New Season, New Looks as MLS Gets Underway

The league’s 20th season starts with a full schedule this weekend
by Ray Marcham   |   Thursday, March 05, 2015

Major League Soccer (MLS) 2012 Season Preview

It’s the 20th season of Major League Soccer that opens this weekend, and while that seems a long time, it is still a very young league.

(And there will be an opening weekend, after MLS management and the MLS Players Union reached a deal on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement on Wednesday night.)

No top-flight professional soccer league in the United States and Canada has lasted as long as MLS. The original American Soccer League lasted 13 years (1921-33), while the original North American Soccer League existed for 17 seasons (1968-84). That MLS has made it this long, even as some wondered if it would even make it to its tenth season a decade ago. But it has, and it is growing.

With Orlando City and New York City FC joining, and Chivas USA having folded (to be replaced by a new Los Angeles team in 2017), MLS now has 20 teams. Of those, nine of the original ten clubs are still around (Tampa Bay was part of the 2002 contraction, and San Jose regained its club in 2008 after a two-year hiatus). The three-year gap between when Montréal joined in 2012 and this year’s new clubs in Orlando/NYC is the longest that the league has gone between expansions since the seven years between 1998 (Chicago/Miami) and 2005 (Real Salt Lake/Chivas USA).

One of the reasons San Jose lost the Earthquakes after the 2005 season was that the original owners, AEG, couldn’t get a soccer-specific stadium built. Ten years later, at long last, San Jose finally has a field of its own, as Avaya Stadium opens this season. Built by San Jose’s airport, the stadium has an 18,000-seat capacity and has one end open (that end contains a massive bar).

Of course, with two new teams means two new stadiums, even if they are temporary. Orlando City will play in a remodeled Citrus Bowl this season as a new stadium is built about a mile to the east. The Lions are expecting around 62,000 for their opener with NYCFC on Sunday, and will likely see numerous crowds over 20,000 in the big stadium this year.

NYCFC is also expecting a big crowd for their home debut on March 15, when they play New England in Yankee Stadium. The team has opened the stadium’s upper deck for the match, and that is a good sign. But while Yankee Stadium is supposed to be a temporary stadium for New York’s blue club, it’s not known yet just how temporary it will be. The most recent plan, to build a stadium in The Bronx, seems to currently be dormant and unless something changes quickly, NYCFC could be in Yankee Stadium a lot longer than they hoped to be.

There are a few other stadium changes. Columbus got a naming deal for their stadium, meaning Crew Stadium is now known as MAPFRE Stadium. With the demise of Chivas USA, StubHub Center now just has one club, the defending MLS Cup champions, LA Galaxy. Vancouver will see a surface change early in the season, as BC Place gets new turf in time for the Women’s World Cup (no word on whether they are keeping the German-made Polytan or getting the more-common FieldTurf). The current Polytan surface has been in BC Place since the stadium reopened in 2011.

With the two new clubs comes a slightly different conference set-up. Sporting Kansas City and Houston moved to the Western Conference, as Orlando City and NYCFC are now in the East. There are also two extra playoff spots available, as six clubs per conference will qualify for the postseason. That could make the final month even more interesting, as more clubs (in theory) will be in the hunt for a playoff spot.

A new season also means new faces in new places. Some of the bigger names include Kaká, Aurelien Collin and Donovan Ricketts in Orlando; Jozy Altidore and Robbie Findley in Toronto; Kai Kamara in Columbus; David Villa and Mix Diskerud at NYCFC; Nate Borchers in Portland; Erick “Cubo” Torres in Houston; Dan Kennedy at FC Dallas; the return of Roger Espinoza to SKC; Juan Agudelo going back to New England; and Sacha Kljestan to the Red Bulls. In July, Steven Gerrard will arrive in Los Angeles from Liverpool, while Frank Lampard will finally make his debut with NYCFC after a long, twisting, confusing saga with Manchester City.

New coaches? There’s Owen Coyle in Houston, Dominic Kinnear at San Jose and Jessie Marsch with New York Red Bulls. Jason Kreis returns to MLS as head coach of NYCFC, while Adrian Heath begins his eighth season in charge of Orlando City (including OCSC’s USL Pro years and the three years in the USL First Division that the club was known as the Austin Aztex).

It all starts on Friday night, when the Galaxy hosts Chicago. Then there’s six matches on Saturday and three on Sunday, finishing up in Seattle as the Sounders, the defending Supporters Shield winners, play New England. After a wild offseason, and a real fear that the season may not start on time, it’s back to playing soccer. For that, we are thankful.

The new season is about to begin. Are you ready?

Ray MARCHAM

Nationality:
USA
College:
Washington State
Club Domestic:
Portland Timbers
Club Foreign:
Arsenal
Cascadia native and a fan for as long as he can remember, Ray was brought up on the old NASL. Learned to love MLS. Wanted to play like Clive Charles. Then like Tony Adams. Only dreams, of course.
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