Major League Soccer got under way last weekend, to the relief of its devoted fans. So many of us have been busy following and worrying about the end of the collective bargaining agreement and the will they/won’t they strike storyline, we didn’t really do as much pre-seasoning and prognosticating as usual. Of course the players and owners left it until about ten days before the season to finally reach an agreement. Even over at Soccer by Ives, they were rolling out three, four team-previews a day.
So we’re all a little behind on the MLS scene, but a few developments that will shape and mold the 2010 have already arisen…
- Red Bull Arena. Finally (and we do mean finally) the New York franchise has its own stadium. By all accounts it’s state-of-the-art, the best in MLS, and worthy of all the hype. The team also underwent an off-season facelift, and if Thierry Henry shows up after the World Cup as has been rumored, maybe the Red Bulls will finally reward their fan-base.
- Welcome, Philly. Natural rivals for New York, a balanced schedule for the league, and a team to support for some of the country’s most notorious sports fans. Philadelphia Union, welcome to MLS. Coach Peter Nowak will have the team moving in the right direction given time, but for now they look like the Eastern Conference doormats.
- Who’s in, Who’s out? Beckham, out (severe injury). Henry in? Ricardo Clark, Stuart Holden, Steve Ralston, Cuahtemoc Blanco, Herculez Gomez, Gonzolo Segares, all out. All significant players, and in some cases, stars. So, who’s in. The most intriguing newcomers include Blaise NKufo (from Switzerland, Seattle), Danny Allsopp (from Australia, D.C.), Collins John (from Belgium, Chicago), Joel Lindpere (from Estonia, New York), Osael Romero (from El Salvador, Chivas), and Sunil Chhetri (from India!, Kansas City). As always, some of these players will be solid contributors and team leaders, while others will slip into obscurity. It’s worth noting that we have no new recognizable DPs to brag about… yet.
- A World Cup year. The World Cup, coming as it does in the middle of the MLS season, always has some effect on the season. The U.S. players and a smattering of other internationals will be on leave, but this time around with the U.S. team likely formed from more internationally based players than any time since the league’s inception, the net effect will be minimal. Of course MLS hopes a good World Cup run will bring new fans to the league. And so do we. After all, the World Cup helped me get interested in the league. But how many fans will really come to a match or watch the Thursday night game as a result of the World Cup? This is the big money question.
- Playoff picks. Last year we didn’t do too badly, so we’ll give it another shot. This year only half the teams make the playoffs, so my chances to screw it up have increased once again. In the West I’ll take, Seattle, Salt Lake, Dallas, and L.A. Galaxy. In the East we’ll predict Columbus, Chicago, Kansas City, and New York. My wildcards (as it were) to sneak in would be Houston and Toronto. One of the best elements of MLS, however, is its parity and unpredictability (as opposed to most of the other soccer leagues around the world), so tune in and find out.