MLS season preview
By ADAM CURTIS
College Contributor Network
It's been an arduous month of training camp for Major League Soccer (MLS). You read that right. Training camp! Look at your calendar, then back at this article, then back at your calendar. We're heading into March and the MLS season has not quite kicked off. On the plus side, the current schedule might benefit MLS come 2022, when the World Cup will be played in Qatar during the wintertime, when its offseason for MLS. This new campaign is set to start in less than a week, so let's take a look at what MLS has in store for us. And since it's a well-known fact that MLS commissioner Don Garber likes to peruse sports articles written by college students on AOL's CCN, I have one request of the commish: Can you please make sure there will not be a lockout? Thanks.
In the offseason, MLS introduced two new teams, Orlando City Soccer Club and New York City Football Club, while shutting down Chivas USA.
Orlando City SC previously played in the United Soccer League (USL), which is the third-tier of U.S. Soccer. NYCFC, a club affiliated with the soccer, or should I say football, powerhouse Manchester City FC, was announced as MLS's twentieth franchise after commissioner Garber made it clear he wanted a second team in New York (the other being the New York Red Bulls).
NYCFC essentially had to start its roster from scratch, while Orlando City retained several players from its USL team, namely midfielders Kevin Molino and Estrela, and defender Rafael Ramos. Both teams bolstered their rosters in the offseason, bringing in solid depth players while also signing veteran stars.
After an unsuccessful stint in Europe, U.S. Men's National Team midfielder Brek Shea came back to MLS, signing with Orlando, and another USMNT midfielder, Mix Diskerud, signed with NYCFC. Brazilian midfielder Kaká, formerly with A.C. Milan and Real Madrid, and Spanish striker David Villa, formerly with Valencia, Barcelona and Atlético Madrid, went to Orlando City and NYCFC, respectively, creating buzz around the league and showing that the new teams would be competitive from day one.
Toronto FC made some noise last offseason, but after failing to even qualify for the playoffs, it had to shake up its roster and bring in some big-name players. Around the world, MLS is known for bringing in aging stars who are looking to collect an easy paycheck (Jermain Defoe anyone?). But this time they got it right, by signing 25-year-old USMNT striker Jozy Altidore, who struggled in the English Premier League, and 28-year-old Italian forward Sebastian Giovinco, who comes from Italian giant Juventus in the Serie A.
Other notable moves:
Sacha Kljestan, an American midfielder who played in Belgium for Anderlecht, was signed by the New York Red Bulls, who eased the pain of losing soccer legend Thierry Henry to retirement.
The Chicago Fire brought in three Designated Players (DP's) this offseason, trying to improve upon what was a mediocre roster last season. Forwards Kennedy Igboananike and David Accam, and midfielder Shaun Maloney's salaries will not count against the Fire's salary cap since they are DP's.
Houston Dynamo was able to sign Mexican striker Erick "El Cubo" Torres, but he is currently on loan with Guadalajara in Liga MX. Torres has proven to be one of the league's top strikers and the best part is that he is only 22 years old. MLS has a hard time attracting young, up-and-coming players, but the fact that it was able to keep Torres shows the strides the league has made in recent years. Spanish centerback Raúl Rodríguez was another solid acquisition by the Houston Dynamo, who brought him over from Espanyol in La Liga.
Come October, the MLS Cup Playoffs will feature the usual suspects, such as the Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy, but every year there is always that one team that surprises everybody. Last year, that team was DC United. It were literally the worst team in league history just the season before, but were able to bounce back and head into the playoffs as the number one seed. Parity is something you don't find in every league, but it really is what makes MLS special. For me, the Chicago Fire will be that team, defying expectations and making a serious run in the playoffs.
The favorites coming out of the Eastern Conference have to be the New England Revolution, who made it to the MLS Cup Finals last year behind inspiring play from USMNT midfielders Jermaine Jones and Lee Nguyen. The Western Conference seems to be the tougher of the two, and the fact that Sporting Kansas City and the Houston Dynamo are heading over there this season makes it that much tougher.
LA Galaxy, coming off of its fifth MLS Cup, most in league history, looks to be the favorite yet again. Forwards Gyassi Zardes and Robbie Keane (who won the league MVP last season) will have to fill the void left by the retirement of US legend Landon Donovan, and having midfielder Steven Gerrard come during the summer transfer window will certainly help the cause.
The Galaxy's biggest obstacle will be the Seattle Sounders, led by midfielder Clint Dempsey and forward Obafemi Martins. The Sounders were able to win the Supporters Shield last season by earning the most points in the league but haven't been able to translate that regular season success into postseason glory just yet.
The upcoming season will be the most exciting yet, so jump on the MLS bandwagon and start cheering!
Adam Curtis is a freshman at American University. Growing up, he played soccer and tennis and is a die-hard D.C. sports fan. Follow him on Twitter: @actennis96