MLS 101: Western Conference History

A trip around the wild, wild west

First developed in the winter of 1993, Major League Soccer came to life on June 15, 1994, when the league announced its first seven teams to compete in the league — Boston, Columbus, New Jersey, New York (Long Island) San Jose and Washington D.C. Since its first player signing (Tab Ramos) in 1995, MLS has evolved into the top flight of soccer in both the United States and Canada and a league recognized around the world.

As it enters its 15th season in 2010, MLS features 16 clubs across North America with additional clubs in Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, B.C., set to join the league in 2011. MLS teams play a 30-game regular-season schedule from late March to October, supplemented by exhibition matches, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament and MLS All-Star Game. Ten MLS clubs play in a stadium built specifically for soccer, opening in 2010 are the new homes of the Philadelphia Union and New York Red Bulls.

Entering the 2009 season, the MLS player pool represented 51 different countries, showing how far MLS has reached around the globe.

Western Conference:

Chivas USA — Founded on Aug. 2, 2004, Club Deportivo Chivas USA took flight in Major League Soccer's 2005 season. Simply known as Chivas USA, the club is the only Mexican-owned major professional sports franchise in the United States. As it enters its sixth season in MLS in 2010, Chivas USA has quickly made its presence known around the league, successfully reaching the postseason in each of the last four seasons. As a sister team of Mexican side Club Deportivo Guadalajara (more popularly known as Chivas), Chivas USA's uniform bears the same vertical red-and-white stripes worn with blue shorts and blue socks.

Chivas USA is based in Los Angeles, Calif., and shares its home turf at the Home Depot Center with the Los Angeles Galaxy. The rivalry between Chivas USA and Galaxy is called the SuperClasico.

Notable Players: Francisco Mendoza, Jonathan Bornstein, Ante Razov, Sacha Kljestan, Brad Guzan, Claudio Suarez, Jesse Marsch, Maykel Galindo, Juan Pablo Garcia, Zach Thornton

Colorado Rapids — One of the 10 founding franchises of Major League Soccer, the Colorado Rapids were introduced on Oct. 17, 1995. In their 14-year history, the Rapids have reached the postseason nine times. While still looking for the club's first MLS Cup title, Colorado isn't short on achievements. They reached the 1997 MLS Cup, played in the 1999 U.S. Open Cup finals, and made back-to-back Western Conference championship appearances in 2005 and 2006. The Rapids played the last professional sporting event held in Denver's Mile High Stadium on Sept. 8, 2001. Roughly six months later, the club opened Invesco Field at Mile High in front of 25,000 fans.

Based in Commerce City, Colo., the Rapids moved into their own facility — Dick Sporting Goods Park — in 2007.

Notable players: Chris Henderson, Paul Bravo, John Spencer, Carlos Valderrama, Pablo Mastroeni, Marcelo Balboa, Mark Chung, Marcus Hahnemann, Connor Casey, Dominic Kinnear, Joe Cannon

FC Dallas — A charter member of Major League Soccer, FC Dallas played its first game on April 14, 1996, defeating San Jose in front of 27,779 fans at the Cotton Bowl. FC Dallas is the third-most winning team in MLS history, and racked up 148 wins in its first 10 seasons of existence. Nicknamed the "Hoops" after the horizontal red and white stripes on the home kit, FC Dallas has advanced to the postseason nine times and captured the 1997 U.S. Open Cup. From its inception in 1996 through the 2004 season, the club was known as the Dallas Burn. As part of the rebranding of the club, FC Dallas' current logo includes a picture of a bull, the kind of Texas cattle driven along north Texas trails throughout the 19th century.

Based in Frisco, Texas, FC Dallas is owned by the Hunt Sports Group and plays its home matches at Pizza Hut Park.

Notable players: Jason Kries, Kenny Cooper, Dante Washington, Dario Sala, Matt Jordan, Bobby Rhine, Eddie Johnson, Carlos Ruiz, Ronnie O'Brien, Jeff Cunningham, Brian Dunseth.

Houston Dynamo — Despite entering just its fifth Major League Soccer season in 2010, the Houston Dynamo have already staked their claim as one of MLS' top clubs. In December 2005, the franchise — including players and coaches — moved to Houston from San Jose, Calif. Houston fans didn't have to wait long for the Dynamo to find success, becoming the second team in league history to capture back-to-back championships by winning the MLS Cup in each of its first two seasons in 2006 and 2007. Houston has won 11 or more games in each of their first four seasons and have reached the playoffs each year.

