How every MLS expansion club has performed in its first two years

Inter Miami and Nashville SC are both playing in their second MLS season in 2021, hoping to improve on a tough debut campaign that saw each finish in the bottom half of the overall standings.

2021 also sees the MLS arrival of Austin FC, while Charlotte FC will be part of the ever-expanding league from 2022 and St. Louis City from 2023.

Plenty of eyes this season will be on Inter Miami in particular because of the David Beckham factor, as well as the appointment of Phil Neville as head coach and a first full season at the club for heavily decorated former Juventus players Blaise Matuidi and Gonzalo Higuain.

The big aim for the Florida club will be to make the playoffs again, having scraped into a temporarily expanded post-season as a result of the season being re-shaped by the coronavirus pandemic. There won’t be as many playoff berths available this time, so the competition will be tougher.

To get an idea of what might be a realistic expectation for the newer teams, here’s a look at how all 15 MLS expansion clubs that have played two full seasons have performed…

United V FireUnited V Fire
Chicago Fire were an early MLS expansion success story | Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Joined: 1998
Debut season: MLS Cup winners
Second season: Western Conference semi-finals

Chicago Fire were the first expansion club to join the original MLS founders and immediately went all the way to lift the 1998 MLS Cup at the first attempt, beating back-to-back reigning champions D.C. United in the final.

It wasn’t quite as good the following year in 1999. Chicago made the playoffs, dropping from second to third in the Western Conferences, but lost in the conference semi-finals.

Real Salt Lake v Chivas USAReal Salt Lake v Chivas USA
RSL got slightly worse in year two | Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

Joined: 2005
Debut season: 5th of 6 in Eastern Conference
Second season: 6th of 6 in Eastern Conference

Real Salt Lake finished a distant fifth out of six teams in the Eastern Conference in the 2005 debut season, a massive 25 points adrift of fourth place and a playoff berth.

In 2006, they were much improved in terms of wins and points, finishing 19 points better off, and even had golden boot winner Jason Cunningham in their ranks. But they actually slipped to sixth place, which put them last in the Eastern Conference.

ALSO READ THIS:  Man Utd add Ruben Neves to summer targets - Wolves prepared to sell
Wade BarrettWade Barrett
Houston Dynamo won back-to-back MLS Cup trophies | Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Joined: 2006
Debut season: MLS Cup winners
Second season: MLS Cup winners

Powered by the goals of USMNT forward Brian Ching, Houston Dynamo took MLS by storm when they debuted in 2006 and won the MLS Cup in each of their first two seasons.

They finished second in the Western Conference on both occasions but rose above the rest in the playoffs and beat New England Revolution in back-to-back finals.

Chad BarrettChad Barrett
Toronto FC struggled early on after joining MLS | Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Joined: 2007
Debut season: 7th of 7 in Eastern Conference
Second season: 7th of 7 in Eastern Conference

Although they have played in three MLS Cup finals, winning one, in the last five seasons, success took a long time to develop at Toronto FC, the league’s first non-American team.

In each of their first two MLS seasons in 2007 and 2008, the Canadian franchise finished in last place in the Eastern Conference standings. They finished bottom of the overall standings in 2007 but at least slightly improved the following season by climbing to 12th overall.

Los Angeles Galaxy v Seattle Sounders FC - 1st LegLos Angeles Galaxy v Seattle Sounders FC - 1st Leg
Seattle Sounders made the MLS playoffs in 2009 & 2010 | Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Joined: 2009
Debut season: Western Conference semi-finals
Second season: Western Conference semi-finals

Seattle Sounders immediately finished third in the Western Conference in their debut MLS season in 2009, but lost in the first round of the post-season against Houston in a close encounter.

In 2010, Seattle dropped one place in the conference standings, but made the playoffs again and were knocked out at the same stage – this time against LA Galaxy.

Toronto FC v Philadelphia UnionToronto FC v Philadelphia Union
Philadelphia Union improved from their first to second season | Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

Joined: 2010
Debut season: 7th of 8 in Eastern Conference
Second season: Eastern Conference semi-finals

Philadelphia Union enjoyed a best ever season in 2020 when they won the MLS Supporters’ Shield, a big leap for a club that has often struggled to reach the post-season in the past.

In their 2010 debut season, Philadelphia only finished above D.C. United in the Eastern Conference, although they improved to third place in 2011 and made it into the playoffs.

Vancouver Whitecaps v Los Angeles Galaxy - Knockout RoundVancouver Whitecaps v Los Angeles Galaxy - Knockout Round
Vancouver Whitecaps got into the playoffs second time around | Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

Joined: 2011
Debut season: 9th of 9 in Western Conference
Second season: Western Conference first knockout round

Canada’s second MLS club followed in the footsteps of its first and collected a dreaded conference wooden spoon, with Vancouver Whitecaps bottom of the Western Conference in 2011.

