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A Beginners Guide to The MLS

March 4, 2017

 

 

 

It was the summer of 2010 and I was in the hospital with my Dad who had just come out of surgery. After he slowly awoke from his anesthesia induced slumber we started to chat. The necessary “How are you?” and all that jazz. The World Cup in South Africa was entering its third group stage game, so after boring conversation my Dad and I watched the USA play Albania, or was it Algeria? … I don’t know and I’m too lazy to look it up (what great journalism). Well it was one of those countries, and the United States needed a win to advance onto the Knockout Stage.

 

Minutes roll by and the man who always pushed baseball on me was truly engaged in the fate of the U.S. team, because he knew that I cared, so he cared as well. The nurses would all know what has happening by our yells and jeers. It was a special moment, but when Landon Donovan slotted a goal in the bottom left when it seemed all hope of advancing was lost and Ian Darke screamed “Goal, Goal, USA!... You could not write a script like this!” (I really recommend the YouTube video) my father and I bonded in another way that is close to my heart. Oh and we were really loud. Our cheers drew three nurses who asked If the USA had won and my father and I jubilantly said “YES!” What great drama, what a great memory.

 

I tell you this story to show you why I love the beautiful game and maybe inspire you to love it as well. We have a pretty good league here in the United States. Large fan bases, nice facilities, decent TV ratings and good soccer. The tickets are cheap and the league is waiting to embrace you with open arms. Interested yet? Well, if you are, let’s dive into “The Beginner’s Guide to The MLS.”

 

The MLS has been around since 1996 when the first season kicked off with 10 teams, most played on football fields and few knew about the MLS and even fewer cared. Yet it bought its time and now with MLS entering its 22nd season the league has expanded to 22 teams all across the nation. The league has the 6th highest attendance in the world, and the quality of play has improved year in and year out. Most teams play in Soccer-Specific stadiums and the league is expanding rapidly with rumors of teams in Cincinnati, San Diego and Miami. Television ratings are rising at a rate that makes the MLS the fasting growing sports league in American history.

 

The design of the MLS is simple, two conferences, east and west, with eleven teams each. Six teams from each conference advance to the playoffs similar to the NBA, NFL and MLB. Then the Eastern Conference and Western Conference champion meet in the one game to decide who is MLS Cup Champion, this game is bigger than the Super Bowl (okay, maybe not THAT big).

 

Outside of the big one there are other trophies to be earned, The Supporters Shield is awarded to the team with the best record in the league, so the 73 win Warriors would’ve at least has a consolation prize in the MLS, and the U.S Open Cup is awarded to the winner of a knockout tournament between all the teams (that one isn’t that big a deal).

 

This is the part where the article gets redundant, the team by team breakdown. I will go in random order, and by that I mean Eastern Conference to Western Conference, through the 22 teams describing each one’s history and current status; so buckle your seatbelts boys and girls it’s about to get redundant.

WAIT! So this is bad writing, just terrible, because I’m going to add something here that should go elsewhere but I’m not going to. “Lazy prick!” says the reader, and to that I say “my article, my choice.” (Mic Drop). Anyway in Soccer how standings work is a team receives three points in the standings for a victory and one point for a tie, yes I know the word tie makes pee run down American’s legs but it happens. So just to reiterate, three for a win, one for a tie, okay? Cool, now you may continue on.

 

EASTERN CONFERENCE (Ranked by 2016 regular season finish)

 

New York Red Bulls

MLS Debut: 1996 (one of original 10)

MLS Cups: 0

 Supporters Shield’s: 2 (2013, 2015)

U.S. Open Cup’s: 0

Eastern Conference Titles: 1 (2008)

AVG Attendance in 2016:

The New York Red Bulls are one of the unfortunate charter teams yet to win a title despite having always been full of talent. This team had Thierry Henry, one of the great French goal-scorers ever, from 2010-2014. They are now led by Striker Bradley Wright-Phillips who has 77 goals since 2013, making him the all-time leading goal-scorer in Red Bulls history. They are managed by Jesse Marsch and hope to finally take a talented team to the promised land in 2017.

 

New York City FC

MLS Debut: 2015

MLS Cups: 0

Supporters Shield’s: 0

U.S. Open Cup’s: 0

Eastern Conference Titles: 0

AVG Attendance in 2016: 27,196

The lack of trophies for this team is due to the obvious reason that they are a newborn baby in the MLS. However, NYCFC has a lot of money, and star-power. Led by David Villa, the former Spanish striker, NYCFC went to the Conference Semi’s in their sophomore season. Patrick Vieira is the manager of a talented squad that knows how to score goals. NYCFC is a threat for the MLS Cup.

