14/07/2024

MLS Starting XI season preview: Lionel Messi’s next MLS act starts now

Hace 5 meses

MLS Starting XI season preview: Lionel Messi’s next MLS act starts now

MLS will kick off its 29th season Wednesday with Lionel Messi and Inter Miami hosting Real Salt Lake. Here are the story lines to watch as a new season begins.

MLS will kick off its 29th season Wednesday with Lionel Messi and Inter Miami hosting Real Salt Lake. Here are the story lines to watch as a new season begins.

Major League Soccer will kick off its 29th season Wednesday with Argentine superstar Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami hosting Real Salt Lake.

It’s the start of a 9½-month campaign that, aside from the regular season and playoffs, will feature international tournaments with MLS teams, international tournaments pulling players from MLS teams, 10 new coaches, new rules and a Dec. 7 championship game that could very well include Messi.

To get things started, here is the Starting XI of news and storylines.

Messi in full

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The stand-alone season opener is a fitting way to raise the curtain because, in a league with some 800 players, Messi stands alone in his soccer abilities and drawing power.

More so than usual, the stage is Messi’s this week. All other openers will wait until the weekend.

After a sensational arrival last summer, Messi will enter his first full MLS campaign poised to take his club — and the league — to new heights.

Because of him — and his band of past-their-prime former Barcelona teammates, including newcomer Luis Suárez — a team that failed to make the playoffs last year is among the MLS Cup contenders.

The stand-alone season opener is a fitting way to raise the curtain because, in a league with some 800 players, Messi stands alone in his soccer abilities and drawing power.

More so than usual, the stage is Messi’s this week. All other openers will wait until the weekend.

After a sensational arrival last summer, Messi will enter his first full MLS campaign poised to take his club — and the league — to new heights.

Because of him — and his band of past-their-prime former Barcelona teammates, including newcomer Luis Suárez — a team that failed to make the playoffs last year is among the MLS Cup contenders.

Stretching Messi

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Messi is in high demand — by Miami to perform on the field and advance its brand, by the league to sell tickets and Apple TV subscriptions and by Argentina to continue leading the World Cup champions.

At 36, he does not rebound as quickly as he once did. He is going to need breaks. That means letting down ticket buyers who paid top dollar. Fans and authorities fumed after he sat out a preseason exhibition in Hong Kong.

A ticket to see Messi should come with an asterisk. Even if healthy, he is going to miss MLS games to play for Argentina. The big scheduling conflict this summer is Copa América, which will force him to miss perhaps six Miami matches.

Messi is in high demand — by Miami to perform on the field and advance its brand, by the league to sell tickets and Apple TV subscriptions and by Argentina to continue leading the World Cup champions.

At 36, he does not rebound as quickly as he once did. He is going to need breaks. That means letting down ticket buyers who paid top dollar. Fans and authorities fumed after he sat out a preseason exhibition in Hong Kong.

A ticket to see Messi should come with an asterisk. Even if healthy, he is going to miss MLS games to play for Argentina. The big scheduling conflict this summer is Copa América, which will force him to miss perhaps six Miami matches.

A talented Crew

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If Miami is not the favorite, look no further than last year’s finalists, the Columbus Crew and Los Angeles FC. Under first-year coach Wilfried Nancy, Columbus played wonderful, synchronized soccer and culminated a late-season surge with a 2-1 home victory over LAFC.

Most of the Crew’s key pieces have returned, highlighted by Colombian forward Cucho Hernández and captain Darlington Nagbe. Burdened by expectations and a schedule weighted by success, however, no team has repeated since the L.A. Galaxy in 2012.

By winning the league title, Columbus earned a place in the Concacaf Champions Cup, an international tournament that, early in the year, will overshadow MLS pursuits. Over the years, MLS teams that have made deep runs in the event have then battled fatigue in the regular season.

LAFC, the 2022 MLS champion, signed French World Cup goalkeeper Hugo Lloris from England’s Tottenham Hotspur but has yet to re-sign its all-time scoring leader, Carlos Vela.

