“Why would I ever click on an article about the MLS?” was probably your thought before deciding to click on this article and just checking it out a little. Soccer’s popularity is nowhere near that of the NFL and NBA in the USA, but there is a solid fanbase. You likely have an MLS team less than 100 miles away, but just don’t know it or care for them.
The 25th MLS season is right around the corner; it starts this Saturday, February 29th. The regular season runs until October with a total of 34 games per team. The conferences are divided into East and West, like the NBA, and the top 7 teams in each conference make the playoffs, like the new proposed NFL plan. But who’s going to come out on top? What player names might you recognize? Wait, there are two teams in Los Angeles now? All your questions and more will be answered in this MLS Preview, so let’s jump right in.
Why Should I Care?
This is the most important question, and for those of you not familiar with the MLS, it is very valid. Soccer is growing in America, and so is viewership for soccer games across all top leagues. Soccer has very few game stoppages, so there will almost always be action during each 45 minute half. There are no commercial breaks for the entire half, something no other league can boast.
Whether attending a game or watching at home, it is easy to lose track of time in the action. Like any other league, it is easy to get invested in the MLS by picking a team and following them. My favorite team, the Chicago Fire, weren’t too good in 2019, but I enjoyed following Toronto FC during their playoff run.
While the NFL remains strong now, many people have questioned its survival in the long run. More players than ever are retiring early and player safety has become a big deal. Some fans are turning away from the violence of the NFL and exploitation of the bodies of young adults. The MLS is similar to the NFL, as it has multiple games at the same time on Saturdays and Sundays. It may sound weird, but a future without the NFL is very possible.
How Many Teams are There Now?
With the addition of Inter Miami and Nashville SC, there are now 26 teams with 13 in each conference. In the last 10 years, the MLS has added 10 teams and now features 3 franchises in Canada, and New York and Los Angeles have each added second teams. By 2022, the league will have 30 teams with new franchises in Austin, Charlotte, Sacramento, and St. Louis.
Who are the Stars of the MLS?
The MLS has been dubbed in the soccer world as the “retirement home” for star players. David Beckham and Thierry Henry were the first to play in the MLS during the twilight of their careers, and others like Kaka and David Villa followed the trend. Recently, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney joined the MLS, but retired after the 2019 season.
Zlatan was an MVP candidate in 2019, but Carlos Vela of LAFC took home the award. 2018 MVP and MLS Cup Champion Josef Martinez of Atlanta United is arguably the second best player in the MLS behind Vela. Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez makes his MLS debut for LA Galaxy this season, and is another candidate to win 2020 MVP.
US National team stars Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley both play for Toronto FC, Jordan Morris plays for the Seattle Sounders, and goalkeeper Brad Guzan plays for Atlanta United. Most USMNT players play in the MLS, but the best play in Europe.
What Happened Last Season?
The 2019 season ended with the Seattle Sounders winning the MLS Cup. They defeated Toronto FC 3-1 at home to secure their 2nd title in just 11 seasons of existence. Los Angeles FC (LAFC) and New York City FC (NYCFC) both earned the #1 seed for the playoffs, but combined for just 1 postseason win. LAFC was in just their second season and did extremely well for an expansion team, whereas FC Cincinnati landed in last place during their inaugural season.
Who are the Favorites for 2020?
NYCFC and Atlanta United are the clear favorites in the East to start. They were the #1 and #2 seeds last year, respectively, and Atlanta United may have the best manager in Frank DeBoer. Atlanta’s Josef Martinez was 1st in the East in goal scoring and NYCFC’s Héber Araujo dos Santos was tied for 2nd in the East. Toronto FC, Philadelphia Union, and DC United are also contenders in the East.
The reigning champion Seattle Sounders are one of the top contenders in the West, but there is a good chance the Cup Final will be played in LA. LAFC is the outright favorite to start after their successful 2019 campaign. MVP and 2019 leading goal scorer Carlos Vela returns, as does David Rossi, who was 4th in goals. On the other side of LA, the Galaxy will have to replace the production of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. “Ibra” was 2nd in the league in goals, but Chicharito should provide a good replacement.
How Will the New Clubs Do?
Only 4 expansion clubs have made the playoffs in their inaugural season, so Nashville SC and Inter Miami shouldn’t sweat it if they don’t make the playoffs. David Beckham’s Miami club should be able to challenge for a playoff spot, but the odds are slim that they will make it. Nashville has two elite players in Dax McCarty and Walker Zimmerman, but they will likely be in the cellar of the West.