Amidst the crowded landscape of college basketball, etc., Major League Soccer kicks of its 14th season Thursday night when the New York Red Bulls travel to face the newest expansion team, Seattle Sounders FC. This is my eleventh season of following MLS, and I always look forward to first kick.
Every year you hear a certain segment of sports journalists grousing about soccer and how it won’t last. This year with the whole Beckham to AC Milan circus, you might hear it again. But, the din and clamor is much quiter than it used to be. Even with the current economy, MLS is on solid financial footing and has firmly carved out a niche in the American sports landscape. That will do nicely for us soccer fans. One big reason is the somewhat unique single-entity ownership, which you can read about here. Seattle joins the league this year, Philly next year, and Vancouver and either Portland or St. Louis in 2011. MLS has plenty of suitors willing to invest.
Another reason is, of course, soccer rules. Now for some Beemsville MLS storylines…
Who do I like for the playoffs this year? From the East I’ll take Chicago, Columbus, New York, and Toronto. From the West, Real Salt Lake, Houston, Dallas, and Kansas City on the Wild Card entry.
Which newcomers will shine? We have Freddy Montero, Albert Celades, Santiago Hirsig, Bobby Convey, and the venerable Casey Keller. My prediction: the possible return of DaMarcus Beasley and/or Freddy Adu will help some teams push for the playoffs.
The Circus in L.A. Bruce Arena is playing Tuna and bringing in his old favorites. How long will those graybeards last? At least Landon came back for one more year. Of course all eyes will be on Beckham and how he deals with his return once the Italian season is over. It doesn’t take a swami to predict he’ll say all the right things, play well for a few games, then come up injured (real or feigned, it doesn’t really matter). Beckham wants to protect his brand and make England’s World Cup team. Everything else (including all the talk about building things up in this country, commitment to the Galaxy) is strictly secondary.
Which Americans are ready for the call? Although, Bob Bradley seems to favor the European pros over the domestic talent, a number of guys will get some shots with the crowed national team schedule. Chad Marshall, Marvelle Wynne, and Jonathan Bornstein will hopefully get serious looks in defense. It would be great to see young attackers like Stuart Holden, Robbie Rogers, and Kenny Cooper get some time too.
One great aspect of MLS: the surprises. Every season has unlikely strories of guys stepping up, signings from other leagues out of nowhere, late season pushes, and odd meltdowns. It’s an unpredictable league and a lot of fun.
So get some MLS. Year 14.