FC Cincinnati, the best team in the 2023 regular season, bolstered its defense by signing Miles Robinson, a member of the U.S. national team and the jewel of the free agent market. MLS MVP Luciano Acosta returns, but star striker Brandon Vázquez was sold to Monterrey (Mexico).

If Miami is not the favorite, look no further than last year’s finalists, the Columbus Crew and Los Angeles FC. Under first-year coach Wilfried Nancy, Columbus played wonderful, synchronized soccer and culminated a late-season surge with a 2-1 home victory over LAFC.

Most of the Crew’s key pieces have returned, highlighted by Colombian forward Cucho Hernández and captain Darlington Nagbe. Burdened by expectations and a schedule weighted by success, however, no team has repeated since the L.A. Galaxy in 2012.

By winning the league title, Columbus earned a place in the Concacaf Champions Cup, an international tournament that, early in the year, will overshadow MLS pursuits. Over the years, MLS teams that have made deep runs in the event have then battled fatigue in the regular season.

LAFC, the 2022 MLS champion, signed French World Cup goalkeeper Hugo Lloris from England’s Tottenham Hotspur but has yet to re-sign its all-time scoring leader, Carlos Vela.

FC Cincinnati, the best team in the 2023 regular season, bolstered its defense by signing Miles Robinson, a member of the U.S. national team and the jewel of the free agent market. MLS MVP Luciano Acosta returns, but star striker Brandon Vázquez was sold to Monterrey (Mexico).

Beyond MLS

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Soccer leagues function in ecosystems, drawn from their insular worlds to compete in national and international competitions concurrent with the regular season.

MLS has embraced the Concacaf Champions Cup and, after more than 20 years of disappointment, celebrated the Seattle Sounders’ 2022 title, which resulted in a place in the FIFA Club World Cup. Ten teams qualified for the Concacaf event this year.

For the second consecutive summer, MLS will pause the regular season for a month to conduct the Leagues Cup, a revenue producer involving all 47 teams from MLS and Mexico’s Liga MX. Miami is the reigning champion.

Soccer leagues function in ecosystems, drawn from their insular worlds to compete in national and international competitions concurrent with the regular season.

MLS has embraced the Concacaf Champions Cup and, after more than 20 years of disappointment, celebrated the Seattle Sounders’ 2022 title, which resulted in a place in the FIFA Club World Cup. Ten teams qualified for the Concacaf event this year.

For the second consecutive summer, MLS will pause the regular season for a month to conduct the Leagues Cup, a revenue producer involving all 47 teams from MLS and Mexico’s Liga MX. Miami is the reigning champion.

Open and out

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MLS’s investment in the Leagues Cup is partly responsible for the league’s withdrawal from the U.S. Open Cup, which is modeled after the English FA Cup and dates from 1914. It’s like the NCAA basketball tournament but with teams from every division.

Citing tournament shortcomings, MLS announced it would send developmental squads. The U.S. Soccer Federation, which operates the tournament, rejected that proposal. The sides are still seeking a solution.

MLS’s investment in the Leagues Cup is partly responsible for the league’s withdrawal from the U.S. Open Cup, which is modeled after the English FA Cup and dates from 1914. It’s like the NCAA basketball tournament but with teams from every division.

Citing tournament shortcomings, MLS announced it would send developmental squads. The U.S. Soccer Federation, which operates the tournament, rejected that proposal. The sides are still seeking a solution.

Summer conflicts

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Aside from outside tournaments involving its teams, MLS also must brace for international competitions that draw players from its teams.

Many MLS players will report to national teams for Copa América, which runs June 20 to July 14 at 14 U.S. venues. Some might receive a call to the European Championship, set for June 14 to July 14 in Germany. With an already congested slate of games, MLS will not pause its schedule.

Finally, the Summer Olympics in Paris are set for July 26 to Aug. 11. Unlike for Copa América and the Euros, clubs are not required to release players for the Olympics, which, in men’s soccer, are primarily for players 23 and under. Some MLS teams, though, may recognize the benefit of allowing players to compete in an international event.

