Since MLS began play in 1996, eight expansion teams have entered the league. Only two clubs have done well in their very first year of play, with the Chicago Fire actually winning the title in 1998 (there were, however, only 12 teams in the league at that point). More often than not, expansion teams improve during their second season, a positive trend for a Union side looking to build upon a solid inaugural season.
MLS fans know the success story of Seattle -- the Sounders have made the playoffs in each of their first two years -- and the struggles of Toronto since joining the fold in 2007. But there's a relatively deep expansion history in MLS, especially considering the league is still in its teenage years.
Here's the breakdown of each MLS expansion side, and how they fared in their first two seasons:
Entered the league: 1998
Debut season record: 20-12 (Won MLS Cup, U.S. Open Cup)
Second season record: 18-14
Home stadium: Soldier Field
Overview: MLS fans should be familiar with this story. Year number one saw the expansion Fire do the double, winning both the MLS Cup and U.S. Open Cup. Union Manager Peter Nowak captained Chicago, compiling 12 assists on the season. Keeper Zach Thornton led the league with a 1.17 goals against average. At the helm was none other than current U.S. National Team coach, Bob Bradley.
In their second season, the Fire didn't repeat as champions but posted a quality 18-14 record, good enough for third place in the Western Conference. To this day, Chicago and Seattle are the only two expansion franchises to post winning records in their first two seasons.
Entered the league: 1998
Debut season record: 15-17
Second season record: 13-19
Home stadium: Lockhart Stadium
Overview: Miami entered the league with Chicago, posting a losing record in year number one. Both the 1998 and 1999 seasons were eerily similar, as the Fusion drew D.C. United in the playoffs, falling 2-0 in both games.
The Fusion were shut down in 2002, along with the Tampa Bay Mutiny. Citing financial issues, MLS officials removed both Florida-based teams simultaneously, a rare setback for a league that has experienced tremendous growth since its inception.
Though the Fusion franchise didn't last long, its ranks once featured former MLS stars Eric Wynalda, Pablo Mastroeni, Jay Heaps, and Nick Rimando.
Entered the league: 2005
Debut season record: 4-22-6
Second season record: 10-9-13
Home stadium: Home Depot Center
Overview: Chivas receive the unfortunate distinction of posting the worst record in debut history. The Goats could only muster four wins in year number one, suffering 22 losses and finishing the year with just 18 points.
Year two saw Chivas improve greatly, reaching double digit wins while compiling 43 points -- a 25 point improvement from 2005. The club only lost twice at home, the best mark in the league that year. Ante Razov, a member of that 1998 Fire squad, tallied 14 goals with his new team, leading Chivas in scoring in 2006.
Real Salt Lake
Entered the league: 2005
Debut season record: 5-22-5
Second season record: 10-13-9
Home stadium: Rice-Eccles Stadium
Overview: RSL barely avoided Worst Expansion Team honors in 2005, finishing two points ahead of Chivas. The squad struggled en route to a 22-loss season, barely reaching 20 points on the year. In fact, RSL and Chivas combined for just one road win in 2005, allowing 41 and 37 road goals, respectively.
Year two saw the team double their win total, but 13 losses left them tied for last place in the Western Conference. RSL would improve exponentially, though, bringing home the MLS Cup in 2009.
Entered the league: 2007
Debut season record: 6-17-7
Second season record: 9-13-8
Home stadium: BMO Field
Overview: Major League Soccer's 13th team, Toronto was also the first Canadian franchise. Despite raucous crowd support and an impressive new stadium, Toronto finished in the Eastern Conference basement in 2007, winning just one game on the road. The squad accumulated the least number of goals scored and most goals against league-wide in a rocky debut.
Toronto improved in 2008, but again failed to reach double digit wins. While home attendance ranked #2 in the league, the on-field product was inconsistent. Toronto was again near the bottom in offense, with Chad Barrett's nine goals leading the team.
San Jose Earthquakes
Entered the league: 2008
Debut season record: 8-13-9
Second season record: 7-14-9
Home stadium: Buck Shaw Stadium, Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum
Overview: While San Jose was awarded an original MLS franchise, the team was moved to Houston in 2006 with the league citing the club's failure to find a soccer-specific stadium in the Bay Area. For our purposes, we won't count the Dynamo as an expansion side, since the roster was carried over from San Jose. Those same players would lead Houston to MLS titles in 2006 and 2007.
After a two year hiatus, the Quakes returned to San Jose as an expansion side. The 2007 expansion draft saw San Jose select a number of familiar faces, including current American international Clarence Goodson, Union midfielder Brian Carroll (traded five days later to Columbus in exchange for Kei Kamara), Ned Grabavoy, and James Riley.
The Quakes posted very similar records in 2008 and 2009, compiling 33 and 30 points respectively. Although their 2008 defense posted nine shutouts, the offense was the worst in the league, netting just 32 goals. San Jose finished last in the Western Conference in its first two seasons.
Entered the league: 2009 (Won U.S. Open Cup)
Debut season record: 12-7-11
Second season record: 14-10-6
Home stadium: Qwest Field
Overview: No doubt, Seattle set the bar higher for new clubs in MLS. The Sounders were the first expansion side in 10+ years to post a winning record in their inaugural campaign. They led the league in attendance, sold out every home game, won the U.S. Open Cup, and made the playoffs in year one.
The Sounders improved to 14-10-6 in year two, again returning to the playoffs, and repeating as U.S. Open Cup champions. The 2011 addition of Portland and Vancouver will only intensify MLS passion in the Pacific Northwest, as all three teams are well received by their local soccer communities.
Entered the league: 2010
Debut season record: 8-15-7
Second season record: ???
Home stadium: PPL Park
Overview: If history repeats itself, the Union are due for a step forward in 2011. Four of the seven other MLS expansion clubs increased their point total in year number two. Collectively, expansion sides (not counting Philadelphia) have accumulated a 70-110-38 record, improving to 81-92-45 the next year. Not an enormous jump, but certainly progress.
Then consider this: No other expansion side played eight of their first 10 games on the road. The Union were forced to travel for much of March, April and May, a tough task for even an established MLS side.
Provided Philadelphia's technical staff can acquire the right pieces to complement Sebastien Le Toux and the rest of the club's core, the Union are primed to follow to follow the historical trend of sophomore improvement.
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