MLS

MLS 24 years on: Beckham, Zlatan and the landmark moments

By Sports Desk April 06, 2020

On April 6, 1996, the United States of America embraced a new competition as Major League Soccer debuted in San Jose.

After the collapse of the North American Soccer League 12 years earlier, a new 10-team league had formed, hoping to ride the crest of a wave from USA hosting the 1994 World Cup.

To mark 24 years to the day since Eric Wynalda's 88th-minute strike earned San Jose Clash a 1-0 win over DC United, we look at the biggest landmarks in MLS' history so far.

 

1996 - THE DAWN OF A NEW ERA

As part of the agreement to award USA the 1994 World Cup, the United States Soccer Federation had to commit to starting a new elite league.

The result was the formation of MLS - a 10-team competition with clubs such as LA Galaxy, DC United and New England Revolution all involved in that inaugural campaign.

DC United came from 2-0 down to beat the Galaxy 3-2 in the MLS Cup in front of 34,643 fans in Massachusetts.

2001 - HUNT TO THE RESCUE

After four years of dwindling attendances, the future of MLS appeared bleak when commissioner Don Garber staged a meeting in 2001 attended by both club owners and bankruptcy attorneys.

The league had lost $250million since its first game, but Philip Anschutz, the Kraft and Hunt families stepped forward to bankroll the 11 franchises between them.

The late Lamar Hunt had convinced owners not to fold the league, and it proved a shrewd decision...

2005 - THE EXPANSION BOOM BEGINS

For the first time since 1998 - when Chicago Fire and the short-lived Miami Fusion came on board - new MLS teams joined the party in the form of Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA.

MLS expanded to 13 clubs in 2007, and it grew in size in each of the next five seasons.

This season, MLS has 26 clubs and that number will grow to 30 by 2022.

2007 - DAVID BRINGS BECKS APPEAL

It could be argued no player has had a greater impact on MLS than one David Beckham.

The Manchester United and Real Madrid great arrived in the City of Stars in 2007 thanks to the 'Designated Player Rule' - nicknamed the 'Beckham Rule', allowing clubs to sign up to three players that count outside their salary cap.

LA Galaxy's acquisition of Beckham was seen as a huge coup. The England midfielder spent five seasons in Hollywood and his arrival helped put MLS on the map.

2012 - AMERICA'S SECOND FAVOURITE SPORT

As well as Beckham's arrival, the sport's popularity was also aided by USA's thrilling matches at the 2010 World Cup.

USA beat Algeria to reach the last 16 thanks to a last-gasp Landon Donovan goal, only to lose their first knockout match to Ghana in extra time.

Interest intensified, though, and in 2012 an ESPN poll found MLS was America's second-most popular sporting league among those aged 12-24 - behind just the NFL.

2018 - MARTINEZ AND ATLANTA BRING THE NOISE

The 2018 MLS Cup was watched by 73,019 fans at Atlanta United's Mercedes-Benz Stadium, shattering the previous final record of 61,316 supporters from 16 years earlier.

Atlanta, in just their second campaign, won the trophy during a memorable campaign when Josef Martinez scored a record 31 goals in the regular season.

With Zlatan Ibrahimovic making the Galaxy must-watch again, Wayne Rooney transforming DC United and Carlos Vela firing at Los Angeles FC, it was one of the more memorable MLS campaigns to date.

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    Middleweight champion Adesanya had spoken of chasing big-money fights with Jon Jones and even Conor McGregor.

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    Because these guys have been on a collision course for some time and only a biceps injury sustained by Costa made the wait so long.

    Jibes have been thrown back and forth, with Costa accusing Adesanya of ducking the challenge of former light-heavyweight king Jones.

    Adesanya has something to prove after an underwhelming win via unanimous decision against Yoel Romero back in March, and his kick-boxing brilliance and Costa's pressure fighting make this a bout of real intrigue.


