LAFC, Philadelphia Union return as top MLS Cup title contenders.Portland Timbers’ Evander, New York Red Bulls’ Dante Vanzeir among key incoming players.Apple immerses itself into sports streaming with 10-year partnership with MLS.
As Major League Soccer kicks off its 28th season, what should fans expect?
How about some chaos?
Take into consideration:
The league has had nine different MLS Cup winners in the last 10 years.Throw in the monkey wrench that is a new playoff format which is, well, whack.Did we mention that the season will be put on hold for a month in order to play a tournament against teams from Mexico?
That all should add even more unpredictability to a league that can be quite capricious.
Here are the key storylines to follow during the 2023 MLS season:
Who are some top 2023 MLS Cup contenders?
►Los Angeles FC: LAFC won its first MLS Cup and second Supporters’ Shield in a breakout 2022 campaign. In 2023, LAFC can collect even more hardware with a six-pack of trophies on the line (MLS Cup, Supporters’ Shield, U.S. Open Cup, CONCACAF Champions League, Leagues Cup, Campeones Cup).
►Philadelphia Union: The Union were painfully defeated in an epic MLS Cup by LAFC but returns a loaded squad primed for another run at a title.
►Austin FC: Austin made a massive leap in just its second season, reaching the Western Conference final. Sebastián Driussi is on the short list of 2023 MVP candidates.
►Los Angeles Galaxy: The Riqui Puig-to-Chicharito connection could make the Galaxy one of the league’s most formidable goal-scoring machines.
►FC Cincinnati: After spending the first three seasons of its exist at the bottom of the Eastern Conference table, this club took the next step under coach Pat Noonan and reached the playoffs in 2022. In 2023, FC Cincinnati will aim to take the next step and become a legitimate contender.
►New York Red Bulls: Sporting the second-longest active playoff streak in U.S. major pro sports leagues (13, behind the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 16 in the NHL) but without an MLS Cup win to show for it, RBNY went out and spent some money this offseason. New designated player Dante Vanzeir will be counted on to push this team beyond just another playoff team and into the legit title contender stratosphere.
►Seattle Sounders: After becoming the first MLS team to win the CONCACAF Champions League, the Sounders went on to miss the playoffs for the first time in team history. Is a Seattle revenge tour in the offing for 2023?
Who are some key new players in MLS?
►Stipe Biuk, forward, Los Angeles FC: The 20-year-old Croatian was a 2022 nominee for UEFA’s ‘Golden Boy Award.’
►Enzo Copetti, forward, Charlotte FC: In pairing Copetti with 2022 team goal-scoring leader Karol Swiderski, Charlotte is aiming for an Austin FC-like sophomore season surge.
►Evander, midfielder, Portland Timbers: Portland spent a reported club-record transfer fee to bring in the Brazilian, who the club hopes is the play-making successor to Timbers legend Diego Valeri.
►Giorgos Giakoumakis, forward, Atlanta United: Gone is Josef Martínez, who won the 2018 MVP award with Atlanta. The goal-scoring pressure now rests on the Greek international whom Atlanta signed from Scottish Premiership powerhouse Celtic FC.
►Andrés Gómez, forward, Real Salt Lake: The new ownership group in Salt Lake City is not messing around, setting a club record on the transfer fee for the promising 20-year-old Colombian.
►Dante Vanzeir, forward, New York Red Bulls: It’s been awhile since RBNY splurged on an international designated player signing (remember, this is the team that brought Thierry Henry to MLS). In Vanzeir, RBNY hopes to have a next-level scoring threat that the team has lacked since Bradley Wright-Phillips departed in 2020.
How to watch MLS in 2023
For first time in league history, ESPN will not broadcast any MLS games. Instead, it appears as if Apple is diving into the deep end when it comes to sports streaming. The company, through its Apple TV service, enters the first season of a 10-year partnership with MLS. Live broadcasts and replays of every match – regular season, playoffs and the new Leagues Cup – will all be available via MLS Season Pass.
The biggest bonuses of this move for soccer football fans:
No blackouts. An ‘NFL RedZone’-like whip-around show called ‘MLS 360.’A more streamlined schedule, with most games kicking off at 7:30 p.m. local time on Saturdays.
Fox Sports will air 34 games on linear TV in 2023. Those games also will be available on MLS Season Pass.
What are some key early season MLS games to watch (or stream)?
►Feb. 25 – Philadelphia Union vs. Columbus Crew, 7:30 p.m. ET (Apple TV): An MLS Cup favorite hosts a hopeful title contender at Subaru Park. Each team will be attempting to claim an early season statement win.
