By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Feb 20, 2023) US Soccer Players – The start of another Major League Soccer season is less than a week away. As preseason winds down and the league’s 29 teams prepare to kick things off on Saturday, there’s once again an overabundance of narratives for fans to focus on this season.
Los Angeles FC, winners of both the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup, will be looking to add even more silverware, while Philadelphia should be the likeliest Eastern Conference challenger. MLS will put its regular season on pause from mid-July through the middle of August so that its teams can play Liga MX sides in the expanded tournament. It’s also another year where the league welcomes expansion side St Louis City SC. Here are five stories to watch for ahead of this weekend’s start to the 2023 MLS season.
LAFC looks to repeat as MLS Cup champions
Let’s start with the team that won it all last year. Repeating in MLS is extremely difficult, something that’s only happened three times in league history. In fact, being the defending league champions doesn’t mean that a team is a lock even to make the playoffs the following season. That, however, isn’t likely to be the situation for LAFC.
In fact, LAFC could aim for more silverware in 2023. So much so, that terms like “superclub” get tossed around much like it did over a decade ago with the LA Galaxy. LAFC is loaded with talent, and they could be formidable with strikers Carlos Vela and Denis Bouanga. Defensively, they’ve added center back Aaron Long and veteran goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic while they wait for Maxime Crepeau’s return to fitness.
MLS streaming on Apple TV
The 2023 season starts a ten-year deal with Apple TV to stream all league matches, with MLS Season Pass allowing fans to watch every MLS game live, regardless of location. It also asks a series of questions about subscribers and viewership that will have to wait for data. For now, it is an interesting deal that puts MLS in partnership with a tech giant. Meanwhile, FOX will show MLS on network television (15 games) and cable (19 games).
Union looks to restore Philly sports pride
When the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Philadelphia Eagles last week to win the Super Bowl, it had been the third championship a team from the City of Brotherly Love had failed to win since last year. Both the Union and Phillies lost MLS Cup and the World Series, respectively, last year. And on the same day!
A new year brings with it the chance for the Union, who finished tied on points last season with LAFC, to aim for the title. Jim Curtain enters his 10th season with the team after taking over in June 2014. The only silverware he’s ever won with the Union was the Supporters’ Shield in 2020. This season could very well be the year the Union changes that,
The expanded Leagues Cup
The Leagues Cup will now feature 47 teams, 29 from MLS and 18 from Liga MX, that will play in a World Cup-style tournament that will see three clubs qualify for the 2024 Concacaf Champions League. The tournament, which runs from July 21 to August 19, features 15 groups with three teams apiece. MLS will remain dormant during this time. It will be a very interesting experiment. It’s also worth wondering how this break will affect the MLS season and whether it will disrupt the momentum teams sometimes get into during the middle of the schedule.
St Louis SC’s performance in its first year
The Chicago Fire team that won both MLS and US Open Cup titles in 1998 remains the gold standard of how a roster can win during an expansion season. That, however, was another era. These days, expecting a first-year club to lift silverware is probably asking too much.
That doesn’t mean St Louis can’t do well in 2023 or even make the playoffs. The model to follow may be the ones of recent expansion teams, like Atlanta United FC and Inter Miami, who spent their expansion seasons building for the near future. It has proven a successful recipe should all the pieces fall into place.
As always, there are plenty of storylines to watch for this season. Given the favorites in both conferences, the new broadcasting deal, an expanded Leagues Cup, and the addition of a new team, there’s something for everyone in MLS this season.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of the new book “The FIFA World Cup: A History of the Planet’s Biggest Sporting Event.”
More from Clemente Lisi:
- What the January window could mean for the 2022-23 Champions League
- Five MLS player moves worth your attention
- The goalkeeping pool, MLS talent, and building atmosphere from the January USMNT friendlies
- As expected, the 2023 January camp highlights new players and MLS
Photo by MLS – ISIPhotos.com