Major League Soccer kicks off the season on Saturday, with an earlier start and a quick finish to match the World Cup, another expanded team (and plans for more) and – for the first time – a club in the New York area as the defending champion of the tournament.
The regular season will begin in February so it could end with the MLS Cup final on November 5, the earliest championship match day in 20 years and a month earlier than the season finale. prior to. The change was made to keep the season unlike the World Cup, which kicks off on November 21 in Qatar.
An uninterrupted season is the goal after the pandemic led to a significant reshuffle of the 2020 campaign and the postponement and stadium restrictions in 2021. The league reports that the players’ they are 97 percent vaccinated, which will help a lot.
For the sixth year in a row, a season opens with a new expansion team: This year the new team is Charlotte FC, increasing the number of major Football League teams that have Football Clubs in their name. they number in the tens.
There’s so much more: St. Louis City SC (Football Club) joins next year, making the tournament a city with a long history of football. St. Louis will be the league’s 29th team when it takes over the field, and Las Vegas is expected to follow within 30 or even 30. This week, Commissioner Don Garber said the league looked beyond that. . “We are starting the process of deciding whether it should expand to 32 or not,” he said. “There are other North American leagues with that many teams, and I think our league can handle that.” However, no final decision has been made yet.
With Charlotte playing in the 75,000 capacity Bank of America Stadium, home of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, there are high expectations that the home opener against Los Angeles FC on March 5 will break records. A record 73,000 people attended the MLS, which was set at the last 2018 in Atlanta.
Who are the title contenders?
New York City FC, the team that won their first league title last season by beating the Portland Timbers on penalties, are bringing back most of their key players, notably Valentin Castellanos, who took the lead. top of the tournament with 22 goals. Since then, it has added the 26-year-old Brazilian player Thiago Martins to strengthen its defenses. But despite the epic playoffs, NYCFC has only the eighth best record in the regular season, and Cup repeats are rare: No team has done it since the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2011 and ‘ twelfth.
“That’s the goal, of course, to win again,” coach Ronny Deila said this week. He said that although his team’s season ended where it wanted to be last season, not everything was perfect, and he hopes that will give his team a boost. better.
“We are a champion,” he said. “It’s hard to repeat that. At the same time, we were 20 points behind New England last year.”
New England Revolution announced the tournament’s best record in 2021, a stunning 22-5-7 difference, 12 points off the next best team, but it will be a little different. New England sold Tajon Buchanan, a 22-year-old Canadian midfielder, to Belgium’s Club Brugge; transition from Teal Bunbury to Nashville; and will soon lose the main kick, goalkeeper Matt Turner, to Arsenal. (Turner, currently No. 1 on the US national team, is expected to stay in New England until mid-season.) The good news for Revolution is that the defending MVP, Carles Gil, is back, and Jozy is back. Veteran Altidore is back. added for some more scoring punches.
Seattle Sounders narrowly won last year’s Western Conference despite playing all year without striker Jordan Morris, who suffered a second major knee injury while on loan at Swansea City in the Premier League, and Union of Philadelphia There will be a lot of motivation after the loss to New York in the playoffs when 11 players are absent because of Covid.
And LAFC will always be an opponent as long as it has an attacker Carlos Vela. Coach Steve Cherundolo said: “Having Carlos is unbelievable. “He is a goal scorer. He can set goals. He is an offensive threat, no matter what particular position he is in. It’s great to have him. “
Who are the new faces?
But the new faces also include younger players, like 20-year-old Argentine midfielder Thiago Almadawho joined Atlanta United for the highest transfer fee the league has ever paid: $16 million.
“We have recently been part of the global football ecosystem,” said Garber. “That was not the case a few years ago. This is the first year the league is in the top 5 both in terms of player sales coming and going. It’s not luck and coincidence. It is a strategy that focuses on investing in youth development, to capitalize on a mature and fertile market, and to ensure we continue to have products that are attractive to international competitors. ”
Did I hear that Lionel Messi might be going to MLS?
Messi recently told a Spanish TV channel, La Sexta, “It’s always been my dream to be able to enjoy and experience life in the United States,” sparking a frenzy of anticipation among football fans in the state. Of course, there is no evidence that he actually planned to come.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/25/sports/soccer/mls-preview.html MLS Preview: New Teams, New Faces and New York Champions