Main League Soccer begins its season on Saturday, with an earlier begin and an accelerated end to accommodate the World Cup, one other enlargement workforce (and plans for extra) and — for the primary time — a New York-area membership because the league’s reigning champion.
Why the frenzy?
The common season will begin in February in order that it could actually wrap up with the M.L.S. Cup ultimate on Nov. 5, the earliest date for the championship recreation in 20 years, and greater than a month sooner than final season’s ultimate. The shift has been made to maintain the season out of the way in which of the World Cup, which kicks off on Nov. 21 in Qatar.
A disruption-free season is the objective after the pandemic led to a big revamp of the 2020 marketing campaign and a delay and stadium restrictions in 2021. The league reviews that its gamers are 97 % vaccinated, which ought to assist so much.
For the sixth straight yr a season opens with a brand new enlargement workforce: This yr the newcomer is Charlotte F.C., rising the variety of Main League Soccer groups with Soccer Membership of their names to a dozen.
There are extra to return: St. Louis Metropolis S.C. (Soccer Membership) joins subsequent yr, bringing the league to a metropolis with a sturdy soccer heritage. St. Louis would be the league’s twenty ninth workforce when it takes the sector, and Las Vegas is predicted to observe for a fair 30. This week, Commissioner Don Garber mentioned the league was already wanting past that. “We’re starting the method of deciding if it ought to develop to 32,” he mentioned. “There are different North American leagues with that many groups, and I believe our league might deal with that.” No ultimate dedication has been made, although, he mentioned.
With Charlotte enjoying within the 75,000-capacity Financial institution of America Stadium, dwelling of the N.F.L.’s Carolina Panthers, there’s an expectation that its dwelling opener towards Los Angeles F.C. on March 5 will break the M.L.S. attendance document of 73,000, which was set on the 2018 ultimate in Atlanta.
Who’re the title contenders?
New York Metropolis F.C., which received its first league championship final season by defeating the Portland Timbers on penalties, is returning most of its key gamers, notably Valentin Castellanos, who led the league with 22 objectives. It has since added the 26-year-old Brazilian Thiago Martins to bolster its protection. However regardless of its playoff heroics, N.Y.C.F.C. had solely the eighth greatest document within the common season, and Cup repeats are uncommon: No workforce has performed it because the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2011 and ’12.
“That’s the objective, after all, to win once more,” Coach Ronny Deila mentioned this week. He mentioned that whereas his workforce’s season ended the place it wished to be final season, not every thing was excellent, and that, he hoped, would drive his workforce to enhance.
“We’re a champion,” he mentioned. “It’s at all times exhausting to copy that. On the similar time, we have been 20 factors behind New England final yr.”
The New England Revolution posted the league’s greatest document in 2021, a surprising 22-5-7 mark that was 12 factors away from the following greatest workforce, however it’ll look a bit completely different. New England bought Tajon Buchanan, the 22-year-old Canadian midfielder, to Belgium’s Membership Brugge; traded ahead Teal Bunbury to Nashville; and can quickly lose its rock, goalkeeper Matt Turner, to Arsenal. (Turner, now the US nationwide workforce’s No. 1, is predicted to remain in New England by means of midseason.) The excellent news for the Revolution is that the reigning league M.V.P., Carles Gil, is again, and the veteran Jozy Altidore has been added for some extra scoring punch.
The Seattle Sounders practically received the Western Convention final yr regardless of enjoying all yr with out ahead Jordan Morris, who sustained a second main knee damage whereas on mortgage at Swansea Metropolis within the Premier League, and the Philadelphia Union may have loads of motivation after shedding to New York within the playoffs when lacking 11 gamers due to Covid.
And L.A.F.C. is at all times going to be a contender so long as it has attacker Carlos Vela. “Having Carlos is unbelievable,” Coach Steve Cherundolo mentioned. “He’s a objective scorer. He can arrange objectives. He’s an offensive risk, it doesn’t matter what explicit place he’s in. It’s nice to have him.”
Who’re the brand new faces?
However the brand new faces additionally embrace youthful gamers, just like the 20-year-old Argentine midfielder Thiago Almada, who joined Atlanta United for the best switch payment ever paid by the league: $16 million.
“We’re not too long ago a part of the worldwide soccer ecosystem,” Garber mentioned. “That was not the case a number of years in the past. That is the primary yr the league has been within the prime 5 in each incoming and outgoing participant gross sales. That’s not by luck and happenstances. It’s a centered technique to put money into youth growth, to benefit from a ripe and fertile market, and guarantee we proceed to have an entice product with worldwide gamers.”
Did I hear that Lionel Messi may be coming to M.L.S.?
Messi not too long ago informed a Spanish tv channel, La Sexta, “I at all times had the dream of having the ability to get pleasure from and have the expertise of dwelling in the US,” setting off an anticipated frenzy amongst stateside soccer followers. After all, there is no such thing as a proof that he really plans to return.