A-League (1995–2004)

The A-League was a professional men's soccer league which featured teams from the United States and Canada. The A-League emerged from the restructured American Professional Soccer League in 1995 and operated until 2004, after which it was re-branded the USL First Division. During its first season, in 1995, it was the de facto top professional soccer league in both countries, before it was replaced at the top of the United States soccer pyramid by Major League Soccer (MLS) in 1996.

USL A-League
Folded2004 (became USL First Division)
CountryUnited States
ConfederationUSSF, CONCACAF
Number of teams16 (2004)
Level on pyramid2
Domestic cup(s)Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup
Most championshipsMontreal Impact
(3 season championships)
Rochester Raging Rhinos
(3 playoff championships)


The origins of the A-League go back to 1986 and 1987 with the creation of three unrelated semi-professional soccer leagues. On the north-west coast, the Western Soccer Alliance (WSA), a summer outdoor league, emerged in response to the collapse of the North American Soccer League. In the southwest United States, the Southwest Indoor Soccer League was created in response to the upsurge in popularity of the Major Indoor Soccer League. Finally, in 1987, the Canadian Soccer League emerged with eight teams across Canada.

While the SISL remained virtually unknown to the wider soccer community, the Western Soccer Alliance grew in popularity and inspired the creation of the third American Soccer League in 1988. By the summer of 1989, these two leagues began considering a merger. At the same time, the SISL had grown to seventeen indoor teams and had added a summer outdoor schedule, known as the Southwest Outdoor Soccer League with included eight teams. In 1990, the WSA and ASL merged to form the American Professional Soccer League with twenty-two teams across the United States. At the same time, the SISL expanded to fourteen outdoor teams.

In 1992, the SISL renamed itself the United States Interregional Soccer League (USISL) and had grown to twenty-one teams. By the 1993 season, the number of teams in the USISL had doubled to forty-two.

The mergers between all of these leagues continued in 1993 with the collapse of the Canadian Soccer League. This led to three Canadian teams, the Vancouver 86ers, Toronto Blizzard and Montreal Impact joining the American Professional Soccer League for the 1993 season. So by the summer of 1993, only two outdoor leagues competed for national attention in North America, the United States Interregional Soccer League and the American Professional Soccer League. However, by this time, the USISL was growing and the APSL was shrinking.

In 1995, the American Professional Soccer League was down to six teams – two Canadian and four American. It also changed its name to the A-League. At the same time, the rapidly growing USISL had split its teams into two leagues, the fully professional Professional League and the semi-professional Premier League. In 1996, the USISL made one more critical move. It created a Select League with twenty-one of its most successful clubs. With the creation of the Select League, the USISL now competed directly with the A-League for Division II recognition. This led the two leagues, the A-League which was made up the remains of the old Western Soccer Alliance, American Soccer League and Canadian Soccer League, and the USISL to enter merger talks. The creation of Major League Soccer in 1996 as an American Division I league also spurred the merger.[1]

In 1997, six of the seven remaining A-League teams – Montreal Impact, Colorado Foxes, Seattle Sounders, Rochester Raging Rhinos, Vancouver 86ers and Atlanta Ruckus, plus two planned A-League expansion teams (Toronto Lynx and Hershey Wildcats) merged with the USISL Select League to form the USISL A-League, a consolidated North American Division II league with twenty-four teams.[2]

In 1999, the USISL renamed itself the United Soccer Leagues (USL). The USISL A-League then became the USL A-League. In 2005, the USL A-League was formally renamed the USL First Division or USL-1.

It remained the top league of the Canadian soccer pyramid throughout its existence, with Canadian teams vying for the fan created Voyageurs Cup, until 2006 when Toronto FC debuted in MLS, effectively splitting Division 1 status in Canada between the two leagues. Eventually as the standard of play rose in MLS, by 2010 the USL-1 was effectively Division 2 in Canada.

A-League teams


Regular season

Season Winner Record (W–L–T) Points Playoff Results (W–L–T) Runners-up Record (W–L–T) Points
2004 Portland Timbers18–7–357 Lost in conference semifinal series overtime1–1–0 Montreal Impact17–6–556
2003 Milwaukee Wave United18–10–054 Lost in division final series overtime1–1–0 Montreal Impact16–6–654
2002 Seattle Sounders23–4–1107 Lost in conference semifinal series0–2–0 Charleston Battery19–3–689
2001 Richmond Kickers16–7–376 Lost in quarterfinal series0–2–0 Hershey Wildcats16–7–375
2000 Minnesota Thunder20–4–499 Lost in final4–2–0 Milwaukee Rampage18–9–189
1999 Rochester Raging Rhinos22–692 Lost in final5–3 San Diego Flash20–890
1998 Rochester Raging Rhinos24–470 Won Championship6–0 San Diego Flash21–761
1997 Montreal Impact21–761 Lost in conference final series3–2 Hershey Wildcats19–955
1996 Montreal Impact21–655 Lost in semifinal0–1 Colorado Foxes16–1144
1995 Montreal Impact17–751 Lost in semifinal series1–2 Seattle Sounders18–651

Play-off season

Season Winner Score Runner-up Top Goalscorer Team Goals
2004 Montreal Impact 2–0 Seattle Sounders Alan Gordon and Dante Washington Portland Timbers and Virginia Beach Mariners 17
2003 Charleston Battery 3–0 Minnesota Thunder Thiago Martins Pittsburgh Riverhounds 22
2002 Milwaukee Rampage 2–1 (2OT) Richmond Kickers Fadi Afash, Eduardo Sebrango, and McKinley Tennyson Portland Timbers, Montreal Impact, and Portland Timbers 18
2001 Rochester Raging Rhinos 2–0 Hershey Wildcats Paul Conway Charleston Battery 22
2000 Rochester Raging Rhinos 3–1 Minnesota Thunder Paul Conway, Greg Howes, and Johnny Menyongar Charleston Battery, Seattle Sounders, and Minnesota Thunder 17
1999 Minnesota Thunder 2–1 Rochester Raging Rhinos Mark Baena and Niall Thompson Seattle Sounders and Vancouver 86ers 20
1998 Rochester Raging Rhinos 3–1 Minnesota Thunder Mark Baena Seattle Sounders 24
1997 Milwaukee Rampage 1–1 (SO) Carolina Dynamo Doug Miller Rochester Raging Rhinos 23
1996 Seattle Sounders 2–0 Rochester Raging Rhinos Doug Miller Rochester Raging Rhinos 18
1995 Seattle Sounders 2–1 (SO) Atlanta Ruckus Peter Hattrup Seattle Sounders 11

Most successful clubs

Club Championships Runners-up Regular Season
Regular Season
Rochester Rhinos3220
Seattle Sounders2111
Milwaukee Rampage2001
Montreal Impact1032
Minnesota Thunder1310
Charleston Battery1001
Richmond Kickers0110
Portland Timbers0010
Milwaukee Wave United0010


  1. "The Year in American Soccer – 1995". Archived from the original on 2009-08-05. Retrieved 2009-10-14.
  2. "The Year in American Soccer – 1996". Archived from the original on 2009-08-05. Retrieved 2009-10-14.
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