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Auth. n.197 by the Court of Milan on 25th June 2015
MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER 2017: ANYBODY CAN WIN
The 22th Major League Soccer season will kick off on Saturday March 4, 2017, at “Providence Park” in Portland. Home team Timbers will face Minnesota United. The most important soccer pro league is back three months since the MLS Cup won by Seattle Sounders against Toronto FC.
The main innovation of 2017 Major League soccer season is the debut of two new franchises: the brand-new club Atlanta United that will join Western Division and former Northern American Soccer League team Minnesota United placed in the Eastern Conference. Due to these two last additions the number of MLS teams has increased from 20 to 22. While league executives and fans are waiting for Los Angeles FC debut in 2018 and for the realisation of David Beckham‘s project in Miami (with a possible move to Las Vegas), other twelve cities, ownership groups and markets have submitted official applications for the League’s next round of expansion: Charlotte, Cincinnati, Detroit, Indianapolis, Nashville, Phoenix, Raleigh/Durham, Sacramento, San Antonio, San Diego, St. Louis and Tampa/St. Petersburg.
The Northern American league that was founded in 1993 and got underway in 1996 with ten teams, plans to expand to 26 franchises within 2020 and later to 28.
Among the newly formed clubs Atlanta United have put themselves on the map thanks to a very interesting project. The franchise owned by Arthur Blank, who is also Atlanta Falcons majority shareholder, will play its home matches at “Bobby Dodd Stadium” during the first half of the season. On 30 July the Georgia-based club will inaugurate “Mercedes Benz Stadium” playing against Orlando City (at the end of last January over 27,000 season tickets were bought by fans). This new arena, shared with the NFL franchise, will have a maximum capacity of 70.000 and it will host Super Bowl in 2019.
During their transfer campaign Atlanta signed interesting players: young South American footballers like Miguel Almirón, Yamil Asad, Josef Martinez and Héctor Villalba, experienced pros like Carlos Carmona, Greg Garza, Brad Guzan and Kenwyne Jones, alongside MLS veterans like Jeff Larentowicz, Zach Loyd, Michael Parkhurst e Jacob Peterson. However the real star is the new coach, Gerardo Martino. “El Tata” decided to get back in the game in the United States after two disappointing spells as Barcelona FC and Argentina national team coach (Rosario-born managed labeled his experience in Spain as a “failure”).
Is it just a temporary golden exile for him or a real life choice?
On paper, the signing of a well-known, experienced and winning Latin American coach could be good for MLS growth. Martino is working with a staff led by technical director and former U.S national team legend Carlos Bocanegra. “El Tata” faces a kind of sport which is similar to other American team sports but it’s also different in some aspects. Soccer shares with the rest of the world an unwritten law. If you invest so much, you have so much expectations.
Generally speaking the last transfer window has partially confirmed a significant trend. MLS franchises don’t look anymore for legends in the final stage of their careers but they want to sign good or average offensive players who are still motivated (not to take anything away from Didier Drogba, Kaká, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Andrea Pirlo e David Villa who has contributed a lot to the game, despite their age, their injuries and their high wages).
In this range of players we can include gifted footballers like Mauro Díaz, Sebastian Giovinco, Nicolás Lodeiro, Ignacio Piatti, Giovani dos Santos and Diego Valeri. In the past they weren’t able to fully express their talent in Europe and in South America but now they are respectively Dallas, Toronto, Seattle, Montreal Impact, LA Galaxy and Portland Timbers leaders as well as MLS key figures.
According to this new policy Vancouver Whitecaps signed Fredy Montero, Maxi Moralez joined New York City FC and Nemanja Nikolić became a Chicago Fire player. However no one of them lives up to the players we’ve mentioned before. The leader hunt – Mexican star Javier “Chicarito” Hernández for example – is open until September, 30.
The slow but stable MLS global growth continues. That’s one of the main reasons of rising media interest in U.S. soccer, alongside World Cup, Premier League, FIFA video game series and Liga Mx. The Mexican league is the most-viewed on U.S. television and American Spanish language TV channel Univision has just announced it would live stream 46 games in English on Facebook in the United States.
However the conduct of MLS commissioner Don Garber has been criticised sometimes. Media, insiders and fans point out the poor technical and tactical level of the league, also highlighting the wrong general attitude as former U.S national team coach Jürgen Klinsmann affirmed in the past.
They highlight the scarce competitiveness of MLS franchises in CONCACAF competitions, regularly won by Mexican teams, they criticise the work on youth academies (they didn’t exist some years ago), a too low salary cap (480,625$ per franchise with big wage differentials between high-paid footballers thanks to so-called Beckham-rule and other players).
The most intriguing debate is about the introduction of the promotion/relegation system in US football pyramid.
Now United States Soccer Federation recognizes MLS as the top tier of American soccer, NASL and United Soccer League are sanctioned by USSF as second division. Even if most of USL franchises have partnerships with MLS teams, these three professional leagues aren’t related to each other. If a club wants to play in US soccer top tier, it has to submit a bid for MLS expansion team. That’s a long process regulated by precise and strict economic, financial and infrastructural criteria. Those who support the introduction of the promotion/relegation system think it’s necessary for U.S soccer to adopt a model that could guarantee more sporting democracy and more league competitiveness.
In any case MLS executives have never seemed open to the change considering US model good, useful and efficient.
A way to understand MLS is the balance between centuries-old soccer history and the self-sufficient spirit of U.S soccer (already freed from bizarre “local” elements, for examples shootouts). The good average attendance of MLS matches (21,692 per game in 2016), the club-owned and modern stadiums, not without enthusiastic fans (many of them attracted thanks to “support your local team” campaign) which are the best presentation for a league that looks to the future with optimism.
MLS will never have gifted players like Spanish Liga or wonderful arenas with a special atmosphere like Premier League, it will never be as sound as German Bundesliga, it won’t be tactically challenging like Italian Serie A or fascinating like Chinese Super League. However MLS is really open.
Not everyone can take part in, but every participant can win.
In the last ten editions of MLS Cup twelve different teams have reached the final and 8 different franchises have won. Considering the league from that point view the alleged MLS executives’ machiavellism could be largely passable.
Sources: AJC.com, Atlanta United Football Club, Bloomberg, Business Wire, Calcio Finanza, Dirty South Soccer, ESPN FC, Fifty Five One, FourFourTwo, Howler, Major League Soccer, MLS Expert, MLSSoccerItalia, New York Post, Our Sports Central, Panenka, Sport 360°, Sports Illustrated, Top Drawer Soccer, Usa Today, Wikipedia.
Cover photo and Chicharito Hernandez ©LaPresse
Photo Beckham ©Getty Images
Photo Tata Martino ©AP
Photo Don Garber ©AFP
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