By Ryan Mayer

Major League Soccer (MLS) has been enjoying a big jump in popularity over the last couple of years as soccer itself becomes ever more popular in the United States. In the league’s now 20th season, the MLS has 20 teams with plans for several franchises to join in the next couple of seasons.

Lost in all of this growth and success is the fact that the league nearly closed up shop at the advent of the millennium. According to FC Dallas president Dan Hunt, talking to the Soccer Today podcast, the league had decided to cease operations back in 2001.

“We were having a league call in November and the league folded,” Hunt said. “It went out of business, they were preparing the documents and that was it.”

So essentially, MLS had closed up shop. But, if that was the case, why didn’t we hear about it and how is the league thriving today? Well, according to Hunt, it was his father, long-time Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt who saved the league.

“My dad was able to call everybody, get them back and within 48 hours, everybody was back, all in,” said Hunt.

Lamar Hunt, who passed away in 2006, was instrumental in the founding of MLS owning both the Columbus Crew and the Kansas City Wizards from the outset and adding partial ownership of the Dallas Burn (now known as FC Dallas) in 2003. He sold the Wizards to OnGoal, LLC in August of 2006 who then rebranded the club to its current Sporting KC adaptation prior to the 2011-12 season.

After escaping the clutches of near-failure, the league rode the popularity of the sport following the USMNT surprise run to the quarterfinals in the 2002 World Cup and has never looked back. As the league celebrates 20 years of play, they owe a lot to Hunt for keeping the dream of a United States domestic soccer league alive.

Ryan Mayer is an Associate Producer for CBS Local Sports. Ryan lives in NY but comes from Philly and life as a Philly sports fan has made him cynical. Anywhere sports are being discussed, that’s where you’ll find him.