Until a couple days ago, most of us would not think this day would come, but the 20th MLS season begins tonight. The Chicago Fire travel to take on the defending MLS champs the LA Galaxy at 10:00 PM ET.
The expanding MLS has seen more money, more teams, more availability worldwide and more money for the players. A Collective Bargaining Agreement was just agreed to and avoided a strike. Some things included in the CBA include free agency to players 28 years of age or older and have more than eight years MLS experience, a minimum salary of $60k instead of $36,500 and that this CBA goes for five years. It was a deal that was hard fought by both sides and is a watershed moment in MLS history. The players have free agency. Here are some other things to know and some predictions for this 20th season.
MLS signed a new TV deal with ESPN, FOX, Unimas and TSN to show games in the United States and Canada. While the previous deal was around $27 million per year, this deal is worth $720 million for eight years. MLS has also agreed to deals to show games on Sky Sports in England and Eurosport in the rest of Europe. MLS hasn’t had this much exposure and availability throughout the rest of the world. Getting players like Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and David Villa certainly helped.
MLS has seen a rise in new sponsors. One big sponsor that just got announced yesterday was Audi. Audi is going to be the presenting sponsor of the MLS Cup Playoffs and the “Official Automotive Partner of MLS.”
MLS has welcomed an array of big name players who will start at some point this season. Here is a list of players and while some have seen their better days, the mix of older stars, USMNT players and great, talented youngsters makes this a great melting pot of talent.
David Villa, Mix Diskerud and David Villa (summer) – NYCFC
Kaka and Brek Shea – Orlando City
Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco – Toronto FC
Roger Espinoza – Sporting KC
Steven Gerrard – LA Galaxy (summer)
Eastern Conference Projected Standings and Preview
1) New England Revolution – Possibly the final season of their “MLS Cup or bust” campaign. Jermaine Jones’ final year of contract.
2) Columbus Crew SC – A new rebrand and a stronger team means Columbus moves up the standings.
3) Orlando City – Young, strong team along with a legend at midfield, this team will be strong right out of the gate.
4) Toronto FC – Will enjoy a tremendous home stand from June on due to BMO Field renovations.
5) DC United – Will experience a setback due to additional Champions League games.
6) New York Red Bulls – Will get the final playoff spot but it won’t be easy.
7) New York City FC – Will have many mid week games due to a limited amount of open home dates. Midweek/weekend games will affect the older DP’s.
8) Philadelphia Union – Needs another year or two to be a contender.
9) Chicago Fire – Experienced a lot of draws last season. The difference could either be good or bad.
10) Montreal Impact – Champions League may be a little tease but they haven’t improved enough to move up.
Western Conference Projected Standings and Preview
1) Seattle Sounders – Strongest team in MLS. No surprises here.
2) Los Angeles Galaxy – Just behind Seattle as strongest team in MLS. Both will contend for MLS Cup.
3) Sporting Kansas City – Moves over from East, doesn’t have Champions League. Refreshed and ready to go.
4) Real Salt Lake – Hurt a bit with a bunch of players leaving for NYCFC and GM Garth Lagerwey to Seattle but will still solidly make the playoffs.
5) FC Dallas – Best of the rest. Great defense.
6) Vancouver Whitecaps – I just have a feeling this team makes the playoffs. They’re not impressive in any one facet but they’re consistently solid.
7) Houston Dynamo – Cubo Torres will make an impact but they will barely miss out on the playoffs in the tougher West.
8) Portland Timbers – The team is talented but they underperformed by a lot. Though they tried to get new talent, most moves didn’t materialize and will be out of the playoff hunt.
9) San Jose Earthquakes – Nothing to really write home about. They have a beautiful new stadium, that’s something.
10) Colorado Rapids – Same as San Jose. They get the All Star Game, that’s something.
It’s going to be a great season. A lot of people were uneasy if there would be games played this weekend but they are and we’re going to enjoy it.