to move into a brand new stadium provide an exciting future for the Black and Gold.
Most notable player: Hristo Stoichkov
MLS Cups: 1 (1998)
They don’t own multiple MLS Cups, but the Chicago Fire – named in memory of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 – became the league’s first expansion team in 1998 and achieved the double (MLS Cup and U.S. Open Cup) in their debut year. They also won U.S. Open Cups in 2000, 2003, and 2006 and the MLS Supporters’ Shield in 2003.
During the winter of 2021, Chicago Fire FC tore down its core structure and began rebuilding under new ownership. Caesars Illinois sportsbook odds for the Chicago Fire team and the MLS championship began to dwindle as the Eastern Conference team failed to make the 2022 MLS Cup playoffs, but with one of the league’s highest-paid players in Xherdan Shaqiri, a build around his skillset could turn their fortunes for the 2023 and bettors may find great success with Chicago next term.
They haven’t obtained any silverware in almost twenty years, but an intelligent wager would come in on the Fire to rebound in 2023 as a prosperous team to bet on. With a rebuild in place, Chicago bettors should realize an overnight turnaround isn’t viable, but we should expect a club contending for the MLS Cup with time.
San Jose Earthquakes
Most notable player: Jeff Agoos
MLS Cups: 2 (2001. 2003)
The San Jose Earthquakes – formerly known as the San Jose Clash – joined MLS as a charter club during the league’s debut season. The Earthquakes partook in the first 90 minutes of MLS history when defeating D.C. United 1-0 in the league’s first-ever game. Success soon followed the franchise as they won the MLS Cup in 2001 and 2003. Unfortunately, their league status was terminated in 2006 as they ceased to exist following a 2005 Supporters’ Shield success.
Following a two-year absence, the club returned to MLS in 2008, and four years after their return, another Supporters’ Shield success was on the horizon as they lifted the trophy in 2012, a season where they won the most points in all of Major League Soccer.