The 23rd Major League Soccer season kicks off on March 3, and there’s a lot to look forward to. Here are five things to get excited about this year!
A Growing League with Rising Talent
Major League Soccer is showing its strength and appeal, adding new teams and expanding its fan base. MLS has been in a growth phase since 2004, expanding from 10 to 23 teams. This rapid expansion is attracting more fans by giving them hometown teams to root for. MLS has also signed some big names recently, raising the level of competition in the league.
Tim Howard, the Colorado Rapids’ veteran goalie, has a lot of respect for the elite players making an impact. “Toronto has a bunch of [talent]: Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and Sebastian Goivinco. Diego Valeri in Portland, who was our MVP last year, is incredible, [as well as] the talent that Atlanta has in [Miguel] Almiron. The list goes on and on. There are some incredibly talented American players! But also the international players are exciting to watch!”
David Villa Looks to Have Another Dominant Season
Coming off of his most productive season yet, scoring 22 goals and serving up nine assists, David Villa looks primed to have a career year. Villa, the all-time leading goal scorer in Spanish national team history, has dominated MLS in his three seasons with New York City FC. He has a lot of creativity, finding a variety of ways to put the ball in the net as one of the league’s top scorers. At 36 years old, Villa still has athleticism, combined with a veteran mindset and composure under pressure. Watch out for him to pick apart defenders and contend for the MVP award.
The Goalies are Taking Center Stage
This season, goalies are ready to make some big-time stops. Philadelphia Union’s Andre Blake, the 2016 Goalkeeper of the Year, focuses on staying sharp in the offseason. “It’s about getting some time off and kind of getting away from the game for a little bit,” he says. “Then we go back into the personal goals; just getting strong and working on weak areas. And once you get back in, it’s time to work on the team. It’s going to be an exciting season, and I’m ready to go!”
Look for the New York Red Bulls’ Luis Robles, Nick Rimandos of Real Salt Lake, and Howard to have successful seasons in net.
Atlanta United FC is a Prime Contender
Atlanta made headlines when it debuted in 2017 and made the playoffs. The team showed significant promise and showcased some of the league’s best talent. Midfielder Miguel Almiron and forward Josef Martinez, both MLS Best XI players, are a dynamic combination that has Atlanta’s future looking bright. Almiron and Martinez are young–23 and 24 years old–with lots of potential to grow as they adapt to the MLS. Atlanta United FC has the pieces in place to go all the way in coming seasons.
Toronto FC is Poised to Build on Recent Success
In 2017, Toronto FC had the best season in Major League Soccer history. They went 20-9-5 en route to winning their franchise’s first MLS cup. We can expect Toronto’s momentum to carry over into this year. Some of their players cut their offseasons short to get back to work. The team will rely heavily on its superstars: Justin Morrow, Victor Vazquez, and Sebastian Giovinco. Toronto FC has so much raw talent on their team, and they overmatch you through the course of the game. Going into the season, Toronto FC is the strong favorite to bring home another championship trophy.
Photographs by (from top): Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images (Toronto celebrating); Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images (Blake)