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A-League (1995–2004)

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USL A-League
Folded2004 (became USL First Division)
CountryUnited States
ConfederationUSSF, CONCACAF
Number of teams16 (2004)
Level on pyramid2
Domestic cup(s)U.S. Open Cup
Most championshipsRochester Raging Rhinos
(3 championships)
Original A-League logo

The A-League was a professional men's soccer league which featured teams from the United States and Canada. Founded in 1996 as the USISL Select League, the competition merged with the American Professional Soccer League in 1997 to become the USISL A-League. In 2005, it was re-branded to the USL First Division.

While it existed, it was a Division II league in the United States soccer league system, below the Division I Major League Soccer which began play the same year. The A-League was the highest tier of three leagues operated by United Soccer Leagues (formerly USISL).



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 launched the Select League as its highest tier of three leagues. It debuted with 21 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 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 for Canadian teams throughout its existence until 2007 when Toronto FC debuted in MLS. Regular season matches between Canadian teams were used to award the fan created Voyageurs Cup,

A-League teams[edit]


Playoff season[edit]

Season Winner Score Runner-up
1996 California Jaguars 2–1 Richmond Kickers
1997 Milwaukee Rampage 1–1 (SO) Carolina Dynamo
1998 Rochester Raging Rhinos 3–1 Minnesota Thunder
1999 Minnesota Thunder 2–1 Rochester Raging Rhinos
2000 Rochester Raging Rhinos 3–1 Minnesota Thunder
2001 Rochester Raging Rhinos 2–0 Hershey Wildcats
2002 Milwaukee Rampage 2–1 (2OT) Richmond Kickers
2003 Charleston Battery 3–0 Minnesota Thunder
2004 Montreal Impact 2–0 Seattle Sounders

Regular season[edit]

Season Best record W–L–T Points Top goalscorer Team Goals
1996 Carolina Dynamo 14–3–1 31 Dan Stebbins Milwaukee Rampage 21
1997 Montreal Impact 21–7 61 Doug Miller Rochester Raging Rhinos 23
1998 Rochester Raging Rhinos 24–4 70 Mark Baena Seattle Sounders 24
1999 Rochester Raging Rhinos 22–6 92 Mark Baena and Niall Thompson Seattle Sounders and Vancouver 86ers 20
2000 Minnesota Thunder 20–4–4 99 Paul Conway, Greg Howes, and Johnny Menyongar Charleston Battery, Seattle Sounders, and Minnesota Thunder 17
2001 Richmond Kickers 16–7–3 76 Paul Conway Charleston Battery 22
2002 Seattle Sounders 23–4–1 107 Fadi Afash, Eduardo Sebrango, and McKinley Tennyson Portland Timbers, Montreal Impact, and Portland Timbers 18
2003 Milwaukee Wave United 18–10–0 54 Thiago Martins Pittsburgh Riverhounds 22
2004 Portland Timbers 18–7–3 57 Alan Gordon and Dante Washington Portland Timbers and Virginia Beach Mariners 17

Most successful clubs[edit]

Club Championships Runners-up Best regular season record
Rochester Rhinos 3 1 2
Milwaukee Rampage 2 0 0
Minnesota Thunder 1 3 1
Montreal Impact 1 0 1
California Jaguars 1 0 0
Charleston Battery 1 0 0
Richmond Kickers 0 2 1
Seattle Sounders 0 1 1
Carolina Dynamo 0 0 1
Portland Timbers 0 0 1
Milwaukee Wave United 0 0 1


  1. ^ "The Year in American Soccer – 1995". Archived from the original on August 5, 2009. Retrieved October 14, 2009.
  2. ^ "The Year in American Soccer – 1996". Archived from the original on August 5, 2009. Retrieved October 14, 2009.