With the league entering its twenty-fourth season there is plenty to look forward to. With new sides and new players coming in and the rapid influx of younger players making their marks the league feels stronger than ever. But what are some of the top stories entering into the 2020 season. Sean Maslin has a look at ten big questions ahead of the upcoming campaign:
10.) Who will be the next big international signing? It has become kind of a tradition during the MLS offseason that the rumor mill will inevitably include a few high-profile players making the jump across the Atlantic. What’s interesting is that it really isn’t tied to the winter window as moves are often ‘announced’ and then made official in May/June. With names like Luis Suarez, Mario Balotelli, Robert Lewandowski and yes Ronaldo making the rounds it sounds as if another major player may be making the move to MLS.
9.) How will Inter Miami FC and Nashville fare in Year One? The 2020 MLS season will welcome two new sides to the league with Inter Miami and Nashville joining the league. While many promises have been made and management on both sides saying all of the right things of course the big questions: How will they do? Much of this depends upon whether they believe they have the roster to contend in year one. While Miami seems to have interest in splashing the cash, neither side have really shown much of an interest in taking an Atlanta United FC/LAFC approach. Building for the long-run may be the savvy move in the long-term but it may lead to some tough results in year one.
8.) Who is the dark horse that will sneak into the Playoffs? Every season there is one side that makes a quick turn-around from a tough season the year prior, making some smart moves that produce quick results. Which side may make the jump into the playoffs? Keep an eye on the Colorado Rapids, who found their footing with new coach Robin Fraser last season and made a strong run at the Playoffs. With a younger lineup and some bad contracts cleared out they may make a run for the second season in 2020.
7.) Who can replace the Soccer gift of Zlatan? The answer to this is pretty simple: no one. Zlatan was an immediate difference-maker for the Los Angeles Galaxy the past two years and without him the club will have to replace 52 goals which is not easy. The Galaxy have always had a knack for making a big move that works for their squad. But replacing the Big Swede may be their biggest task yet.
6.) Which coach is on the hot seat? Expectations are always high at the start of the season and coaches are often given the quick hook if results aren’t up to snuff. While MLS sides have been known to be more patient than sides across the footballing world, results still do matter. That should worry D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen who is the second-longest tenured coach in the league yet only has one piece of silverware in his C/V.
5.) Can MLS finally claim the top prize in the CONCACAF Champions League? This is a question that gets asked every single year and every single year the question remains. MLS teams have struggled mightily against their CONCACAF neighbors and in particular against the Liga MX sides. Atlanta, LAFC, the Montreal Impact, New York City FC, and the Seattle Sounders are considered to be five of the best in MLS both in terms of quality of play but also the level of preparation that their sides put into each tournament. That should give their supporters some hope but against Liga MX powerhouses Cruz Azul, Club America, and Tigres the deck is still stacked against them.
4.) Can FC Dallas rebound from a tough 2019? Dallas have received a great amount of credit for their youth development structure and being able to re-sell their players to top-level sides. However, they haven’t really found their rhythm on the pitch. Last season The Hoops had twelve current or former Homegrown Players on their roster, yet they just squeaked into a playoff spot. Their narrow loss against the Sounders in the opening round of the playoffs showed that perhaps they had turned the corner. But there is still plenty to prove with the young side and their coach Luchi Gonzalez.
3.) Can the Philadelphia Union take the next step?The Philadelphia Union are very similar to Dallas in that they place a premium on developing young talent within Pennsylvania, which is a soccer-rich region. Winning their first-ever playoff match was a massive step for the franchise and for their young core. Now they need to make a deep playoff run without Haris Medunjanin and Marco Fabian. Auston Trusty, Anthony Fontana, and Brenden Aaronson all have bright futures and now the responsibility to lead Philadelphia towards silverware.
2.) Can Atlanta avoid another early season slump? Last season Atlanta seemed to have a bit of championship hangover, struggling out of the gates in the league. Although they turned it around late in the season the lack of results early on hurt their chances in the Supporters Shield and gaining a high seed in the playoffs. With Frank De Boer now entering year two as coach and Ezequiel Barco and Pity Martinez both firmly entrenched in the club there shouldn’t be as many growing pains for the side. That is bad news for the rest of MLS.
1.) Is MLS Cup LAFC’s to lose? Despite not winning MLS Cup last year, LAFC certainly made a lot of progress towards cementing their status as one of the top sides in the league. By winning the Supporters Shield and defeating the Galaxy in the Playoffs they earned their first title and exorcised whatever curse still existed in El Trafico. While winning the Champions League would be an immense achievement, Bob Bradley’s side will have their sights firmly on MLS Cup and given their depth and attacking options they may be difficult to beat.
Score a Soccer 360 magazine subscription and get the upcoming March/April 2020 Edition featuring The MLS Season Preview.