 

Toronto FC

MLS Debut: 2007

MLS Cups: 0

Supporters Shield’s: 0

U.S. Open Cup’s: N/A

Eastern Conference Titles: 1 (2016)

AVG Attendance in 2016: 26,583

Toronto FC was the first team to ever play in the MLS out of Canada, and they struggled mightily until recent years. TFC didn’t make the playoffs in the MLS until 2015 when star man Giovinco came into form winning the MLS Golden Boot (most goals). They improved on a first playoff appearance by winning the Eastern Conference last season and losing in heartbreaking fashion, in penalties, to Seattle. Their attack headlines Giovinco and American striker Jozy Altidore with a strong midfield behind them. TFC are considered by many to be the team to beat out east. We will see what manager Greg Vanney can do with this talented squad in 2017.

 

D.C. United

MLS Debut: 1996 (one of 10 charter clubs)

MLS Cups: 4 (1996, 1997, 1999, 2004)

Supporters Shield’s: 4 (1997, 1999, 2006, 2007)

U.S. Open Cup’s: 3 (1996, 2008, 2013)

Eastern Conference Titles: 5 (1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2004)

AVG Attendance in 2016: 17,081

D.C. United are the old legends of the MLS, dominating the early part of the leagues history. While they have not been “failures” in recent history, not appearing in the MLS Cup final since 2004 is unacceptable in the minds of United fans. With a new stadium underway and due to be finished by June 2018 the team looks to reestablish its dominant ways led by Ben Olsen who enters his 7th season as manager of the squad. The big-name talent on this squad is lacking, but a cohesive unit looks to return to the playoffs in 2017.

 

Montreal Impact

MLS Debut: 2012

MLS Cups: 0

Supporters Shield’s: 0

U.S. Open Cup’s: 0

Eastern Conference Titles: 0

AVG Attendance in 2016: 20,669

The Montreal Impact are best known for their victory bell “The North Star” which rings in celebration of the absolute mediocrity that has been the Montreal Impact. Although they lost in an “All-Canadian” Eastern conference final in 2016 the outlook for 2017 is increasingly mediocre. Mauro Biello has led a revolution of sorts since his appointment as manager in 2015, but the talent on Montreal doesn’t excite anyone.

 

Philadelphia Union

MLS Debut: 2010

MLS Cups: 0

Supporters Shield’s: 0

U.S. Open Cup’s: 0

Eastern Conference Titles: 0

AVG Attendance in 2016:  17,519

The only real awards this team has won are MLS fair play awards, and if that doesn’t make you laugh I don’t know what will. This team made the playoffs last year on the strength of leading goal scorer Chris Pontius. They have talented players throughout their squad with Alejandro Bedoya, Maurice Edu and the aforementioned Chris Pontius. Manager Jim Curtin will look to lead the Union to their third playoff appearance in franchise history in 2017.

 

New England Revolution

MLS Debut: 1996 (one of 10 charter teams)

MLS Cups: 0

Supporters Shield’s: 0

U.S. Open Cup’s: 1 (2007)

Eastern Conference Titles: 5 (2002, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2014)

AVG Attendance in 2016: 20,185

Meet the Buffalo Bills of the MLS, who happen to be owned by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft; the Revolution also play in Gillette Stadium. I find it funny that Kraft with all his success in the NFL owns the “Bills” of the MLS. The Revolution dominated the East in the Mid-2000’s but could never win the big game (like the Bills), they have lost in the finals three times to the LA Galaxy. Their success came from former manager Steve Nicol, a former Liverpool great, who was let go in 2011. The Revolution have maintained as a successful franchise out East since the Nicol era due to the hard work by current manager Jay Heaps. Captain Lee Nguyen and the Revolution just missed the playoffs last season and look to finally win their first title in 2017.

 

Orlando City SC

MLS Debut: 2015

MLS Cups: 0

Supporters Shield’s: 0

U.S. Open Cup’s: 0

Eastern Conference Titles: 0

AVG Attendance in 2016: 31,324

Orlando City is the second-most popular team in the league (according to attendance) and have had exciting attacking play with legend Kaka and Canadian-Star Cyle Larin, who have combined for 51 goals in Oralndo’s first two seasons. Although the wins haven’t piled up for Orlando and manager Jason Kreis they hope a talented attack can give the strong supporters of Orlando their first playoff appearance in 2017.

