MLS destined for yet another exciting season

With the European giants heading down the final stretch of their seasons and dusting off their trophy cabinets for their new hardware, Major League Soccer players and personnel are dusting themselves off to prepare for the start of their season. The league has made it very clear that it wants to change the way the game is perceived in the United States and is doing everything it can to set these young stars up for success. It is a very exciting time for soccer in the U.S., especially after the U.S. Men’s National Team’s better than expected performance in the World Cup and the fact that the nation is getting ready to host the next rendition in four years. Soccer in the U.S. may finally be on the rise.

The 2023 MLS season is bound to be one that all fans can enjoy because six of the seven title contenders are from some of the largest sports markets in the world. LAFC, Philadelphia Union or New York City FC are favored to lift the MLS Cup at the end of the season. Even though LAFC and Philadelphia lost some key players, the teams are primed to meet again. However, after losing three major sports championships in just three months — NFL, MLB and MLS — Philadelphians are hungry for a victory and will surely turn their town upside down if they achieve one.

After having a near perfect season by finishing first in the Western Conference and winning the cup, LAFC has its sights set on a title repeat while improving its position in the U.S. Open Cup — where it fell in the round of 16 last year. It will be a tough task after losing talent like Latif Blessing and Gareth Bale. Carlos Vela, who has been the club’s posterboy ever since he was its first ever signing, looks to lead the team to CONCACAF championship league glory by bringing even more hardware to close the gap between them and bitter rivals LA Galaxy. The two were destined to meet in one of the most prestigious venues in the U.S. until the game was delayed because of rain. Now the two sides must wait until April for their much-anticipated matchup. 

After being a few minutes away from winning the MLS cup final, the Union are still left searching for answers. With many of the players from last year’s team returning, it boasts arguably the best roster in the league. The only weakness that may cause it problems is a lack of depth. Jamaican super sub Cory Burke left the Union for the New York Red Bulls so he can see more time on the field. However, his absence did not seem to affect the squad too much as they put 3 past FC Cincinnati in their season opener.

Fans are in for a treat as they get to witness the introduction of another expansion team, bringing the total number of teams in the MLS to 29. The 29th squad is none other than St. Louis City SC. As expected, its projected to finish in last place at the end of the regular season, but it shocked the league with a victory in its first-ever game Feb. 25 on the road against Austin FC. It was a late 86 minute winner by striker João Klauss de Mello that sealed the victory for St. Louis. It aims to be the first team to win the MLS Cup in its first year since the Chicago Fire did it in 1998. 

The fun will not stop here. League Commissioner Don Garber said at a press conference Wednesday that the league hopes to add its 30th team by the end of 2023, with Las Vegas and San Diego leading the way as top candidates. That would mean an expansion team would be in the league for eight consecutive years. 

To its credit, MLS is doing everything it can to make the game more attractive to spectators, and it’s certainly working. The fan experience is something that I have not experienced anywhere else. Fans stick with their team and truly provide a home field advantage at every one of their 16 home matches.

More and more European talents are setting their sights on the league since it has improved its status compared to where it was 10 years ago. After upsizing like a madman, the league can finally aim its sights on being a ratings competitor against the MLB, NHL and any spring soccer league. Surely, all of these positive trends will allow the U.S. to put a competent and competitive home-grown squad on the World Cup pitch come 2026 … right?

Jackson Wedin is a senior writing about some of the larger soccer events globally in his column, “Death, Taxes and Soccer”.