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Major League Soccer
By Michael Lewis

San Jose Earthquakes' Landon Donovan(R) jumps for a head ball above Kansas City Wizards' Nick Garcia(L) during the Western Conference playoffs.
(Photo: John Todd/AP Wide World)
Major League Soccer (MLS) is the top professional league in the United States. If you're in the league, you've made it.

Formed in 1996, MLS celebrates its 10th year in 2005 with two new expansion teams: CD Chivas USA, which will play in Carson, California, and Real Salt Lake, which will call Salt Lake City, Utah, its home.

The league has 12 teams: defending champion D.C. United, Columbus Crew, MetroStars (New York and New Jersey area), New England Revolution, Chicago Fire, and Kansas City Wizards in the Eastern Conference; and Los Angeles Galaxy, San Jose Earthquakes, Colorado Rapids, F.C. Dallas (formerly known as the Dallas Burn), Chivas, and Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference.

The teams play a 32-game season, which kicks off this year on Saturday, April 2. Every season includes an all-star game, playoffs, and a championship game—the MLS Cup—which will be held outside Dallas in Frisco, Texas, on November 13.

DC United's Freddy Adu(R) moves the ball past San Jose Earthquake's Landon Donovan on April 3, 2004.
(Photo: Gerald Herbert/AP Wide World)
American All-Stars

United defeated Kansas City, 3-1, in last year's MLS Cup, behind Alecko Eskandarian's two goals. United's best-known player is 15-year-old Freddy Adu. Adu, who many hope will become the U.S.'s first soccer superstar, earns $500,000 a season, the most of any player in the league.

MLS is considered to be a great stepping stone for American players to move to Europe. Forwards Landon Donovan (Bayer Leverkusen, Germany) and Brian McBride (Fulham, England) are among those who decided to go for greater fame and fortune.

Among the top American MLS players to watch are Dallas forward Eddie Johnson and San Jose's Brian Ching, who tied for a league-best 12 goals; the MetroStars' 18-year-old Eddie Gaven, the youngest player to be named to the MLS Best XI, the league's season-ending all-star team; and New England forward Pat Noonan, who shared the overall scoring crown (30 points) with league MVP Amado Guevara of the MetroStars.

Brazil's Monica(L) goes for the ball against USA's forward Mia Hamm during a gold medal women's soccer game at the Athens 2004 Olympics.
(Photo: Kevork Djansezian/AP Wide World)
Women's Soccer

The best-known women's league is called the Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA), which has 34 teams coast to coast.

The WUSA was considered the leading women's league in the world, but it suspended operations after a three-year run after its 2003 season. Several people are trying to get that league back off the ground in perhaps 2006 or 2007.

The Minors

For athletes not in the top rung of American soccer, there's always the United Soccer Leagues (USL): the minor leagues of soccer.

The USL has a network of teams organized into two divisions. The A-League has a dozen teams: the defending champion Montreal Impact, Atlanta Silverbacks, Charleston Battery, Minnesota Thunder, Portland Timbers, Puerto Rico Islanders, Richmond Kickers, Rochester Raging Rhinos, Seattle Sounders, Toronto Lynx, Vancouver Whitecaps, and Virginia Beach Mariners.

The division is the Pro Soccer League, which includes nine teams: the Charlotte Eagles, Cincinnati Kings, Harrisburg City Islanders, Long Island Rough Riders, New Hampshire Phantoms, Northern Virginia Royals, Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Western Mass Pioneers, and Wilmington Hammerheads.

A national amateur league, known as the Premier Development League, has 53 teams in cities such as Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Sioux Falls, Iowa. These players don't play for money, but for the fun of it. Many are college athletes looking for quality games over the summer.