 

Columbus Crew SC

MLS Debut: 1996 (one of 10 charter clubs)

MLS Cups: 1 (2008)

Supporters Shield’s: 3 (2004, 2008, 2009)

U.S. Open Cup’s: 1 (2002)

Eastern Conference Titles: 2 (2008, 2015)

AVG Attendance in 2016: 17,125

Crew SC has made the playoffs 13 times in 21 seasons; and although that has not translated to multiple titles they are a highly respected organization in the MLS. In 1999 they built the first soccer-specific stadium in Major League Soccer and they still play in the stadium today. Crew SC is a much better squad than their 2016 record suggests, the same core from the 2015 Eastern Conference Championship squad remains on the team. Bad luck for manager Gregg Berhalter last year with injuries led to a down season but the Crew are strong favorites to respond in 2017.

 

Chicago Fire

MLS Debut: 1998

MLS Cups: 1 (1998)

Supporters Shield’s: 1 (2003)

U.S. Open Cup’s: 4 (1998, 2000, 2003, 2006)

Eastern Conference Titles: 3 (1998, 2000, 2003)

AVG Attendance in 2016: 15,602

The Fire won an MLS title and three Conference Championships in their first five seasons, and have fallen a long way since then. They had a last-place finish last season and the second-lowest attendance in MLS. The Fire haven’t made the playoffs since 2012 and are on their third manager, Veljko Paunovic, since that point. Paunovic and the Fire added Red Bulls star Dax McCarty to try and turn the Fire’s fortunes around in 2017. Good luck.

 

EXPANSION TEAM: Atlanta United FC

MLS Debut: 2017

MLS Cups: 0

Supporters Shield’s: 0

U.S. Open Cup’s: 0

Eastern Conference Titles: 0

AVG Attendance in 2016: N/A

Atlanta was the largest metropolitan area without a franchise in the MLS before this season, they finally have their team. They will play at Bobby Dodd Stadium while awaiting the completion of Mercedes-Benz Stadium which they’ll share with the Atlanta Falcons. The United have put together an interesting team that could compete out East. They spent $8,000,000 on star Paraguayan midfielder Miguel Almiron and added MLS veteran Michael Parkhurst on defense to try and compete in their inaugural season. Manager Gerardo Martino has had an illustrious career as a manager coaching the Argentinian national team and FC Barcelona. His career winning percentage is 56% and his leadership makes Atlanta United FC an interesting team to watch in 2017.

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE (Ranked by 2016 regular season finish)

 

FC Dallas

MLS Debut: 1996 (one of 10 charter clubs)

MLS Cups: 0

Supporters Shield’s: 1 (2016)

U.S. Open Cup’s: 2 (1997, 2016)

Western Conference Titles: 1 (2010)

AVG Attendance in 2016: 14,094

FC Dallas had its most successful season in its long history in 2016 winning the Supporters Shield and the U.S. Open Cup. However, their MLS Cup dreams were dashed when they lost in the Conference Semis meaning they couldn’t complete the elusive treble (three trophies in one season). Oscar Peraja has managed the team since 2014 and has made the playoffs all three seasons and finishing first in the West the last two. FC Dallas has the talent to finish tops in the West again lead by Colombian midfielder Michael Barrios. FC Dallas will set their sights high and look to capture their first MLS Cup in 2017.

 

 

Colorado Rapids

MLS Debut: 1996 (one of 10 charter clubs)

MLS Cups: 1 (2010)

Supporters Shield’s: 0

U.S. Open Cup’s: 0

Western Conference Titles: 2 (1997, 2010) *2010 - Colorado was in the Eastern Conference.

AVG Attendance in 2016: 16,278

If you like underdogs that play great defense than the Rapids are for you. They only allowed 32 goals in 2016 led by legendary American keeper Tim Howard, who recently turned 37. Howard led his team to the Conference finals last season but an injury suffered versus Mexico while playing for the United States kept him out of the Conference Finals. Howard is still recovering from his injury but is expected back March 8th. Manager Pablo Mastroeni looks to keep the Rapids high in the Western conference’s standings in 2017.

