By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Feb 22, 2022) US Soccer Players – Season 27 of the MLS era officially begins this Saturday with a busy schedule of games. That starts with the Philadelphia Union hosting Minnesota United at 1pm ET, the first of 14 games this weekend to kick off the 2022 season. That also includes Charlotte FC’s visit to DC United for their first-ever match on Saturday at 6pm ET. New York City FC embarks on their title defense on the road on Sunday at 5pm ET against the LA Galaxy.
These games are the beginning of a nine-month marathon of matches that will include, as always, plenty of intriguing narratives. The World Cup, which will kick off in November, forced the early start to the MLS season. As a result, the MLS Cup Final will take place on November 5, a month before this past season’s championship game that saw NYCFC down the Portland Timbers on penalty kicks. With that, here are 22 stories to watch in MLS this season:
1. Charlotte FC plays its inaugural season
Another year, another expansion side. All eyes will be on Charlotte FC as they join the Eastern Conference and try and compete for a playoff spot in their debut season. As much as there’s a tendency to set high standards, we saw late last year with Austin what can happen when things aren’t working on schedule.
2. New York City FC looks to repeat
The Columbus Crew won MLS Cup in 2020 and failed to make the playoffs last season. That’s how unpredictable MLS can be. NYCFC will look to avoid that fate, although repeating as champion is no easy task. The last time it happened was ten years ago.
3. Designated Players look to make an impact
Some big names are entering the league, from Lorenzo Insigne at Toronto FC to Douglas Costa at the Los Angeles Galaxy, and it will be fun to see if these stars can make a quick impact. Teams rebuilding around elite talent isn’t new, but there are so many examples this season that some of them won’t work.
4. Jozy Altidore reunites with Bruce Arena
Altidore left Toronto for the New England Revolution and with the move joins the best regular season team in the East. The 32-year-old forward still has plenty to offer and could flourish under Bruce Arena, who coached Altidore at the New York Red Bulls and at the USMNT.
5. New stadiums enter the picture
There have been 10 new stadiums built for MLS clubs since 2017. Charlotte FC will play in Bank of America Stadium, home of the NFL’s Panthers and borrowing from the Seattle and Atlanta model. Meanwhile, Nashville SC will open the 30,000-seat Nashville Fairgrounds Stadium the biggest soccer-specific venue in MLS.
6. Bob Bradley looks to turn Toronto FC around
After briefly setting the regular season points record at LAFC, Bradley will be at the helm at Toronto FC, serving as coach and sporting director. A three-time MLS Coach of the Year, Bradley has the know-how and experience to turn the Toronto’s fortunes around on a tight schedule.
7. American players look to have a very good year
Part of the original point of Major League Soccer was American player development. That continues this season with several young Americans looking to take that next step. Some players to watch for this season includes San Jose Earthquakes striker Cade Cowell, New York Red Bulls defender John Tolkin, and DC United midfield Moses Nyeman.
8. Stadium attendance will rise
This will be the first season since 2019 where pandemic restrictions aren’t likely to cause attendance limits. That’s a big difference for atmosphere, not to mention revenue.
9. So will TV ratings
As a result of the league’s overall growth, TV ratings are likely to improve as well. Last year’s MLS Cup Playoffs saw a rise, but it’s overall interest across the sport that could lift the league. This year is, after all, a World Cup year and that tournament has the ability to draw even the casual fan to watch more soccer.
10. Scoring will increase
The offensive firepower this league has is impressive. Between the new Designated Players who have entered the league and the strikers already plying their trade in MLS, expect more offense this season.
11. All-Star Game comes to Minnesota
Set for August 10, the league’s best players will face off against a yet-to-be named side. The hope is that it’s the second edition of MLS vs Liga MX with the skills competition. Ethan Horvath’s heroics last season changed the scope of the All-Star Game for the better.
12. Rivalry Week will heat things up again
This is another of those annual traditions that rarely disappoints. From July 8 to 17, there will be national broadcasts of some of the best rivalries such as the Galaxy versus LAFC on July 8 and Seattle against Portland the following day. As for MLS forcing some of these “rivalries,” that’s also part of the tradition.
13. Look for Decision Day to matter
Given how tight teams have been in terms of talent, expect more fireworks to close out the season. While it might not be a final day of drama at the top of the Western Conference like last season, there’s no reason to think that there will be a clear split in the table between the playoff clubs and everybody else.
14. It’s a World Cup year
Other than rearranging Major League Soccer’s schedule, the World Cup presents an opportunity for players to roll a successful MLS season into an opportunity in Qatar. That’s broader than just the Concacaf representatives, given Major League Soccer’s breadth of talent across the league.
15. An earlier MLS Cup
While it’s becoming increasingly difficult to predict the weather, the expectation is that an earlier MLS Cup decreases the likelihood of cold conditions. That depends on who hosts, and home field didn’t help Portland last season.
16. Time for Inter Miami CF to get competitive
After entering the league in 2020, Inter Miami’s growth and potential stalled, in part, by the onset of COVID-19. The team finished 11th last season, way short of a playoff spot. This is the year this club, recent winners of the preseason Carolina Challenge Cup, has to turn things around or risk an even more substantive overhaul.
17. Colorado Rapids are no surprise
The Rapids have had a busy winter with the aim of bolstering a roster that helped the side finish first in the Western Conference before several postseason moves. The signing of Bryan Acosta could ignite an attack that stalled at times in 2021.
18. Cincinnati FC and the Houston Dynamo look to improve
While both teams remain works in progress, anything is better than another last-place finish. Cincinnati and Houston made substantive changes with new coaches and different approaches for 2022.
19. Two of the three Canadian teams will make the playoffs
Toronto is the team with the most to lose this season, putting money and faith in their turnaround. Vancouver surprised under an interim coach in 2021, facing a new season where they’re a known threat. That leaves Montreal, missing the playoffs last season but remaining in contention for a spot late in the season.
20. Lots of new coaches to watch for
The coaching carousel continues with six teams making new hires. Aside from Bradley at Toronto, watch for what former USMNT defender Steve Cherundolo at LAFC and MLS alum Ezra Hendrickson at the Chicago Fire do this season.
21. Walker Zimmerman will continue to be the league’s best defender
The Nashville SC center back has been exceptional both in MLS and for the USMNT. Named the league’s Defender of the Year in 2022 and ’21, the 28-year-old Zimmerman is a difference-maker.
22. MLS will continue to produce USMNT talent
Speaking of MLS players who have made the difference for the US, look for that to continue this season. The US will try to book its ticket to Qatar next month, leaving plenty of league games for MLS players to show that they belong.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2018.
More from Clemente Lisi:
- Expectations for the new MLS Designated Players in 2022
- Nashville in the West and Charlotte in the East
- The USMNT keeps the Columbus advantage
- The 4-3-3 in MLS
Photo by Chicago Fire FC