MLS has come a long way since its inception in 1996. From humble beginnings with just 10 teams, the league now boasts 29 clubs across the United States and Canada and is considered one of the top soccer leagues in the world.
As MLS has grown in popularity and profile, it’s also started to gain more visibility in movies and TV shows. While soccer has historically lagged behind American sports like football and baseball in terms of cultural representation, the beautiful game is now firmly entrenched in pop culture. MLS in particular has gotten more Hollywood screen time over the past decade.
From quick cameos to being integral plot points, here’s a look back at MLS’s portrayal in movies and TV shows and how it reflects the league’s growth.
Some of MLS’s earliest on-screen appearances were short cameos in movies or TV shows seeking to add some soccer flavor.amlss
In the 2000 film The Replacements, fictional Washington Sentinels players are briefly shown wearing old DC United jerseys during a montage. Similarly, the 2002 film Bend It Like Beckham features replicas of classic LA Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes jerseys to represent American teams.
As MLS expanded and rebranded in the mid-2000s, its new generation of jerseys also made cameos. Shows like Entourage, CSI: NY and Dirty Sexy Money included visual nods to the league by dressing characters or extras in then-current jerseys.
These small moments reflected MLS emerging on Hollywood’s radar as it increased its national presence and improved quality of play.
Dramatizing MLS Players and Coaches
As MLS personalities became more famous, they also turned into convenient inspirations for fictional on-screen characters.
The 2006 film Goal! dramatized the story of a Mexican immigrant trying to make it as a pro soccer player, closely mirroring the real-life journey of MLS stars like Carlos Ruiz. Its sequel, Goal II: Living the Dream, was specifically centered around the LA Galaxy, with actors playing characters based on David Beckham and Landon Donovan.
TV shows have also co-opted MLS figures in developing characters and plots. On Friday Night Lights, a fictional MLS coach borrowing many traits from noted MLS coach Schellas Hyndman is hired to lead the Dillon High School soccer team. Franklin & Bash has a recurring MLS player character with a personality inspired by Landon Donovan.
Rather than just visual nods, these examples demonstrate MLS personalities directly shaping Hollywood storytelling.
MLS Getting Real
As MLS has expanded its reach, film and TV productions have become more ambitious about incorporating real MLS brands and personalities on screen.
Movies like The Game Plan (2007) and Valentine’s Day (2010) integrated real-life MLS footage into key scenes to add authenticity. Meanwhile, the 2015 Adam Sandler film The Ridiculous 6 filmed scenes at Sporting Kansas City’s Children’s Mercy Park to depict a fictional MLS team.
The Fox show Pitch put MLS front and center by telling the fictional story of the league’s first female player. Real MLS teams, players and stadiums were featured, with over 20 MLS personalities making cameo appearances.
YouTube series like MLS Insider have also taken fans behind the scenes of MLS operations and player profiles.
But perhaps MLS’s most prominent on-screen integration to date came in NBC’s Ted Lasso. The globally popular show follows an American football coach helming the fictional English club AFC Richmond. In a major Season 2 plotline, AFC Richmond signs Mexican MLS star “Dani Rojas” from Club de Foot Montreal – incorporating an actual MLS team. Rojas is portrayed by Mexican actor Cristo Fernández wearing Montreal’s real jersey.
Ted Lasso’s MLS connection marks a major milestone for showcasing the league in pop culture worldwide.
MLS’s path from quick cameos to fully integrated Hollywood storylines mirrors the league’s own growth in 25+ years of operation.
What began as a fledgling league looking for any screen time has now become a solid fixture with multi-dimensional roles across movies and TV. MLS is now seen as integral to larger cultural stories about sports in America.
As soccer continues to gain ground in the American mainstream, expect MLS’s presence on screens big and small to keep growing. Whether it’s the background of larger stories or entire plots built around MLS personalities, there are more opportunities on the horizon.
The next 25 years will likely contain even more Hollywood milestones as MLS cements its place at the intersection of soccer and pop culture. More big-name players and teams will provide inspiration for creative fictionalized adaptations.
Off the field, MLS will also be leveraging its on-screen integration more intentionally to build its brand globally. Commissioner Don Garber has stated an aim for MLS to be one of the top leagues in world soccer by 2026. High-profile portrayals in media can only help raise the league’s profile and credibility with audiences worldwide.
As media and technology continue evolving to bring sports audiences closer to the game, MLS is perfectly positioned to lead that charge for soccer. Its condensed geographic footprint in North America allows for ease of access and integrated storytelling opportunities.
The days of relying on quick visual nods for recognition are over. MLS is ready for its Hollywood close-up on center stage. With soccer firmly established in the mainstream, expect the bright lights to keep shining on MLS both on and off the field.