The MLS All-Star break is upon us and MLS in year 22 has never been better.
The visit of Real Madrid as opposition in the All-Star game on August 2 should be a major headline but just seems to get bounced around in the daily news feed as blockbuster announcements ring out all over the league.
Whether it is transfer rumors, new stadium projects, expansion proposals, or coaching changes…there are some very important indicators that professional soccer in the U.S. is thriving on the fields and being followed by very sophisticated and passionate fans in the stands.
As the product has improved on the pitch so too has the professional soccer culture of the fans. Their success go hand-in-hand and echo the old saying “the larger the show, the larger the sideshow.” There is clearly a lot to talk about in today’s MLS sideshow.
Four major storylines just won’t go away in 2017
Transfer rumors have been a major talking point. Big-name players have always been rumored to be looking at a move to MLS but 2017 has seen a real up-tick of arrivals in the league.
There have been huge stars in the league in the past, but MLS seemed to be a retirement tour or some personal crusade to spread soccer in the U.S. in the past. There always seemed to be non-soccer reasons that players made the move to MLS.
This year they are coming for the soccer and this means players both in their prime as well as ascending into their prime are making the MLS move.
Recent moves of U.S. No.2 GK Brad Guzan from the English Premier League to Atlanta United and Mexican playmaker Jonathan Dos Santos from La Liga to the LA Galaxy see regional superstars coming “home” to MLS.
New stadiums are going up all over the league
Orlando City’s new stadium complete with a standing-only supporters section that copies “the wall” found at Borussia Dortmund is the first new park to open this year.
Atlanta United will open a new home in September as they move into the Mercedes Benz Stadium along with their sister franchise (the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons) in what could be the most high-tech stadium in the world. DC United as well as Minnesota are building new homes and along with Los Angeles FC will have new soccer-specific stadiums will all the bells and whistles in the near future.
With soccer-specific stadiums in over two-thirds of the league, the game has been made more accessible for the fans bringing them into the action with the right sight lines and proximity found in the older NFL or college football stadiums teams called home in the league’s early years.
Expansion of the league is getting more and more competitive as new markets are looking to fill the limited openings over the next few seasons
LAFC is in for 2018 and Beckham’s Miami franchise is making progress again as cities all over the map from Charlotte to Cincinnati to Phoenix to Sacramento are looking for the right mix of ingredients to land an expansion franchise.
Charlotte has the resources, soccer culture, and second-division USL team already in place to make a jump to MLS. Cincinnati also has a team playing in the USL that has an incredible following and early success rate re-writing attendance records during their deep U.S. Open Cup run this season.
Phoenix just added owner-player Didier Drogba in a positive step to maybe advance from the USL to MLS in the future. Sacramento just keeps winning and bringing in the fans with their USL team as they keep setting the records that Cincy keeps breaking.
And then there are the NASL New York Cosmos who will certainly be part of the discussion based on current D2 championships and a historic club pedigree.
Coaching changes round out the major story lines as high-profile managers are being added to the MLS ranks
Gerardo “Tata” Martino of FC Barcelona and Argentina fame is in at Atlanta as well as well-traveled, highly-successful MLS veterans Bob Bradley (LAFC) and Sigi Schmidt (LA Galaxy) back on the touch line.
Patrick Vieira at NYCFC and Ben Olsen at DC United are some of the former-players-turned-managers in the league and there seems to be more and more “hot seats” as fans, owners, the media, and communities demand results out of their skippers.
There really have been some curious manager appointments in the history of MLS but there really seems to be a recent “golden age” of MLS managers in the league.
Major sports player
The changes in the league clearly demonstrate that soccer and specifically MLS have grown up into a major sports player in the U.S. sports market. MLS is here to stay and now that the league has this solid footing look for more and more success on a regional and international stage.
Written by Forrest Wimberly
Follow Forrest on Twitter @ForrestWimberly
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