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    Adesanya became the UFC's interim middleweight champion with a unanimous decision victory over Kelvin Gastelum in a classic in April 2019. He then defeated the legendary Robert Whittaker in October with a stunning knockout to unify the division.

    Each of Costa's first four wins in a UFC ring came via way of KO/TKO and in August 2019 he defeated Romero via unanimous decision.


    WHAT'S THEIR MMA RECORD (W-L-D)?

    Adesanya: 19-0-0

    Costa: 13-0-0


    TALE OF THE TAPE

    Adesanya:

    Age: 31
    Height: 6'4" (193cm)
    Weight: 185lbs (84kg)
    Reach: 80"
    Leg reach: 44.5"

    Costa:

    Age: 29
    Height: 6'1" (185cm)
    Weight: 185lbs (84kg)
    Reach: 72"
    Leg reach: 39.5"


    WHAT THEY'VE SAID

    Adesanya referred to Costa as an "inflated balloon animal" back in June and during his media activities ahead of UFC 253 made a figure out of balloons to impersonate Costa, saying: "Hey guys, my name is Paulo Costa. I'm the Eraser and I'm going to be the champion. Israel, I will erase you." Adesanya then twisted the balloons until they popped…

    In controversial comments to Submission Radio in August, Costa said: "I have just one question. Adesanya, why are you freezing when you face Romero? You're not a real champion, man. You don't deserve. I will kill you."


    FIGHT STATS IN UFC

    Adesanya:

    - Adesanya has connected with 503 of his 1,032 attempted significant strikes, a success rate of 49 per cent.

    - Of his successful strikes, 88 per cent have come from a standing position.

    - On the defensive side, Adesanya has guarded against 87 per cent of takedown attempts.

    - He has also seen off 66 per cent of strikes against him.

    Costa:

    - Costa has landed 307 of his 531 attempted significant strikes, giving him a success rate of 58 per cent.

    - As with Adesanya, Costa tends to strike from a standing position - with 82 per cent coming via that method.

    - He has successfully blocked 80 per cent of takedown attempts against him.

    - Costa has also thwarted 54 per cent of strikes from his opponents.

  • French Open 2020: Nadal, Federer and Djokovic, and why the G.O.A.T. debate is trash French Open 2020: Nadal, Federer and Djokovic, and why the G.O.A.T. debate is trash

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    Rafael Nadal possesses just about the meanest snarl in tennis but he could let this argument drop happily too.

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    FEDERER: ELDER STATESMAN, STILL LEADING THE RACE

    From his Roland Garros debut in 1999 to a semi-final run at the Australian Open this year, the longevity of Federer has been almost as astonishing as some of his easy-on-the-eye tennis.

    The list of records he has racked up is bewildering, beginning with his unmatched 20 men's slam singles titles. The Swiss was the first man to go beyond Sampras, and in the men's game he is the only player to win three slams in the same season three times (2004, 2006, 2007), make 10 successful title defences, and win more than 100 matches at two different grand slams - Wimbledon and the Australian Open.

    He has reached an unsurpassed 31 slam singles finals (Nadal - 27, Djokovic - 26), and a mind-boggling 46 semi-finals at the four majors. Between the 2004 French Open, where he lost in the first round, and the 2010 edition at Roland Garros, where he fell in the quarters, Federer marched to the semi-final or further at 23 successive majors, winning 14 titles in that time.

    Reaching seven or more finals in any grand slam is a superlative feat, but Federer has achieved that in three of the four majors (Wimbledon - 12, US Open - 7, Australian Open - 7), and twice won five consecutive titles at individual majors (Wimbledon 2003-07, US Open 2004-08).

    And that is just scratching the surface.

    He has spent the most weeks at world number one (310) and the most consecutively so (237), and sits third on the ATP list for the most aces in a career (11,344), behind only the towering duo of one-trick wonders Ivo Karlovic and John Isner.

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    Nadal can almost claim to have equalled Federer's 10 successful title defences, after retaining his crown nine times at Roland Garros, while winning Wimbledon in 2008 and 2010, having had to miss the 2009 tournament through injury.

