Fanbases in Major League Soccer run the gamut from sensational to abysmal. Now headed into its 19th season with 19 teams and three more franchises on the horizon, both MLS and its fans have grown considerably from the 10-team league that started back in 1996.
Here are the power rankings for the team's fan bases from worst to first. Taken into account is fan attendance (statistics via NBC Sports), percentage of seats filled (statistics via burgundywave.com), passion of the fans and the team’s stadium.
Additional rankings from Bleacher Report's own Joe Tansey.
In a lot of ways, it’s hard to blame Chivas USA fans for not supporting their club. There’s simply not much to cheer for.
Beyond their dead last finish in the Western Conference, their 2013 season was filled with policies that alienated much of the league and landed themselves in a number of ugly lawsuits.
Their attendance was, not surprisingly, dead last in the league, and things have gotten so bad that yesterday, February 20, the league announced they have taken over the franchise and the team will reportedly be rebranded.
D.C. United have a passionate, experienced fanbase, but fail to bring in the numbers and have one of the worst venues in the game. While there have been efforts to build a soccer-specific stadium, they still play in RFK, an old-model, dual-purpose baseball/football stadium. The setup creates a lot of bad seats, bad angles and, in places, big distances between fans and the field. RFK is also old and falling apart.
Add into that having the league’s worst team in 2013, so no wonder the fans didn’t come out. But even in 2012 with an exciting, winning team, their attendance wasn’t great.
Toronto FC have a nice venue in a great location, but, unfortunately, have generally boasted a terrible product. The signings of Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe and Julio Cesar may well spice things up in 2014, but Toronto’s fanbase sits mid-table in terms of both overall numbers and percentage of seats filled.
FC Dallas has a nice stadium, but it’s well outside the downtown area. The team finished 14th out of 19 teams in fan attendance and fourth worst in the league for percentage of seats filled. On the one hand, you can’t blame their fans for not wanting to watch their total collapse in 2013 after a hot start. But, it certainly didn’t help that one of their own fans smashed open FC Dallas center-back George John’s head by hurling a beer bottle at him during a game in April.
Like many other MLS teams, the Chicago Fire has been hurt by a poor stadium location and an inconsistent product on the field. The Fire have a proud history and boast some of the league’s all-time greatest players.
But in recent years, the Fire have struggled to make an impact in the playoffs, and their stadium, while beautiful, sits in dilapidated Bridgeview—15 minutes outside downtown Chicago.
The Fire have a good supporters group—aptly named Section 8—but unfortunately the team boasts one of the worst attendance numbers in the league.
The Columbus Crew were once the envy of every fanbase in the league when they could boast the first, and only, soccer-specific stadium in MLS. But those days are long gone, replaced by a team that has struggled in recent years and a fanbase that is in the bottom half of attendance.
Their now-15-year-old stadium is outdated by modern standards, and the scoreboard notoriously caught fire last season during the pre-game warm-ups of a clash against D.C. United in April.
The New England Revolution have an exciting, young team. Too bad they play in boring, out-of-the-way, Gillette Stadium.
The cavernous National Football League venue makes it look empty for almost every home Revs game, a fact made even worse by New England’s attendance, which is fourth from the bottom in the league.
The Colorado Rapids boast a beautiful soccer-specific stadium just outside Denver and have a team full of young, promising talent. The city also has very knowledgeable soccer fans and a number of fantastic soccer bars. Unfortunately, the city doesn’t get out to support their team as often as they should. The Rapids rank 13th in attendance overall and 10th in terms of percentage of seats filled.
The Vancouver Whitecaps’ fanbase does its part in the passionate Cascadia Cup rivalry, but still takes a back seat to the more prominent fanbases in Portland and Seattle.
Their overall attendance is fifth in the league and seventh overall in percentage of seats filled.
The Montreal Impact play in beautiful Saputo Stadium, a soccer-specific venue built when the Impact were a lower-division side. Their fans do a great job supporting their team.
The Impact rank fourth overall in attendance and fifth in terms of seats filled.
On pure numbers, one might think the San Jose Earthquakes have no fan support. In fact, the only team they outdraw is Chivas USA. However, that number only tells half of the story. San Jose’s current venue, Buck Shaw Stadium, is a converted multipurpose field and only has capacity for 10,000 fans. In terms of percentages of seats filled, the Earthquakes are at the top of the league and over the past few seasons have boasted one of the more exciting teams in the league. This fall, they will move into new digs in a soccer-specific venue.
The New York Red Bulls rank eighth overall in terms of attendance and have a team full of big stars. They also won the Supporters’ Shield in 2013.
However, when one looks at the percentage of seats filled for New York, one has to wonder about the commitment of the average Red Bulls supporter. They rank 14th in the league in terms of seats filled and while they do play in the second-biggest soccer-specific venue in the league, they also have the largest metropolitan population in the league to pull from.
The LA Galaxy have a little bit of everything working for them. They’re second highest in league attendance, have a great venue in the Home Depot Center and great year-round weather to boot.
The Galaxy also have a star-laden lineup that won back-to-back MLS Cups in 2011 and 2012 and the LA Riot Squad—their supporters group—to back them up.
The Philadelphia Union have one of the best views of any stadium in the world and the city’s sports’ fans have the intensity to match. While the Union are on the bottom half of the league in terms of attendance, they are sixth overall in percentage of seats filled.
With a young core of solid players, the Union had a decent season in 2013, and their fans will be hoping for much better to come in the year ahead.
The Houston Dynamo have a nice, new stadium, but because of their location, midday games in the summer are unbearably hot and the fans don’t come out in force for those games. They still rank a respectable sixth overall and have had plenty of success over the past few years to keep the fans interested.
Real Salt Lake is another squad with the total package, including great fans, a beautiful venue and a great team to support.
RSL finished ninth in overall attendance (eighth in percentage of seats filled) in 2013, no doubt hurt by the fact that Rio Tinto Stadium is 15 miles outside downtown Salt Lake City, but their fans more than make up for it with the passion they display in the stands.
If you’re looking for a place to get the total MLS fan experience, it’s tough to beat Kansas City. They have a great venue in Sporting Park, the 2013 MLS Cup champions to cheer on and a great city to support the team.
They are supported by The Cauldron, both the name of Sporting’s supporters’ group and the name of their section in the stadium. They finished seventh in overall attendance in 2013, but third in percentage of seats filled.
The Seattle Sounders are the only MLS team that can come close to filling an NFL venue and play their games at CenturyLink field. As Tansey puts it, "Anyone who can consistently pack an NFL stadium deserves the top spot."
Their fanbase is, without a doubt, one of the loudest and most passionate in the country, and the team ranks No. 1 in both attendance and in percentage of seats filled.
Heading to a Portland Timbers game is one of the few places in America that a fan can get a feel for a European-style soccer environment. Portland’s Providence Park (formerly Jen-Weld Field) has a bit of an awkward setup due to its previous use as a multipurpose stadium, but its fans more than make up for it.
Timbers fans pack their stadium week after week and as Tansey puts it, "If they had a NFL stadium to fill, they'd fill it in a heartbeat."
Timbers fans are known for being incredibly loud and have unique and beautiful traditions like Timber Joey.