The Dynamo, whose ownership group includes retired professional boxer Oscar De La Hoya, plays its home matches at Robertson Stadium on the campus of the University of Houston.

Notable players: Pat Onstead, Brian Mullan, Brian Ching, Dwayne de Rosario, Brad Davis, Stuart Holden, Wade Barrett, Richard Mulrooney, Paul Dalglish.

Los Angeles Galaxy — Perhaps the most decorated club in the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Galaxy are among the 10 founding clubs of Major League Soccer. Known around the world as the MLS home for soccer superstar David Beckham, the Galaxy are the 2009 Western Conference champions. Among the club's many successes, the Galaxy have reached the postseason in 11 of its 14 seasons, claiming MLS Cup titles in 2002 and 2005 and the Supporters Shield (given to the team with the best regular-season record) in 1998 and 2005. Los Angeles is also a two-time winner of the U.S. Open Cup (2001, 2005). The Home Depot Center is the home venue for the Galaxy.

The Galaxy established a team milestone April 28, 2001, as former U.S. National Team star Cobi Jones scored the club's 300th goal in a 3-2 win over Colorado.

Notable players: Carlos Ruiz, Cobi Jones, Eduardo Hurtado, Jorge Campos, Kevin Hartman, Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Tyrone Marshall, Mauricio Cienfuegos, Chris Albright, Clint Mathis.

Real Salt Lake — The 2009 MLS Cup champion, Real Salt Lake was welcomed into Major League Soccer in 2005, along with Chivas USA, as expansion club. When it joined the league, it became just the second major sports franchise in the state of Utah. Salt Lake has made a splash in the playoffs in recent seasons, advancing to the Western Conference finals in its first playoff appearance in 2008. Last year, they reached the title game, defeating the Los Angeles Galaxy in a penalty-kick shootout to win their first piece of hardware. The club opened its new state-of-the-art facility, Rio Tinto Stadium, in October 2008, and the venue played host to the 2009 MLS All-Star Game.

The Utah MLS organization is owned and operated by long-time sports entrepreneur Dave Checketts and associates, representing Sports Capital Partners.

Notable players: Andy Williams, Chris Klein, Nick Rimando, Eddie Pope, Kyle Beckerman, Robbie Findley, Jason Kries, Jeff Cunningham, Chris Brown.

San Jose Earthquakes — The San Jose Earthquakes were first established in 1994, becoming one of 10 charter members of Major League Soccer. First known as the Clash, the club adopted the Earthquakes moniker in 2000 — the same name of the NASL team that was popular in the Bay Area in the 1970s and early 1980s. The Earthquakes rose to the top of the league in the early 2000s, capturing the MLS Cup title in 2001 and 2003, and claimed the 2005 Supporters Shield. But, in December 2005, the franchise was relocated to Houston, where they now play as the Dynamo. The Earthquakes made a successful return as an expansion club in 2008, and recorded more wins (8), points (33 and goals (32) than any another expansion club between 1998-2008.

Notable  players: Richard Mulrooney, Ronald Cerritos, Landon Donovan, Dewayne De Rosario, Pat Onstad, Joe Cannon, Ian Russell, John Doyle, Eric Wynalda, Paul Bravo, Brian Ching, Jeff Agoos

Seattle Sounders FC — With a successful launch, Seattle Sounders FC played its first season in Major League Soccer in 2009. In its inaugural season, Seattle set multiple league attendance records averaging over 30,000 fans at Qwest Field. The club also saw successful results on the pitch in its first MLS campaign, winning the U.S. Open Cup and reaching the postseason. The club's name was voted on by fans, which links the MLS franchise to the city's soccer history. Fashioned after a European club models, Sounders FC season-ticket holders belong to an exclusive group called Sounders FC Alliance. This unique supporters group can vote on the direction of the franchise, including the fate of the general manager.

Entering the 2010 MLS season, Sounders FC capped their season-ticket holder base at 30,000 at Qwest Field.

Notable players: Kasey Keller, Freddie Ljungberg, Fredy Montero, Steve Zakuani, Tyrone Marshall, Nate Jaqua, Peter Vagenas