It has been an another exciting year in Major League Soccer with some calling it the league’s best. By some measures that is true with attendance at record levels at the top of that list.
Some other measures are not as positive as we will see. so let’s get to it.
1) Portland Rewards Fans
It would be hard to call Timbers fans long suffering, given that their heroes just won the MLS Cup in year five. But a slightly closer look tells us that Portland has been supporting a club called the Timbers since 1975 when the Portland Timbers joined the old NASL.
When the league folded the Timbers carried on in the USL before beginning play in MLS in 2011. Right from the start Portland has embraced the MLS Timbers, selling out every game at Jeld-Wen/Providence Park, a remarkable achievement.
Add to that the gameday atmosphere pumped up by the Timber Army, Timber Joey and the Portland fanbase and you have a city that deserved a soccer championship.
2) Free Agency Comes to MLS
But this is not MLB style free agency. There are strict eligibility requirements, raises are controlled and it still all has to fit under the cap.
No, this version of free agency is more Hal Steinbrenner than George “The Boss” Steinbrenner. In fact, it is very much in keeping with the rest of the CBA between the MLS players and owners, in that things improved a little for the players, but not nearly enough to trouble the owners.
When owners and players in “The Big 3” of American sports -sorry hockey- negotiate it is labelled the millionaires against the billionaires- this agreement will do little to move MLS players into the millionaire bracket, and it certainly has done nothing to threaten the owner’s bank balances.
3) Big Names – Big Results?
Not so much. MLS welcomed some marquee names to the league this season and one of those names Sebastian Giovinco went on to have a historic year winning the MVP as he became the first MLS player to score 20 goals and 15 assists in the same season, notching 22 goals to tie with Kei Kamara for the league lead and topping the charts with 16 assists.
Alas, the remaining 2/3 of Toronto’s DP 3, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, were unable to live up to their big salaries and reputations with regularity and TFC were KO’ed in the knockout round by Montreal and its own big name, Didier Drogba, before the Impact bowed out in the Conference semifinals.
When Steven Gerrard and Giovani Dos Santos joined the L.A. Galaxy in midseason the defending Champions looked like a solid bet to threepeat.
After the Galaxy were sent packing by the Seattle Sounders in the K.O. Round, Gerrard mentioned that he had been surprised by the travel, the heat, and the altitude that MLS players have to put up with.
A little research might have been in order before making a life altering move Mr. Gerrard.
And then there were the expansion clubs, Orlando and New York City FC. The Floridians spent big on Kaka, the one time World Footballer of the Year while the Bronx based Manchester City satellite NYCFC splashed the cash on David Villa, Frank Lampard and Andre Pirlo.
Neither of the free spenders made the post-season, but next year the stars will come back with a better appreciation of the travel, the altitude, the heat, etc and may pay bigger dividends than in their debut seasons.
4) MLS and NWSL- And Then There Were 3
Orlando has become the third MLS club to take ownership of an NWSL team, and that could be a promising development for the women’s professional league.
The ambitious Florida expansion club is also adding a USL team to its portfolio despite just having one MLS season under its belt.
Further evidence of the central Florida teams intentions was the naming of well-regarded international coach Tom Sermanni as the NWSL sides first field manager.
Sermanni was jettisoned by the U.S. WNT, who of course went on to win the World Cup under the genial Scot’s former assistant Jill Ellis.
Still, Sermanni has kept his solid reputation despite that setback and the hire is considered a slam dunk by most.
Sermanni had better be good and quickly, Orlando will join the league in 2016. So not much time to fuss.
The Orlando Pride join the Houston Dash and the Portland Reign as NWSL teams owned by MLS franchises and MLS Commissioner Don Garber thinks we should see more of this in the future.
Garber recently Sports Illustrated that he would like to see every MLS club eventually double up like Houston, Portland and Orlando. So we will keep an eye out on that.
5) Expansion A Hit in 2015 – With More to Come
Orlando Lions SC and New York City FC both missed the playoffs this season, but then that is generally the case with expansion teams. Still, how can we call the debutantes a hit?
Just take a look at the gate. Playing at the revamped Citrus Bowl, Orlando were second in the league in attendance to perennial box office champs Seattle and one spot back in the attendance table sat New York.
An average crowd of 32,847 came out to see the Lions play while NYCFC drew 29,016 per game despite the odd dimensions and site lines at Yankee Stadium.
And there is more to come.
With Atlanta United FC set to come on board in 2017, MLS is on track to reach the Commissioner’s goal of 24 teams by 2020.
As it lines up now Atlanta should be followed by LAFC and Minnesota in 2018 with Garber’s Great White Whale, Miami Beckham United, slated to be team 24 in, well sometime before 2021.
David Beckham’s search for a stadium site for his Miami club has been quite the quest, but it may have finally come to a conclusion.
The hiring of Tim Leiweke seems to have been key to the recent deal for a parcel of land in the Overtown section of Miami, maybe NYCFC should make Leiweke an offer.
Despite the December 2nd announcement from the Beckham group, there remains work to be done before shovels are in the ground.
The list could have easily been two or three times longer, but those are just five items we have chosen to highlight from a long and interesting season for this year-end MLS Big – 5.