Minnesota United vs Atlanta United - logos

Minnesota United FC and Atlanta United FC will debut as Major League Soccer’s 21st and 22nd member clubs when the 2017 season officially kicks off this weekend.


Fans of the newcomers will surely have noticed to their chagrin that most pundits view them as long shots for the MLS Cup Playoffs, approaching the two teams with the conventional wisdom that life is hard in Year 1.


So just what does an inaugural season in MLS look like? Here are the historical numbers – good, bad and mostly ugly – on how expansion teams have fared in league and cup play. 

Team
Year
Regular season
Playoff finish
Open Cup/ACC finish
Chicago Fire
1998
20-12-0<br> 2 of 6 in West
MLS Cup champs
Open Cup champs
Miami Fusion
1998
15-17-0<br> 4 of 6 in East
Conf. semifinals
Quarterfinals
Chivas USA
2005
4-22-6<br> 6 of 6 in West
DNQ
Fourth round
Real Salt Lake
2005
5-22-5<br> 5 of 6 in West
DNQ
Third round
Toronto FC
2007
6-17-7<br> 7 of 7 in East
DNQ
N/A; ACC founded in '08
San Jose Earthquakes*
2008
8-13-9<br> 6 of 7 in West
DNQ
First round of qualifying
Seattle Sounders
2009
12-7-11<br> 3 of 8 in West
Conf. semifinals
Champions
Philadelphia Union
2010
8-15-7<br> 7 of 8 in East
DNQ
First round of qualifying
Vancouver Whitecaps
2011
6-18-10<br> 9 of 9 in West
DNQ
Lost in ACC final
Portland Timbers
2011
11-14-9<br> 6 of 9 in West
DNQ
Second round of qualifying
Montreal Impact
2012
12-16-6<br> 7 of 10 in East
DNQ
First (semifinal) round
New York City FC
2015
10-17-7<br> 8 of 10 in East
DNQ
Fourth round
Orlando City SC
2015
12-14-8<br> 7 of 10 in East
DNQ
Quarterfinals

*This refers to the Earthquakes' rebirth; the original San Jose franchise relocated to Houston and became the Dynamo ahead of the 2006 season.

Some context here: Not every expansion team arrives to the same league landscape. It’s not hard to imagine how different MLS was as the fledgling,10-team competition that welcomed the Chicago Fire and Miami Fusion FC compared to the vastly more mature situation that NYCFC and Orlando City stepped into two years ago.


That said, the overall track record for debutants involves emotional highs followed by gut-wrenching lows, big dreams laid low by harsh reality checks. Essentially, the Fire and Sounders are the only outliers. 


We’ll just have to wait and see if ATL UTD and the Loons can buck that history.

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