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MLS’ 28th season is set to kick off on February 25 and the league is finally finding its footing and place in both the American sporting landscape as well as the world of soccer. As an excellent development league with exciting action and updated infrastructure, the MLS is by all means, an elite league.
However, the biggest fault many MLS supporters have with their own league is the lack of storylines around it. With no promotion and relegation, the league is franchise based and doesn’t create the do-or-die atmosphere seen in foreign leagues. With recent shows coming to stardom such as Welcome to Wrexham and Ted Lasso, this very opinion has become a much more relevant and persistent talking point in the world of American Soccer as of late.
This opinion is far from the truth, and while there may not be promotion and relegation battles, there are plenty of storylines to keep an eye out for. Here are my top 5 storylines heading into the 2023 MLS Season.
#5: LA Galaxy Fans Protest
Despite being suspended in late 2022 for foul play as President, LA Galaxy’s Chris Klein will be returning to the position for his 11th season with the club and fans are not happy.
Klein was the spearhead of Galaxy violating MLS salary guidelines and also being fined a total of $2 million.
The main note was Galaxy cheating their way into the acquisition of Cristian Pavon in 2019.
Galaxy listed Pavon as a TAM player, which was the wrong classification for what category of players he falls under.
However, the hatred that Galaxy fans have for Klein extends much deeper than just this.
The Galaxy watched next-door neighbors, LAFC, hoist the MLS Cup, while the Galaxy fall behind with lackluster signings and without a clear identity anymore. All of a sudden, the Galaxy are not the team to join in LA, that title belongs to LAFC.
Ever since Klein entered the front office of the club, the Galaxy has not seen much success thanks to the poor business on the front office side of things.
Fans are furious and want Klein out. When news broke that Klein’s contract was extended, fans immediately began calling for protests against Galaxy’s first home game of the season which takes place at the Rose Bowl against LAFC.
It will be interesting to see how many Galaxy fans do support throughout the season as many are taking a definite pause from supporting the club, at least attending the matches, until a change is made.
#4: A New Star in New York
New York Red Bulls fans have waited long and hard for another star to dawn the Red Bull Arena pitch.
Ever since the days of Thierry Henry, the Red Bulls have failed to make a marquee signing who goes above and beyond and is a legitimate MLS star.
While youth development has been great. Most notably Tyler Adams rising through the ranks and recently John Tolkin and Daniel Edelman both making names for themselves at the senior level. However, this doesn’t take away from the fact that fans of the Red Bulls have been craving a star long and hard.
Now, with the addition of 24-year-old, Dante Vanzeir, from Union SG in Beglium, the Red Bulls fans have found exactly what they’ve been looking for.
Although not a world-renowned superstar like Theirry Henry was, Vanzeir and Henry have something similar.
They score goals at a very high level and frequency.
In 79 appearances with Union SG, Vanzeir banged in 43 goals, 10 of which came in his 20 appearances this 22-23 season.
Vanzeir has a legitimate chance to become the best goal-scorer in all of MLS and the Red Bulls have finally found themselves the star they have been looking long and hard for.
It may have taken a while, but if Vanzeir can continue his stellar form in the MLS, it will all be worth it in the end. The Red Bulls are always a consistent team, and now with the addition of Vanzeir, the sky is the limit for the club this season.
Forget supporters shield - the Red Bulls want the MLS Cup, and ownership is finally showing positive signs that they are willing to invest in getting their hands on the Cup.
#3: Welcome to the era of Apple
MLS and Apple inked a 10-year, $2.5 billion deal to make Apple the exclusive streaming partner of MLS.
With no blackouts, a stellar broadcasting team, and interesting new features that only Apple will offer, MLS is the first major sports league to move its broadcasting to Apple.
MLS will offer a whip-around show similar to NFL Redzone and the pass will cost $14.99 per month or $99 per season for non-Apple TV+ users.
This deal is unprecedented and only increases the MLS budget as it works towards increasing visibility before the 2026 World Cup.
Whether this deal will be suitable for fans or not is a question to be figured out very shortly as nobody knows exactly what to expect from a viewing experience.
The package sounds amazing and fans will have access to all the games. Apple & MLS have invested millions in broadcasting booths, set-ups, and broadcasting talent to make this as great of an experience as possible for the viewer.
#2: The Italian Spectacle in Toronto
On January 8, 2022, Toronto FC signed Lorenzo Insigne on a free transfer. Insigne, an Italian standing at a staggering height of 5’4, became the second Italian superstar on the shorter side of the spectrum to sign for Toronto. The first was none other than Sebastian Giovinco who went on to become the best player in the league during his tenure with Toronto FC.
Then, several months later in July, Toronto signed Federico Bernandeschi on a four-year deal.
In 11 appearances in the MLS during the 2022 season, Insigne tallied 6 goals and 2 assists. Meanwhile, his Italian counterpart, Berndandeschi, managed to knock in 8 goals in his 13 appearances.
Although it was too little too late to turn Toronto FC’s playoff hopes around, the superstars showed great promise.
While many stars have trouble adapting to the physical style and long travel that the MLS provides, the Italians ripped the league to shreds in their few appearances.
However, the defense was the main issue for Toronto. In 2017, the last time Toronto hoisted the MLS Cup, the club let up only 37 goals. In 2022, they let up 66.
Thus, President Bill Manning signed former MLS Defender of the Year, Matt Hedges, to tighten up the defense.
Now for a full season, MLS fans will have the chance to watch the dazzling Italian duo of Insigne and Bernandeschi.
If they can keep up the output they had in their short time with Toronto last season and the defense can get their act together, an MLS Cup would be very likely for Toronto FC who are led by the legendary Bob Bradley.
#1: Welcome, St. Louis
St. Louis City SC was founded in 2019 and is finally debuting this 2023 season.
St. Louis, an iconic soccer city, had one of the earliest soccer games ever which took place on February 12, 1882. The game was played in front of 2,000 people.
Meanwhile, the St. Louis Soccer League from 1907-1939, was the country’s only fully professional soccer league.
In 1920, Ben Millers, one of the St. Louis-based soccer teams at the time, became the first team outside of the northeast to win the National Challenge Cup, now known as the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
Later on, the St. Louis Stars played for 10 years in the original ASL and since then many indoor teams have fluttered the region.
After one lone season for AC St. Louis in the new NASL, St. Louis FC played for five years in the USL. The team generated great support from the area but ultimately closed doors as the announcement of St. Louis City SC loomed large over the club.
It’s safe to say, St. Louis soccer culture is rich.
St. Louis City SC owners have invested hundreds of millions into a downtown stadium called, Citypark, and a development area that has team offices and many training pitches for the youth.
The stadium holds 22,500 and has even already held a game between St. Louis City 2 and Bayer 04 Leverkusen of the Bundesliga.
The expansion club's star players include Brazilian forward, Klauss, who scored 12 goals in the Austrian Bundesliga only 3 years ago.
Another star includes Eduard Lowen who has tons of Bundesliga experience. The talented midfielder brings technical prowess to the middle of the park.
To top things off, 22-year-old forward Nicholas Giochchini brings Ligue 1 experience to St. Louis City SC and the talented talisman has managed to score 3 goals in 8 caps for the USMNT.
While expansion clubs have found issues to bring much success in season one, mostly improving drastically in season 2, as seen recently with Austin FC.
A rich soccer culture and beautiful soccer-specific stadium are everything that the MLS needs as it nears the end goal of 32 clubs before the 2026 World Cup, and St. Louis City Soccer Club provides just that.
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All Editorials written by Chris Dailey