    There are plenty of records the remarkable Spaniard can call his own though, beginning with his 12 French Open triumphs, the most titles won by a player in any of the four grand slam tournaments.

    From 2005 to 2014, Nadal won at least one slam every season, the 10-year streak setting him apart from Federer and Djokovic who have never managed such consistency.

    By securing Olympic singles gold in Beijing in 2008 and doubles at Rio in 2016, Nadal became the first man to claim the Games double on top of the career singles Grand Slam at all four majors.

    The Mallorca native's win-loss percentage on tour is the highest in men's tennis, with 992 wins and 201 defeats amounting to an 83.2 per cent hit rate (Djokovic - 83.1, Bjorn Borg - 82.4, Federer - 82.1).

    His 19 grand slams is not a record, of course, but another in Paris over the coming fortnight would take Nadal level with Federer.

    DJOKOVIC: THE INTERLOPER WHO COULD OUTLAST THE DIAMOND DUO

    Like Federer, Djokovic has reached eight or more semi-finals at each of the four majors, on his way to 17 slam titles. He was firm favourite for the US Open and an 18th slam earlier this month until being disqualified for carelessly hitting a ball that struck a linesperson.

    Many expect Djokovic to pass both Nadal and Federer and nudge to 21, 22 slams, maybe higher still, yet the 33-year-old may find that a tall order as the likes of Dominic Thiem break through.

    On and off the court, there have been moments to regret this year for Djokovic, but his career stands up to the best, and in many aspects he leaves Federer and Nadal standing.

    The Serbian is the only player in tennis to have won all four majors, the end-of-year ATP Finals and each of the nine highly-prized Masters 1000 tournaments.

    With his run of triumphs from Wimbledon in 2015 to the French Open in 2016, Djokovic became the first man to hold all four grand slam singles titles at the same time since Rod Laver in 1969 achieved a calendar clean sweep.

    Nobody has won as many Masters 1000 titles in a career (Djokovic - 36, Nadal - 35, Federer - 28), or reached as many ATP finals in a season as Djokovic's 15 in 2015, when he won 11 tournaments.

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    To think, he was once the interloper on the celebrated Nadal-Federer rivalry. Now he has a chance to outstrip both in the numbers game.

    TOGETHER: DOMINANCE LIKE TENNIS HAS NEVER KNOWN BEFORE

    Federer won his first major at Wimbledon in 2003, and taking in that and the grand slams that have come since, the combination of Basel's favourite son, Spanish superstar Nadal and Belgrade favourite Djokovic have scooped 56 of 68 singles titles.

    Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka, with three titles each, are the only two other men to win more than one slam during that 17-year span. Barely anyone else had a look-in.

    Such dominance is without equal in tennis.

    To take previous eras as comparison points, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors won all their grand slams between the 1974 Australian Open and the 1984 US Open, collectively gathering 26 titles across those 44 tournaments. Sensational, and it remains important to make that point, but the haul has been blown out of the water by the modern-day Big Three.

    Ivan Lendl, Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg were the next generation and scooped 20 slams (Lendl - 8, Becker - 6, Edberg - 6) from a 48-tournament stretch beginning at the 1984 French Open and running through to the 1996 Australian Open.

    The mighty American triumvirate of Sampras, Andre Agassi and Jim Courier together earned 26 majors (Sampras - 14, Agassi - 8, Courier - 4) from the 1990 US Open through to the 2003 Australian Open - a 50-slam span.

    Agassi won in Australia in 2003, and Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero took the French Open title in the spring. Come the English summer, it was Federer's turn at the wheel for the first time, that first Wimbledon title signalling the dawning of a new era.

    LEGACY: THESE RECORDS COULD STAND THE TEST OF TIME

    As the sun begins to slowly descend, with Federer now 39 years old and Nadal and Djokovic well into their mid-thirties, the famous wins in Melbourne, Paris, London and New York will become fewer, and soon they will belong to memory.