►March 4 – St. Louis City SC vs. Charlotte FC, 8:30 p.m. ET (Apple TV): The league’s latest expansion team plays its first home game at CITYPARK, the 22,500-seat stadium in downtown St. Louis. The opponent will be looking for a fast start to the season after just missing the playoffs in 2022.
►April 15 – Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders, 10:30 p.m. ET (Apple TV): #MLSAfterDark could get rowdy when these two bitter Cascadia rivals meet for the first time in 2023.
►April 16 – Los Angeles Galaxy vs. Los Angeles FC, 4:30 p.m. ET (Apple TV, Fox): The Galaxy hold the all-time El Tráfico edge at 7-5-5, but LAFC has won when it’s mattered most with two playoff victories over their rivals, including in last season’s Western Conference semifinals.
►May 13 – New York Red Bulls vs. New York City FC, 7:30 p.m. ET (Apple TV): The Hudson River Derby might feature teams headed in opposite directions. NYCFC is in a rebuild while its crosstown rivals could be one of the top teams in the East.
What is the newest MLS team?
St. Louis, which has deep roots in the sport of soccer, finally has a top-flight team, as St. Louis City SC becomes the 29th team in Major League Soccer. St. Louis City SC also hits a historical milestone as the first female majority-owned team in MLS.
From a competitive standpoint, St. Louis City SC landed in the Western Conference, with Nashville SC shifting back to the East, giving the two conferences an uneven number of teams (15 in the East, 14 in the West). While the league intends to expand to at least 30 teams, there is no further expansion planned at the moment.
Head coach Bradley Carnell (who spent much of his professional playing career in Germany) and sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel (you might know him from Bundesliga broadcasts on ESPN+) made some key additions from (you guessed it) Germany, including former Borussia Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Bürki, midfielder Eduard Löwen from Hertha Berlin, forward João Klauss from Hoffenheim and center back Joakim Nilsson from Arminia Bielefeld.
St. Louis fans will be hoping for a wunderbar Fußball season in 2023.
What is the 2023 MLS playoff format?
Can MLS just settle on a consistent playoff format? That answer is a resounding ‘NO!’ Just four days before kickoff of the 2023 season, the league announced a new format for the postseason. It’s unorthodox and convoluted.
It’s features a wild-card game between the eighth- and ninth-place finishers for each conference spread over two days (#MLSSuperWildCardDays?) to determine which squad gets to play a best-of-three series against their respective conference’s first-place finisher.
This will be the postseason schedule:
Wild-card games: Oct. 25-26Round 1: Oct. 28-Nov. 12Conference semifinals and finals: Nov. 25-Dec. 3MLS Cup: Dec. 9
That whole Round 1 features best-of-three series, with no extra time and penalty kicks if 90 minutes cannot determine a winner. That is the case for the wild-card games, too. However, the following rounds will be single-elimination showdowns from the conference semifinals through MLS Cup.
This is a dramatic shift from the simple, 14-team, single-elimination tournament the league had for just three seasons (2019, 2021-22). It also gives MLS a 16-team playoff field, matching the number of teams that make the playoffs in the 30-team NBA and 32-team NHL, with all three leagues outpacing the NFL (14) and MLB (12).
What is the tournament between Liga MX and MLS?
The budding bromance between Liga MX and MLS hits a crescendo with this summer’s Leagues Cup. The tournament will feature every Liga MX and MLS team (47 total) in a World Cup-style competition that will take place July 21 to Aug. 19. Both MLS and Liga MX are pausing their league competitions for Leagues Cup. The winner will earn automatic qualification for the CONCACAF Champions League.
LAFC (2022 MLS Cup champion) and Pachuca (the 2022 Clausura or 2022 Apertura champion with the most combined points) automatically qualify for the Round of 32.
What are preseason betting odds for 2023 MLS Cup winner?
According to Tipico Sportsbook, Los Angeles FC (+450) is the early favorite to win MLS Cup in 2023, followed by the Philadelphia Union (+650), New York City FC (+750), Los Angeles Galaxy (+1200), CF Montréal and Austin FC (+1200), and Nashville SC and New York Red Bulls (+1500).
At +2000 are FC Dallas, Seattle Sounders, Atlanta United, FC Cincinnati and Inter Miami CF. At +3000 are the New England Revolution, Sporting Kansas City, Columbus Crew, Toronto FC, Portland Timbers, Orlando City SC and Minnesota United. At +4000 are the Colorado Rapids and Real Salt Lake. At +5000 is Charlotte FC, and at +6000 are the Chicago Fire, D.C. United and San Jose Earthquakes. The Vancouver Whitecaps are at +7000 and Houston Dynamo at +8000.
Expansion side St. Louis City SC (+10000) faces the longest odds to win MLS Cup.
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