An argument: MLS is the most entertaining league in America. Not because the skill level is through-the-roof or because soccer is a special snowflake, but because MLS is giddily making it all up as the league kicks off its 21st season on Sunday. The ball is round, the Galaxy overpaid for a veteran, and we’ll know everything else by the time of the MLS Cup Final in December.
This column is going to be a guide for the season, but it won’t make many assumptions along the way. The roster rules are shaky and some of the best teams are idiosyncratically so, but we’re going to try and figure it out together. I’ll assume a passing familiarity with the teams and its stars — an understanding that Toronto underperforms and Vancouver, the opposite. But we get to spend the next several months figuring out how and why alongside 19 of the coaches and only a step behind Gregg Berhalter.
For if there’s any code to cracking the league, it’s in the mind of the 42-year-old coach of the Columbus Crew. He’s taken a roster full of fringe internationals (right back Harrison Afful is the only one with more than a dozen-ish caps) and turned them into a nuclear reactor of an offense. The trick has been to take from each according to his abilities, and also to give support so that Justin Meram isn’t required to lob in crosses and Kei Kamara doesn’t have to dance through traffic when Ethan Finlay and Federico Higuain are there, respectively.
And more importantly, there’s depth. Fullbacks out the wazoo and enough intriguing midfield pieces to keep the reactor humming if Wil Trapp has to go on international duty or someone else gets injured. Berhalter seems to know his team and know not to make them something they’re not, which gives Columbus the advantage over the New York squads.
Red Bulls have to hope that Gideon Baah can replace the American dream of Matt Miazga (he can’t). NYCFC’s Patrick Vieira will have to learn to embrace the league’s tiniest – if most beautiful – field, which may make the new skipper consider using foosball-style skewers to keep his midfield from smashing into each other.
Toronto won the offseason three years running, but at least this time they found some defenders in case Giovinco can’t score twice a game. Montreal, Toronto, and Orlando are all leaning on the tired legs of iconic foreigners. Chicago gutted a burnt-down building, thank goodness, since otherwise they’d end up like Philadelphia.
That leaves New England and DC United in the East, who count as old-school rivals in this league and are both minus talismanic midfielders. Except the Revolution have said ‘good riddance’ to Jermaine Jones. The black-and-red? They’re terrified and scared and alone without Perry Kitchen, especially while former USMNT star of the future Bill Hamid recovers from surgery.
Nobody seems to really have a clue in the West, which features better soccer and goofier tactics. Portland was able to pull off 2015 despite taking until July to trust Darlington Nagbe with the ball at his feet. Their Cascadia Cup rivals in Vancouver have Blas Diaz now, so they’ll continue to win 1-0 matches out of pure wrath for their opponents.
Seattle won a hype battle by signing everyone’s favorite college kid in Jordan Morris. But JMo won’t be able to replace China-bound Oba Martins, especially until the 21-year-old grows a left foot. Track-star speed and a linebacker’s shoulders can get him through international competition, but not centerback pairings who have spent years alongside each other.
The class of the West will likely again be FC Dallas thanks to home-grown stars and a realization that super-athletic youngsters in Texas in the summer can roadrunner a star-studded back four like what LA Galaxy have put together. There may be a reason Nigel de Jong and Ashley Cole were so cheap, after all. Maybe even Bruce Arena can’t get any more ketchup out of those particular bottles, even if the LA youngsters are even better than ever.
Elsewhere, Yura Movsisyan could sneak into a golden boot over at Real Salt Lake and Shkelzen Gashi could be a whole handful for defenses while at rival Colorado. Sporting KC will only frustrate the Missouri hopeful; the Brad Davis/Graham Zusi crosses have only Dom Dwyer’s handsome head in front of them and acres of undefendable space behind them. Houston Dynamo have cool uniforms. San Jose, bless their hearts, seems to be trusting their Silicon Valley techlords to build them a time machine to 2012. While I can’t sign off on that particular idea, there’s something great about a league that refuses to copycat its kings.
Or at least, that’s what we think! The first month of the season’s going to be full of discoveries, great gifs, and wildly entertaining soccer. It’ll be a great change of pace from watching the predictable teams walk away with the Spanish, German, and French soccer leagues. And seeing Leicester City walk a high-wire act through the gaps between quivering fingers. The European leagues are great (particularly if you’re not a West Coaster) and we’ll be keeping track of ‘em. That’ll go even more so for international soccer once the Euros and Copa Centenario kick off. But until, during, and through them we’ll be SiriusXM’s digital MLS presence. And we’re so excited to be the ones making it up alongside you, starting on Sunday.
This post was composed by soccer know-it-all and swell guy, Asher Kohn. Reach out to him and discuss all the soccer happenings from around the world on Twitter at: @AJKhn.
Tags:Columbus Crewfc dallaslos angeles galaxymlsmls cupnycfcportland timbersseattle sounderstoronto fcvancouver whitecaps
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