 

LA Galaxy

MLS Debut: 1996 (one of 10 charter clubs)

MLS Cups: 5 (2002, 2005, 2011, 2012, 2014)

Supporters Shield’s: 4 (1998, 2002, 2010, 2011)

U.S. Open Cup’s: 2 (2001, 2005)

Western Conference Titles: 9 (1996, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2014)

AVG Attendance in 2016: 25,147

LA Galaxy are the most decorated team in the MLS. They have nine MLS Cup Final appearances, NINE! They are also the most known team in MLS due to prior purchases of David Beckham and the presence of American legend Landon Donovan. The LA Galaxy have made the playoffs 18 times in 21 seasons, and are still stocked with talent. Robbie Keane is considered by some to be the most dangerous goal-scorer in MLS, Jermaine Jones is a constant on the National team, Giovani Dos Santos is an extremely talented offensive player and that’s just the start of the big names. The one issue the Galaxy will face is the departure of longtime manager Bruce Arena, who is now the manager of the US National Team. If new manager Curt Onalfo can repeat Arena’s performance then LA will be competing for another MLS Cup in 2017.

 

Seattle Sounders FC

MLS Debut: 2009

MLS Cups: 1 (2016)

Supporters Shield’s: 1 (2014)

U.S. Open Cup’s: 4 (2009, 2010, 2011, 2014)

Western Conference Titles: 1 (2016)

AVG Attendance in 2016: 42,636

The most popular team in MLS (according to attendance) won their first MLS Cup in 2016. They have been without a doubt the most successful expansion team on and off the field in  the MLS. They have never missed the playoffs and pack CenturyLink Field every weekend. The Sounders found a way to win the Cup last year without Clint Dempsey who was out due to a heart condition. Dempsey expects to return at full strength for 2017, making the Sounders strong favorites to repeat.

 

Sporting Kansas City

MLS Debut: 1996 (one of 10 charter clubs)

MLS Cups: 2 (2000, 2013)

Supporters Shield’s: 1 (2000)

U.S. Open Cup’s: 3 (2004, 2012, 2015)

Western Conference Titles: 3 (2000, 2004, 2013) *2013- Member of Eastern Conference

AVG Attendance in 2016: 19,597

Peter Vermes leads Sporting Kansas City into another season as the longtime manager (8th season) of the team formerly known as the Kansas City Wizards. Sporting Kansas City hasn’t missed the playoffs since the name change and Vermes leadership has been integral to that success. KC is led by American stalwarts Graham Zusi and Matt Besler. The team doesn’t blow anyone out of the water but are talented enough to compete in 2017.

 

 

Real Salt Lake

MLS Debut: 2005

MLS Cups: 1 (2009)

Supporters Shield’s: 0

U.S. Open Cup’s: 0

Western Conference Titles: 2 (2009, 2013) *2009- member of Eastern conference

AVG Attendance in 2016: 19,759

Ah, Real Salt Lake, which is pronounced REE-AHL not REEL, I hope you understand that. If not, Salt Lake will do just fine. Salt Lake is led by American veteran Kyle Beckerman and now 4th-year manager Jeff Cassar. Salt Lake is a team that will be fighting for a playoff spot and unless something special happens, nothing more.

 

Portland Timbers

MLS Debut: 2011

MLS Cups: 1 (2015)

Supporters Shield’s: 0

U.S. Open Cup’s: 0

Western Conference Titles: 1 (2015)

AVG Attendance in 2016: 21,144

The Portland Timbers have one of the most enthusiastic fan bases in the league; they have a guy cut wood with a chainsaw before games. The Timbers followed up their Championship season in 2015 with a dud by missing the playoffs in 2016. Caleb Porter remains the manager for this seasons campaign and will look to bring Portland back to the playoffs and for only the third time in its history. Fanendo Adi returns after posting back to back 16 goal campaigns for Portland. Will the Timbers return to glory in 2017? Only time will tell.

 

 

 

 

Vancouver Whitecaps FC

MLS Debut: 2011

MLS Cups: 0

Supporters Shield’s: 0

U.S. Open Cup’s: 0

Western Conference Titles: 0

AVG Attendance in 2016: 22,330

The farthest the Vancouver Whitecaps have ever gone in the MLS is the Conference Semifinals and that was in the 2015 campaign. The team hasn’t clicked as they would hope since their promotion from the USSF, but manager Carl Robinson will try to guide Vancouver back to the postseason in 2017. Pedro Morales and Brek Shea will need to be in great form this year to help Vancouver compete in the tough Western conference.

