From the MLS to the national teams to Americans abroad
The new US football season starts on Thursday. Let our Stateside expert Jason Davis explain – and start to introduce the teams...
There's nothing quite like the clouds lifting to suddenly give way to glorious sunshine; when Major League Soccer and the MLS Players Union agreed on a new collective bargaining agreement on Saturday, any doubt that the new season would start on time melted away.
It's a narrow escape, considering that the word "strike" was being mentioned in harsh tones and with real intent. Players' unions are the norm in American sports, and though the MLS version doesn't have the same strength as its brethren in baseball or American football, the union felt it necessary to make a stand for the kind of rights that players around the world take for granted.
The biggest concerns were guaranteed contracts and the ability to move on after their contract has expired. The latter problem is something unique to MLS; in order to keep salaries down, a player's club controls their rights within the league despite the expiration of their contract or their being cut loose.
That they received enough concessions on both to make a deal happen is a good thing, what with the heads of MLS supporters around the country constantly on the verge of spontaneous combustion over the past three months.
Heads sufficiently cooled, it's time to move forward into the MLS's 15th season.
THE STRUCTUREMLS, now consisting of 16 teams with the addition of expansion newcomers Philadelphia Union, will use a balanced home-and-away schedule for the first time in the league’s history.
There will now be 30 games for each club, fighting for the Supporters Shield – awarded to the league winner – and the more highly-regarded MLS Cup, awarded to the champion after a subsequent play-off between the top eight teams.
As is usually the way with US sports, even though every team plays every other team twice, the league is broken out into two conferences. These are nominally set by geography and thus called the Eastern and Western Conferences.
At the end of the league season the top two teams in each conference make the play-offs, with the remaining four slots going to the clubs with the best point total, regardless of conference.
The play-offs proceed, two-legged, within the conference set-up: the top-seeded West team plays the fourth-seeded West team, while second plays third, before the winners face off to create a Conference champion.
And when each division has a champion, those two fight for the MLS Cup in the big finale at a neutral venue. It's all very Superbowl-esque. Welcome to America.
MEET THE TEAMS: Eastern Conference part 1Last year's Supporters Shield winner and Shield/Cup double winner in 2008, the Columbus Crew, return a strong team led by Argentine maestro Guillermo Barros Schelloto. A mix of age and youth – longtime US international Frankie Hejduk anchors the defence – the Crew should be contenders again for the Eastern Conference title.
Last season ended in disappointment when what many thought was the better Crew side fell to eventual Cup champions Real Salt Lake – yes, that's really their name – in the first round of the play-offs (Western Conference outfit RSL having switched to the East for the play-offs due to that final-qualifier rule outlined above). Without a clear favorite in the East, this could again be Columbus' year.
Chicago Fire's 2009 also fell short of their aspirations. Loaded for a championship run with the likes of former Fulham (and USA) stalwart Brian McBride, Mexico star Cuahatemoc Blanco and solid Colombian defender Wilman Conde, the Fire also saw their hopes dashed by Real Salt Lake in the Eastern Conference final.
The Fire's squad turnover for 2010 includes the addition of McBride's old Fulham team-mate Collins John but the loss of the aforementioned Blanco. Due to the Mexican's World Cup aspirations (sound familiar?) he signed with a Mexican second division during the MLS off-season and will not return to the Fire. Without Blanco, up-and-coming Guatemalan midfielder Marco Pappa will be forced to shoulder more of the attacking load.
After losing four MLS Cup finals in six seasons, the New England Revolution used to be considered always the bridesmaid, never the bride. Last year they barely made it to the church. Coached by ex-Liverpool player Steve Nicol, they made the play-offs last season but were a shell of their former selves and went straight out to the Fire.
A ninth consecutive play-off appearance will depend largely on the play of do-it-all man Shalrie Joseph and the side's ability to find the net without league century goalscorer Taylor Twellman, still recovering from concussion and neck problems. A goalscoring juggernaut New England is not.
Finally for today, DC United is the most decorated club in MLS history, but failed to make the play-offs for the second consecutive season in 2009. A passionate fan base backs the club, which has a tradition (or as much of a tradition as a club can have in 15 years) of playing free-flowing, on-the-floor, Latin-style football.
New head coach Curt Onalfo will be asked to turn around the club's fortunes, and he does have the league's all-time leading goal scorer Jaime Moreno to lean upon. But Moreno's age is showing, and the club will need to contributions from others to make a run. United's bouncing (literally, given the springy stands at RFK Stadium), throbbing ultras of La Barra Brava and the Screaming Eagles are getting antsy.
Part 2: The rest of the Eastern Conference – Toronto FC, Kansas City Wizards, New York Red Bulls & Philadelphia Union
The Real American Football home More features from FFT.com
USA: News * MLS stats FFT.com: Features * News * Interviews * HomeInteract: Twitter * Facebook * Forums
Spending more time thinking about football (and not the American kind) than most believe healthy, he unfortunately has yet to found a way to support himself doing it.
Nevertheless, he soldiers on, waving an over-sized version of Old Glory wherever he goes, hoping for an American World Cup victory before he's too old to realize it happened, and dreaming of the day a washed-up Yank heads to England to finish out his career rather than the other way around.
This post was mentioned on Twitter by MFUSA: RT @FourFourTwo: FEATURE The MLS start on Thursday. Our Stateside expert @MFUSA starts his countdown today http://tinyurl.com/ykpf7fo #fb
I appreciate you explaining the MLS to everyone but the nature of the league itself does not excite me, even following the absurd playoffs which is aped from Baseball & the NBA doesn't really marry the league to any league in the planet. why have a playoff system? More interesting would be if the MLS would employ a two champion system, one for the East and one for the West (also 30 games is too much, they should shorten that as well) --- the Two Conference Champions meet in one Final match, decided by who has a better conference record or by stealing the way the NFL does it, rotate the venue taking away all home advantage, the Home Depot is a possibility?
While in South America they have playoffs to decide who will play in the Copa Libertadores, I think the MLS should break away with all comparisons with Baseball, Hockey, the NFL & the NBA --- the time is now, also rename CHIVAS USA, I hate that name but I also hate REAL SALT LAKE (That's the best they could come up with? naming them after a Spanish team? its an anachronism at best).
The MLS kicks off on Thursday; let our Stateside expert Jason Davis introduce the teams from way out
The MLS season starts tonight, and all week Jason Davis has been introducing the combatants. Here are
No one sets out to debut poorly, but sometimes these things can't be helped. Such was the plight
Latest World Football News
Man City and Yankees launch new MLS team
New York City FC bring Reyna on board
Beckham talking to MLS about owning team
Blatter hints he plans to stay as FIFA president
Boateng and Altidore on new anti-racism panel
He's here, he's there, he's...
The cost of Premier League away travel
FourFourTwo is brought to you by Haymarket Consumer Media & FourFourTwo is part of Haymarket Sport
| International Licensing | © Haymarket Media Group 2010