Major League Soccer is the men’s professional soccer league in the United States. It is the highest level of soccer in the US, a relatively young competition, founded in 1994, with the first season played in 1996.
Through the years, MLS has grown into becoming one of the largest top-tier soccer leagues, amassing 28 soccer clubs – 25 from the United States and three from Canada.
MLS will expand to 29 teams in 2023, and it’s expected to go up to 30 soccer clubs in the next few years. But looking at this unique soccer league in 2022, what are its best-ever teams?
While soccer is not among the ‘top four’ sports in the United States, Major League Soccer has improved in 26 years since the first season, and some soccer franchises have reached iconic status. Here are the top 10 MLS soccer clubs of all time, based on trophies they won and their historical importance to the league.
What Trophies Are MLS Teams Fighting For?
During the first 26 seasons of MLS, there have been 14 different winners of the MLS Cup and 15 winners of the Supporters’ Shield. These two trophies are not of the same importance. The team which wins the most points during the regular season wins the Supporters’ Shield.
While in traditional soccer leagues, such as those in Europe and South America, this would have been new league champions – MLS is different. Here, this is just a stepping stone before the playoffs. The teams in the playoffs compete for the MLS Cup, and the winners of it get to call themselves MLS champions.
Considering there have been 14 MLS Cup winners, four sides didn’t make our top 10 list. Those teams are New York City FC, Portland Timbers, Real Salt Lake and Colorado Rapids. These soccer franchises have one MLS Cup, and no Supporters’ Shields won. One other team also has as many trophies, but has made it into the top 10:
10. Atlanta United
Atlanta United was established in April 2014 but did not start competing in MLS until 2017. They joined the league as an expansion team, the 22nd club in MLS. To their name, they also have one MLS Cup win, but the reason for which they managed to get into our top 10 is how they won it.
The Five Stripes, as is their nickname, managed to win MLS Cup in only their second season in 2018. Atlanta also held the record for highest-ever attendance between 2018 and 2022, regularly staging matches in their Mercedes-Benz Stadium with more than 73.000 people. During their championship-winning season, they set the record of having an average attendance of 53.002 people.
Atlanta United’s greatest soccer player is Josef Martinez, who scored then record-breaking 31 goals in 2018, the most goals in an MLS season before Carlos Vela broke it in 2019 with 34 goals for Los Angeles FC. Despite playing only their sixth MLS season in 2022, Atlanta United have already done plenty!
9. Toronto FC
In ninth place on our list is Toronto FC. One of the three Canadian soccer franchises, Toronto competes in both countries. Usually, Toronto spends the main part of the season in MLS, while also participating in the Canadian Championship.
While they won seven titles in Canada, they are also the only of three sides from the north of the border to win the MLS Cup. Toronto did it in 2017. They were the best soccer team in MLS that season, as they also snapped up the Supporters’ Shield, proving they were the most consistent team throughout.
Toronto was founded in 2005, and they started playing in MLS in 2007. Among their most important players are United States international Michael Bradley, former Italy international Sebastian Giovinco and perennial USA striker Jozy Altidore. Toronto plays home games on BMO Field, and their nickname is The Reds.
8. Chicago Fire FC
Chicago Fire is another team with one MLS Cup win and one Supporters’ Shield. Chicago Fire FC was established in 1997 and is one of the iconic MLS sides. They became the first expansion team to reach the final and ultimately win MLS Cup, as they defeated D.C. United in the final in their first-ever campaign.
That was not their only trophy – Chicago Fire won the Supporters’ Shield in 2003. While they have not won any silverware in almost 20 years since, they remain one of the more important teams in those early years of MLS, when the league was still fragile.
Chicago Fire these days play at Soldier Field, and they have also won the U.S. Open Cup on four occasions. The U.S. Open Cup is the cup competition for all teams from the United States, including those not part of MLS.
7. Houston Dynamo FC
Houston Dynamo is among MLS franchises with more than one MLS Cup win. They were established in December 2005 and started its inaugural season in 2006. They play at the PNC Stadium, a soccer-specific stadium in Houston. But before they moved there in 2012, the Dynamo had some great successes early on.
Houston were MLS Cup champions twice, but those trophies came in their first two seasons. After a debut victory in 2006, Houston retained the title in 2007. Almost 15 years have gone by since, but they have not managed to add any trophy to their name.
The Dynamo haven’t won the Supporters’ Shield, but they reached two more MLS Cup finals. In 2011 and 2012, they lost to Los Angeles Galaxy, failing to improve their impressive trophy tally in the club’s early years.