 

 

San Jose Earthquakes

MLS Debut: 1996 (one of 10 charter clubs)

MLS Cups: 2 (2001, 2003)

Supporters Shield’s: 2 (2005, 2012)

U.S. Open Cup’s: 0

Western Conference Titles: 2 (2001, 2003)

AVG Attendance in 2016: 19,930

The San Jose Earthquakes are often a forgotten team when mentioning the MLS, a charter team with two titles and a recent Supporters Shield should not be easily forgotten. Although since the Supporter Shield in 2012 the Earthquakes have not sniffed the Playoffs. Since manager Frank Yallop left the club after 2012 San Jose has never recovered, employing three separate managers since 2013. This includes current manager Dominic Kinnear who looks to improve in his second campaign as head man. Chris Wondolowski, who has scored 117 goals as an Earthquake, remains on the roster and hopes to guide San Jose in the right direction in 2017.

 

 

Houston Dynamo

MLS Debut: 2006

MLS Cups: 2 (2006, 2007)

Supporters Shield’s: 0

U.S. Open Cup’s: 0

Western Conf. Titles: 4 (2006, 2007, 2011, 2012) *2011, 2012- Member of Eastern Conference

AVG Attendance in 2016: 19,021

The Houston Dynamo are on the exact opposite end of the spectrum currently when compared to the other team in Texas, FC Dallas. The Dynamo came out of the gates with two titles in two seasons in 2006, and 2007. Brian Ching and Dwayne De Rosario became legends in Houston for leading the Dynamo to those titles. Houston then found later glory in 2011, 2012 with Brad Davis leading the way, however two Conference championships led to two losses in the MLS Cup Final. The Dynamo currently are in a bad place after winning only seven games last season. Wilmer Cabrera is the new manager hoping to stabilize Houston, and start to move to bring titles back in 2017.

 

 

EXPANSION TEAM: Minnesota United FC

MLS Debut: 2017

MLS Cups: 0

Supporters Shield’s: 0

U.S. Open Cup’s: 0

Eastern Conference Titles: 0

AVG Attendance in 2016: N/A

The second expansion team this year is Minnesota United FC who have gone for a youth movement. Minnesota is full of young up and coming players which could lead to something very special in the near future. However, expect inconsistencies as the team grows around manager Adrian Heath. Heath takes over after managing Orlando City in its inaugural season in 2015-16. Will Minnesota’s youth surprise teams out West in 2017? Another intriguing question for this MLS campaign.

 

So if you held your breath through all of that you are most likely dead, get it? It was long so if you held your breath you would… well, nevermind. Hopefully this 3,000 word behemoth helped you achieve a basic understanding of Major League Soccer. There are many storylines to follow this year in the MLS and I’ll be watching with baited breath waiting for another moment in this beautiful game to etch a memory in the pages of my mind.

 

I hope you can join me in watching the 2017 season, and don’t forget the fun starts this weekend, check out the matches below. Remember in Soccer the home team is listed first, and there are ties (sorry).

 

WEEK 1 MATCHES (National TV in Bold)

Friday, March 3rd

            Portland Timbers vs Minnesota United FC – 9:30 pm E.T. TV: FS1

Saturday, March 4th

            Columbus Crew SC vs Chicago Fire – 2:00 pm E.T. TV: MLS Live

            LA Galaxy vs FC Dallas – 4:00 pm E.T. TV: Univision

            Real Salt Lake vs Toronto FC – 4:30 pm E.T. TV: MLS Live

            Colorado Rapids vs New England Revolution – 6:00 pm E.T. TV: MLS Live

            D.C. United vs Sporting Kansas City – 7:00 pm E.T. TV: MLS Live

            Houston Dynamo vs Seattle Sounders – 8:30 pm E.T. TV: MLS Live

            San Jose Earthquakes vs Montreal Impact – 10:00 pm E.T. TV: MLS Live

Sunday, March 5th

            Orlando City SC vs New York City FC – 5:00 pm E.T. TV: ESPN

            Atlanta United FC vs New York Red Bulls – 7:30 pm E.T. TV: FS1

            Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs Philadelphia Union – 9:30 pm E.T. TV: MLS Live

 

Follow Lukas Moore: @MooreLukas

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