This Is (Sort of) the Year to Watch Major League Soccer
PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- When people who vehemently loathe Major League Soccer have to construct an argument for not watching the league, it's going to be a good year for MLS.
Major League Soccer's 2014 season opened this weekend with a full slate of matchups, but also a scolding from Deadspin writer Bill Haisley. In a lengthy screed against MLS, Haisley dismissed the league as inferior to European leagues, its business practices as manipulative, its fans as pedantic geeks and its culture as a knockoff of European names, chants and tradition.
In response, former Dallas FC player Bobby Warshaw didn't strongly argue any of those points, but noted that none of it makes the league all that different from the National Football League or the National Basketball Association. It's going with what works and making a more exciting game by doing so.
Though Deadspin eventually pushed back with a somewhat unrelated piece questioning the methodology of an ESPN survey that found Major League Soccer is now equal to Major League Baseball in its popularity with U.S. children, none of the above would have seen the light of day if there wasn't reason to anticipate the upcoming MLS season.
For one, some of the greatest U.S. players are actually playing in their home league this year. U.S. Men's National Team captain Clint Dempsey starts his first full season with the Seattle Sounders this year after a controversial transfer in 2013 that the league insists is well within its "designated player" rules (a case it made to us in an email following an MLS playoff story we ran last season). Michael Bradley, arguably the most important U.S. men's soccer player since Landon Donovan, just transferred from A.S. Roma to MLS' Toronto F.C. for $10 million, and joins a roster that just added Tottenham's Jermain Defoe and Brazil's Julio Cesar.
After a three-year run on NBC and NBC Sports Network, MLS just signed an eight-year, $70-million-a-year deal with Fox and ESPN. The 19-team league also announced the addition of New York City FC and Orlando City SC for the 2015 season, and awarded a Miami franchise to an investment group including David Beckham for a debut pending the completion of its stadium.
That brings a second team to New York and the first new franchises to Florida since the league folded the Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny in 2002. MLS wants 24 teams by 2020 and Commissioner Don Garber has discussed Atlanta, Minneapolis, San Antonio, Sacramento and St. Louis as potential sites.
Combine all of the above with the fact that this is a World Cup year that should boost U.S. interest in soccer anyway, and this should be a huge year for MLS. For all of the reasons mentioned above, it may be only a small window for greatness as well.