6. Sporting Kansas City
Sporting Kansas City ranks sixth among all-time Major League Soccer teams. Established in June 1995, they were named Sporting Kansas Wizards and were part of the first-ever MLS season. In 2010, it changed its name to Sporting Kansas City, when the franchise rebranded and the team changed their home stadium.
They have won two MLS Cups, the same as Houston Dynamo. Apart from their wins in 2000 and 2013, Sporting KC had some more successes. In 2000, they also won the Supporters’ Shield, meaning they won three big trophies in US soccer. Add to that four U.S. Open Cup wins between 2004 and 2017, and it is easy to see why this is one of the greatest MLS sides.
5. Seattle Sounders FC
Seattle Sounders FC is of similar stature to Sporting KC, but due to slightly better results in half the number of seasons played, they deserve to be called the fifth-best MLS team ever.
Established in 2007, Seattle Sounders only joined MLS action in 2009. In their first three years competing in US soccer, Seattle won the U.S. Open Cup in their first three seasons, from 2009 to 2011. But they have also done great things in Major League Soccer.
They have two MLS Cup wins in 2016 and 2019, and they also won the Supporters’ Shield in 2014. Seattle also reached the MLS Cup final in 2017 and 2020, losing to Toronto FC and Columbus Crew. A great haul of trophies and successes on the pitch in such a short time.
4. San Jose Earthquakes
Founded in 1994, San Jose Earthquakes are the fourth best-ever MLS team. Back then, their name was San Jose Clash and they began playing in 1996, as one of the founding members of MLS. In the 26 years since, San Jose won four big trophies, although they never triumphed in the slightly less reputable U.S. Open Cup.
San Jose won the MLS Cup in 2001 and 2003. In 2005 and 2012, they also claimed Supporters’ Shield victories, after winning the most points in all of Major League Soccer. This California-based team plays at PayPal park in San Jose and they bear the name of former soccer club San Jose Earthquakes, which existed between 1974 and 1998.
That team competed in the now-extinct North American Soccer League. However, the Quakes these days are one of the best teams in MLS, which surpassed the NASL.
3. Columbus Crew
In third place on our MLS all-time clubs list is Columbus Crew. One of the oldest soccer teams in MLS, founded in June 1994, The Crew are the fifth franchise to have two MLS Cup wins to its name. However, they are in front of the likes of San Jose, Sporting KC, Seattle Sounders and Houston Dynamo.
Columbus Crew won their MLS Cups in 2008 and 2020, but they also have three more Supporters’ Shields. They won these in 2004, 2008 and 2009, showing just how good they were in MLS overall during the first decade of the 21st century.
The franchise from Ohio also has one U.S. Open Cup win in 2002 and a Campeones Cup victory in 2021, which is the cup competition for the US and Mexico soccer clubs. Not bad for the Black & Gold.
2. D.C. United
While all of the above-mentioned teams won between one and five big trophies in US soccer, now we get to the pair of the greatest MLS teams. In second place are D.C. United from Washington, DC.
This club was established in June 1994 and has been part of Major League Soccer since its inaugural season in 1996. They won eight of the most important trophies – four MLS Cup wins and four Supporters’ Shields. D.C. United won the first two MLS Cups in 1996 and 1997, but they have not won any of these eight trophies in the last 15 years.
Still, D.C. United’s value for US soccer is clear – they won three U.S. Open Cups and, more importantly, one CONCACAF Champions League in 1998. Not many US teams can say they were champions of North America.
1. Los Angeles Galaxy
And now the ultimate winners – Los Angeles Galaxy are the greatest MLS team of all time! The California-based giants have won the MLS Cup record-setting five times and have four Supporters’ Shields.
LA Galaxy won MLS Cup in 2002, 2005, 2011, 2012 and 2014, putting themselves in the position of the greatest US soccer franchise ever. Their trophy count doesn’t end there – they have two U.S. Open Cup victories and also the CONCACAF Champions League trophy from 2000.
But their value for US soccer is not only about the trophies. LA Galaxy was the reason for rewriting the rules of Major League Soccer, when they signed David Beckham from Real Madrid in 2007, marking the start of a revolution, introducing Designated Players, for stars whose salaries wouldn’t count against the Salary Cap.
The way this soccer club operated on the pitch and off of it changed Major League Soccer for the better. And there is no doubt about the LA Galaxy being the greatest MLS club of all time.