ALSO READ THIS:  Comparing Mikel Arteta's Arsenal record to predecessors Unai Emery & Arsene Wenger

The team improved considerably in 2012, winning more than twice as many games and getting 15 points more to finish fifth in the conference and get into the wildcard round, where they lost to eventual champions LA Galaxy.

Portland TimbersPortland Timbers
Portland Timbers got slightly worse in their second season | Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Joined: 2011
Debut season: 6th of 9 in Western Conference
Second season: 8th of 9 in Western Conference

Previously an historic NASL club, Portland Timbers couldn’t make the playoffs in either of their first two MLS seasons and actually regressed from the first to the second.

They won 11 games and took 42 points in the 2011 regular season, but too many tied games in 2012 resulted in fewer points and a slide down the Western Conference standings.

Montreal v Sporting Kansas CityMontreal v Sporting Kansas City
Montreal Impact got into the 2013 MLS playoffs | Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

Joined: 2012
Debut season: 7th of 10 in Eastern Conference
Second season: Eastern Conference first knockout round

Now to be known as CF Montreal from 2021 onwards, Montreal Impact were the third Canadian team handed an MLS expansion berth in 2012 as the league grew to 19 clubs overall.

Albeit not enough for a playoff place, the 2012 season was a respectable start for Montreal. They then improved in 2013 to qualify for the east’s preliminary playoff knockout.

KakaKaka
Despite Kaka, Orlando City got worse year on year | Chris McEniry/Overflow Productions, Inc./Getty Images

Joined: 2015
Debut season: 7th of 10 in Eastern Conference
Second season: 8th of 10 in Eastern Conference

2007 Ballon d’Or winner Kaka was the star attraction when Orlando City debuted in MLS in 2015, although in three years in central Florida the Brazilian never made it to the playoffs.

Orlando actually got progressively worse each season until levelling out in 2019 and it wasn’t until 2020 that they did enough to qualify for the post-season for the first and only time.

Frank Lampard, David Villa, Andrea PirloFrank Lampard, David Villa, Andrea Pirlo
New York’s 2016 season was underpinned by veteran superstars | Michael Stewart/Getty Images

Joined: 2015
Debut season: 8th of 10 in Eastern Conference
Second season: Eastern Conference semi-finals

New York City were another MLS newbie carried by big names in 2015, with David Villa captaining the team and Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo arriving midway through the season.

After a tough 2015 debut campaign, things came together for NYC in 2016 and they enjoyed that all-important improvement, finishing second in the Eastern Conference. Their playoff dreams ended quickly, though, falling to a 7-0 aggregate blowout against Toronto.

Minnesota United v Los Angeles FCMinnesota United v Los Angeles FC
Minnesota United didn’t have a strong first two years | Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Joined: 2017
Debut season: 9th of 11 in Western Conference
Second season: 10th of 12 in Western Conference

ALSO READ THIS:  Chelsea should abandon striker pursuit in favour of a creative midfielder

Minnesota United took 36 points from 34 regular season games in each of their first two MLS season in 2017 and 2018. In neither was it good enough to get into the playoffs.

But after taking a little time to adapt and step up, progress has been there for Minnesota more recently and they have made the playoffs in both seasons since.

2018 MLS Cup - Portland Timbers v Atlanta United2018 MLS Cup - Portland Timbers v Atlanta United
Atlanta United won the MLS Cup in 2018 | Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Joined: 2017
Debut season: Eastern Conference first knockout round
Second season: MLS Cup winners

Atlanta United felt their way into life as an MLS club in 2017, making the first round of the playoffs with a respectable regular season of fourth place in the Eastern Conference.

2018 was when the team caught fire. Striker Josef Martinez set a new MLS record for single season goals with 31 and Atlanta lifted the MLS Cup by beating Portland Timbers in the final.

MLS Soccer - Los Angeles FC v Houston DynamoMLS Soccer - Los Angeles FC v Houston Dynamo
LA FC lifted the 2019 Supporters’ Shield | Shaun Clark/Getty Images

Joined: 2018
Debut season: Western Conference first knockout round
Second season: Supporters’ Shield; Western Conference semi-finals

LA FC became the city’s eagerly awaited second MLS club in 2018 and were quickly a success when they finished third in the West Conference to make the playoffs.

Former Arsenal forward Carlos Vela then broke Josef Martinez’s single season goal record in 2019 when he scored 34 and LA finished top of the overall standings to win the Supporters’ Shield.

FC Cincinnati v Minnesota United FCFC Cincinnati v Minnesota United FC
FC Cincinnati have finished bottom of the overall standings twice | David Berding/Getty Images

Joined: 2019
Debut season: 12th of 12 in Eastern Conference
Second season: 14th of 14 in Eastern Conference

FC Cincinnati are the newest MLS club to have completed two seasons in the league and it hasn’t gone well so far. Following the recent successes of Atlanta and LA FC, they have gone in the opposite direction and have twice finished bottom of the Eastern Conference.

Not only that, the club has also been last in the overall standings each time.

For more from Jamie Spencer, follow him on Twitter and Facebook!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.