Article by Matt Lichtenstadter
MLS’ 25th season kicks off this weekend, and it’s time to preview the upcoming campaign. Normally, I would think up some questions myself as I have done in previous years and use them to frame the season to come. For this season preview, I decided to change things up a little. I asked Gianluca Di Marzio English editor David Amoyal for questions he has about the season, since his voice might capture more of what the casual MLS watcher might be thinking. Here are his five questions, and my answers:
Who are the top five teams in MLS?
MLS’ five best teams heading into the new season are the five best teams that ended last season: Seattle and Toronto FC, the two Cup finalists. The other conference finalists, LAFC and Atlanta United are also in the mix. The final team would be NYCFC, who had the most points in the East last regular season and come into 2020 as perhaps the deepest team in the league. Teams like the Galaxy, Columbus Crew, Portland among others may have an argument to be in the top five, but those five seem like the consensus group.
If someone wanted to get into MLS and pick a team to follow, who would it be and why?
That depends on what you’re interested in. If you want stars, you’ll follow LAFC, the Galaxy, Atlanta United, the usual suspects. If you want to follow a team that builds “the right way”, through its academy set up and relishes the opportunity to develop young players, try FC Dallas or the Philadelphia Union. Perhaps someone was a huge fan of Thierry Henry in his Arsenal and Barcelona days, and they will want to follow the Impact to see how his managerial career progresses. There is a club out there for every type of fan. As an MLS junkie, the team that intrigues me the most coming into this new season is Columbus. They’ve had one of the best offseasons for any club, have a manager in Caleb Porter who has won MLS Cup before, and their spine is as exciting as any outside the big five. They would be a fun team to latch onto.
What can we expect from Inter Miami?
David Beckham’s long awaited MLS club is here, although it’s not actually playing in Miami yet (Fort Lauderdale, to be precise). Beckham and Jorge Mas wanted to go big, as befitting what Miami is, and they have certainly done that, though not to the degree some expected. They have a good blend of MLS veterans like Ben Sweat, Wil Trapp, Lee Nguyen and Luis Robles combined with exciting talents like Julian Carranza (unfortunately injured), Rodolfo Pizarro, Nico Figal, Mattias Pellegrini among others. It’s not LAFC or Atlanta United, largely because Pizarro isn’t as sure of a bet as Carlos Vela and Josef Martinez were, but this team will play beautiful soccer and has one or two more moves up its sleeve, but they may have to wait until the summer. Inter Miami is a playoff bubble team as of now, but they have the potential for more.
Which players could be linked to European clubs?
MLS has talked about becoming a selling league; an exporting league and they’re getting closer to that all the time, but they’re not quite there yet. However, there is talent waiting to be moved on to Europe. LAFC is a club of current stars, but also future stars. Diego Rossi and Eduard Atuesta almost seem certain to move to Europe this summer and will be linked to some big clubs. If you’re looking for young Americans to move abroad, FC Dallas’ Reggie Cannon and Paxton Pomykal could move with big club campaigns and potential Olympic participation as well. Perhaps Atlanta’s Ezequiel Barco could finally seize his potential and earn a major move to Europe. There will always be a few players who emerge and garner European interest that aren’t expected to as well.
If you had to describe the state of MLS in one word, what would it be?
Burgeoning. The league is one that is tantalizingly close to something major with the level of star players, unique clubs and cultures and a good level of play. It’s close to becoming the selling league that it wants to, and it’s close to becoming level with Liga MX in its own region. It’s not quite there, but every step is a forward step to achieving those goals. It’s a fun league to follow and more should pick up on the league with so many unique entry points.
MLS’ 25th season has the potential to be truly special, and there’s no better time to pick up the league than now.
And even though David didn’t ask, my MLS Cup pick is LAFC. There’s too much potential there to fall short in the postseason once again. It’s their time.