    Another great generation will rise; perhaps not for some years to come, but doubtless they will rise.

    Yet asking them to scale the winning heights of the Federer-Nadal-Djokovic triad might be another matter entirely.

  • Messi's Last Dance: The records the Barcelona star can break – and what could hold him back Messi's Last Dance: The records the Barcelona star can break – and what could hold him back

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    His attempt to leave the club, played out in public long before he spoke openly about his plans, ended with him accepting he will spend at least one more year at Camp Nou.

    Messi is still angry with president Josep Maria Bartomeu, still upset with the way the team has declined since 2015's treble, but he was smiling again when he played in the 3-1 friendly win over Gimnastic, a grin that gladdened the hearts of Barca fans across the world.

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    He managed 31 goals and 25 assists last season, the latter number his highest such tally in five years, the former the lowest. He completed more dribbles per game than ever (5.91) but recorded his lowest shots-per-game tally in at least five years (4.57).

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    THE RECORDS HE HOLDS

    This is just a handful, of course.

    Messi is the all-time leading goalscorer in LaLiga with 444. In Europe's top-five leagues, only long-time adversary Cristiano Ronaldo has more (447).

    In all competitions for Barca, Messi has scored 634 goals and provided 254 assists in 731 appearances. That puts him on 888 goal involvements for the club - a tally nobody even comes close to matching.

    Messi has scored at least 30 goals in each of the last 12 seasons and is the only player to score at least 10 in 14 consecutive LaLiga campaigns. He holds the record for the most in a single season, too: he scored 50 in 2011-12.

    And, of course, he is the only man to win the Ballon d'Or six times.

     

    THE RECORDS THAT BECKON

    If Messi features in 31 of Barca's 38 LaLiga matches, he will eclipse Xavi's record of 505 appearances for the club in Spain's top flight. He will also surpass Xavi for games in all competitions for the Catalans (767) if he plays 37 times overall.

    Messi will close on the LaLiga record held by Manolo Sanchis for the most appearances at a single club in the division, but he will need more than one season for that - Messi is on 485, while ex-Real Madrid man Sanchis played 523 times.

    Of course, Messi will be desperate for trophies this season after a barren 2019-20, and winning two will see him draw level with Ryan Giggs when it comes to titles won with the same club. Giggs won 36 with Manchester United.

    But how about this for a feat: if Messi gets 10 goals this season - and let's face it, there's a good chance - he will set a new record for goals scored for the same club in official competitions. The current best is 643, set by a former Santos forward known as Pele.

     

    THE PROBLEMS HE FACES

    After the friendly win over Gimnastic, Koeman made it clear he plans to deviate from Barca's traditional 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1 that will, hopefully, get the best out of their midfielders. Such a system would presumably see Messi stationed as the number 10, behind a central striker.

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    His most prolific season - 2011-12, the last under Guardiola - saw Messi record an astonishing 73 goals and 29 assists, leading to his calendar-year record of 79 goals in 2012. Again, that was from a central position in the attack, albeit one in a team filled with exceptional players. A shift back to the middle could suit him.

    The trouble is that Messi is increasingly having to do all this himself. The supporting cast has dwindled in quality since 2015 and his most productive relationships are behind him.

    Luis Suarez (47) has the most assists for Messi at Barca and completed his switch to Atletico Madrid this week. To continue a recent theme, his great friend expressed displeasure with the board over the matter. The top five Messi assisters after Suarez have all long left the club: Dani Alves (42), Andres Iniesta (37), Xavi (31), Pedro (25) and Neymar (22). The next on the list is Jordi Alba (21), whose own spot in Koeman's team is not entirely certain.

    He has never looked entirely compatible with Antoine Griezmann, Ansu Fati is still a raw talent in many respects, and the squad will take time to adjust to any new formation, not to mention new arrivals in Miralem Pjanic and, perhaps, Memphis Depay. What's more, the embarrassment of last season's final few weeks will be fresh in the players' minds and the unrest from the boardroom downwards will never be far from the headlines.

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