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Lessons for Nashville SC, Inter Miami: How MLS expansion team have fared in year No. 1

We’re days away from Inter Miami CF and Nashville SC embarking upon their expansion seasons, and speculation will give way to reality once the 2020 season begins. But there’s still room for wonderment, and a history lesson provides some insight into how these MLS newbies could fare during the 34-game slate ahead. 

To get acquainted, here’s a look at how past expansion teams have fared during their inaugural seasons. They’ve encountered a wide array of ups and downs, further shining light on what awaits for teams Nos. 25 and 26.

Chicago Fire (1998)

  • Position: 2nd (West)
  • Record: 20-12 (56 points)

Under then-head coach Bob Bradley, the Fire logged an expansion season for the ages, going 20-12 en route to winning MLS Cup 1998 against D.C. United. They also beat the Columbus Crew to win the U.S. Open Cup, setting forth great momentum for the club’s early years.

Miami Fusion (1998)

  • Position: 4th (East)
  • Record: 15-17 (35 points)

The Fusion were dissolved as an MLS franchise in 2002, and finished just below .500 during their inaugural season with a 15-17 record. The club’s highlight was capturing the 2001 Supporters’ Shield.

Chivas USA (2005)

  • Position: 6th (West)
  • Record: 4-22-6 (18 points)

A second team in Los Angeles arose after a prolonged break from expansion, one that took inspiration from Mexican club CD Guadalajara and owner Jorge Vergara. Their expansion season fell flat, as Chivas went 4-22-6 to finish bottom of the league table, long before they were dissolved in 2014. 

Real Salt Lake (2005)

  • Position: 5th (West)
  • Record: 5-22-5 (20 points)

RSL won MLS Cup four years into their existence (2009 win over LA Galaxy on penalty kicks), but their inaugural season was full of frustrations. They went 5-22-5 to finish narrowly above fellow expansion side Chivas USA in the Western Conference.

Houston Dynamo (2006)

  • Position: 2nd (West)
  • Record: 11-8-13 (46 points)

With San Jose’s team relocated to Houston, the ready-made side found immediate success in winning back-to-back MLS Cups over the New England Revolution in 2006 and 2007. They finished second in the Western Conference standings each year.

Toronto FC (2007)

  • Position: 7th (East)
  • Record: 6-17-7 (25 points)

Before turning the corner as a club in 2016, the Reds endured nearly a decade of struggles in the Eastern Conference. Look no further than Toronto's 6-17-7 ledger in 2007 that also included a league-worst minus-24 goal differential.

San Jose Earthquakes (2008)

  • Position: 7th (West)
  • Record: 8-13-9 (33 points)

After a two-year hiatus, MLS returned to San Jose in 2008. But their previous successes couldn’t be replicated, as the club went 8-13-9 to finish bottom of the table.

Seattle Sounders (2009)

  • Position: 3rd (West)
  • Record: 12-7-11 (47 points)

The Sounders have made the playoffs every year since entering the league, a run that started in 2009 with a 12-7-11 record to finish third in the Western Conference standings. They also won the U.S. Open Cup that year, setting the stage for four such titles in six years to go alongside MLS Cups in 2016 and 2019.

Philadelphia Union (2010)

  • Position: 7th (East)
  • Record: 8-15-7 (31 points)

The Union made the playoffs four times during their first decade in MLS, but didn’t discover any such fortunes during their expansion season. The 2010 campaign produced an 8-15-7 record as they finished above D.C. United for last place in the Eastern Conference standings.

Portland Timbers (2011)

  • Position: 6th (West)
  • Record: 11-14-9 (42 points)

Portland didn’t make the playoffs until their third season in MLS, with their inaugural in 2011 one leading to an 11-14-9 record. The Timbers’ faithful didn’t have to wait long for silverware, though, as they won MLS Cup in 2015 over Columbus.

Vancouver Whitecaps (2011)

  • Position: 9th (West)
  • Record: 6-18-10 (28 points)

The Whitecaps had a lean first MLS season, going 6-18-10 to finish tied with the New England Revolution for a league-worst points total (28). The majority of that season was played at Empire Stadium.  

Montreal Impact (2012)

  • Position: 7th (West)
  • Record: 12-16-6 (42 points)

While Montreal didn't make the playoffs until 2013, they also had a respectable first year in MLS by going 12-16-6. They’ve since lifted three Canadian Championship titles and memorably made the Concacaf Champions League final in 2015. 

New York City FC (2015)

  • Position: 8th (East)
  • Record: 10-17-7 (37 points)

The Cityzens have made four straight playoff trips to the Conference Semifinals, but their expansion year wasn’t nearly as fruitful. In fact, NYCFC went 10-17-7 to finish 12 points outside of the playoff race.

Orlando City (2015)

  • Position: 7th (East)
  • Record: 12-14-8 (44 points)

The Lions are yet to make the playoffs since entering MLS, though came awfully close in 2015 with Brazilian superstar Kaka front and center. Orlando finished 12-14-8, only to miss out on the East's final postseason slot by five points.

Atlanta United (2017)

  • Position: 4th (East)
  • Record: 15-9-10 (55 points)

The Five Stripes have taken MLS by storm, winning MLS Cup in 2018 and lifting Campeones Cup and U.S. Open Cup trophies in 2019 behind record-setting spending. Prior to all that, Atlanta went 15-9-10 as an expansion club before bowing out in the knockout round on penalty kicks against Columbus.

Minnesota United (2017)

  • Position: 9th (West)
  • Record: 10-18-6 (36 points)

The Loons had a rough first two years in MLS, allowing 141 goals across that span in a pair of playoff-less campaigns. That turned around in 2019, as Minnesota made the U.S. Open Cup final and booked their first postseason spot under head coach Adrian Heath.

LAFC (2018)

  • Position: 3rd (West)
  • Record: 16-9-9 (57 points)

LAFC wasted no time in adjusting to MLS, going 16-9-9 as an expansion club to finish third in the Western Conference standings. They followed that up in 2019 by lifting the Supporters’ Shield in record-setting fashion, booking a spot in the 2020 Concacaf Champions League.

FC Cincinnati (2019)

  • Position: 12th (East) 
  • Record: 6-22-6 (24 points)

Amid several coaching changes since entering MLS, FC Cincy endured a rough expansion season in going 6-22-6 to finish bottom of the Supporters’ Shield race. They also set a league record for the most goals allowed in a single season (75).

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