GRAEME GALLAGHER | SPORTS CORRESPONDENT
If you’re anything like me, you also feel like the last Major League Soccer season just ended yesterday. I mean, who could forget last season’s dramatic penalty shootout that crowned the Seattle Sounders the MLS Champions? However, the new season of MLS has kicked off and it’s time to get prepared for the excitement this season has in store! Let’s look at the major changes and growth throughout the up-and-coming league.
The new MLS season began last Friday, with a matchup between the Portland Timbers and Minnesota United FC. If you’ve followed the sport recently, you know this is Minnesota’s inaugural season in the league, and they’re not the only newcomers. Atlanta United FC is playing its first season as well. These two franchises are hoping to get off to a great start in the MLS. However, historically speaking, inaugural seasons for new teams have not gone very well. The trend seems to be high hopes and emotions at the start, followed by crushing losses and reality checks at the end of the year. But, both squads look prepared to make an impact on the new season, especially Atlanta.
Over the offseason, Atlanta was quick to splash the cash. Immediately, they hired former Barcelona and Argentina manager, Gerardo “Tata” Martino. Martino’s pedigree and history shows that Atlanta will not try the traditional slow-building approach to their team, they are trying to win right away. Atlanta also signed multiple South American players, such as midfielder Miguel Almiron. The combination of an offensive-minded manager plus the new high-tempo players could make Atlanta the most fun team to watch when attacking. Atlanta fans have already bought 30,000 season tickets, showing there will be plenty of support present in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
For Minnesota United FC, they also come into the league with a promising attack. Leading the charge will be Christian Ramirez, a Minnesota favorite, and he will be partnered with first pick, Abu Danladi, of UCLA. These two, along with USMNT call up, Miguel Ibarra, will give Minnesota a very quick and lethal attack. However, Minnesota lacks talent on the other side of the pitch. They have only one veteran on defense in Jermaine Taylor, who was part of the Portland Timbers team that gave up 53 goals last year. Forming around him are sub-par centerbacks and goalies. On the plus side, Minnesota already has a fanbase with roots in the lower-division North American Soccer League, when they were the Minnesota Thunder. These fans will transfer over to United and will be loud for their team.
In terms of rule changes, the MLS introduced a new roster regulation rule that increases investment in homegrown players. This rule allows for a team to carry 30 players, two more from last year’s 28, and these two spots must be used to sign homegrown players. As the MLS continues to grow and expand, teams’ academies are producing better players and this rule is addressing and promoting this growth. In addition to this rule, teams can now allocate $200,000 to sign these homegrown players. This rule is now going to allow the MLS to better compete with foreign clubs who try to hunt for young, North American talent. With the league growing more and more each year, these rules will allow for more talent on each MLS roster, improving the quality of the league as a whole.
It’ll be really exciting to see how this season turns out. Will the reigning champions take the crown again, or will underdogs surprise us all? Will the new teams impact the league? How much will the homegrown players impact the level of play? No matter what happens, the MLS will continue to produce electrifying goals, fans and players.