Aside from outside tournaments involving its teams, MLS also must brace for international competitions that draw players from its teams.

Many MLS players will report to national teams for Copa América, which runs June 20 to July 14 at 14 U.S. venues. Some might receive a call to the European Championship, set for June 14 to July 14 in Germany. With an already congested slate of games, MLS will not pause its schedule.

Finally, the Summer Olympics in Paris are set for July 26 to Aug. 11. Unlike for Copa América and the Euros, clubs are not required to release players for the Olympics, which, in men’s soccer, are primarily for players 23 and under. Some MLS teams, though, may recognize the benefit of allowing players to compete in an international event.

MLS in USMNT

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For a long time, MLS was a major supplier to the U.S. national team. But as more Americans have gone abroad to play in top leagues, few from the domestic circuit are in the mix for call-ups. The U.S. roster for the Concacaf Nations League finals next month and Copa América this summer might include three or fewer MLS-based players.

For a long time, MLS was a major supplier to the U.S. national team. But as more Americans have gone abroad to play in top leagues, few from the domestic circuit are in the mix for call-ups. The U.S. roster for the Concacaf Nations League finals next month and Copa América this summer might include three or fewer MLS-based players.

Returning stateside

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MLS does not enjoy the frenzied offseason of the NBA, but this winter did feature several notable moves. The Colorado Rapids signed three Americans from abroad: goalkeeper Zack Steffen (Manchester City), left back Sam Vines (Antwerp, Belgium) and midfielder Djordje Mihailovic (AZ Alkmaar, Netherlands).

Aside from Miami’s Suárez and LAFC’s Lloris, international arrivals include Seattle winger Pedro de la Vega (Lanus, Argentina), Galaxy winger Gabriel Pec (Vasco da Gama, Brazil), Chicago forward Hugo Cuypers (Gent, Belgium), New York Red Bulls midfielder Emil Forsberg (Leipzig, Germany), Orlando forward Luis Muriel (Atalanta, Italy) and Dallas forward Petar Musa (Benfica, Portugal).

MLS does not enjoy the frenzied offseason of the NBA, but this winter did feature several notable moves. The Colorado Rapids signed three Americans from abroad: goalkeeper Zack Steffen (Manchester City), left back Sam Vines (Antwerp, Belgium) and midfielder Djordje Mihailovic (AZ Alkmaar, Netherlands).

Aside from Miami’s Suárez and LAFC’s Lloris, international arrivals include Seattle winger Pedro de la Vega (Lanus, Argentina), Galaxy winger Gabriel Pec (Vasco da Gama, Brazil), Chicago forward Hugo Cuypers (Gent, Belgium), New York Red Bulls midfielder Emil Forsberg (Leipzig, Germany), Orlando forward Luis Muriel (Atalanta, Italy) and Dallas forward Petar Musa (Benfica, Portugal).

Coaching influx

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Ten new coaches are in place, including Toronto’s John Herdman, Canada’s 2022 World Cup leader; New England’s Caleb Porter, who won MLS titles with Portland and Columbus; and Charlotte’s Dean Smith, who has guided England’s Aston Villa, Norwich City and Leicester City.

Minnesota has the oddest arrangement: Interim coach Cameron Knowles replaced interim Sean McAuley. A permanent replacement doesn’t appear imminent.

Only four of the 29 coaches were in their current positions five years ago, led by Kansas City’s Peter Vermes, who has been at his post since 2009.

Ten new coaches are in place, including Toronto’s John Herdman, Canada’s 2022 World Cup leader; New England’s Caleb Porter, who won MLS titles with Portland and Columbus; and Charlotte’s Dean Smith, who has guided England’s Aston Villa, Norwich City and Leicester City.

Minnesota has the oddest arrangement: Interim coach Cameron Knowles replaced interim Sean McAuley. A permanent replacement doesn’t appear imminent.

Only four of the 29 coaches were in their current positions five years ago, led by Kansas City’s Peter Vermes, who has been at his post since 2009.

Referee labor issues

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Barring an 11th-hour breakthrough, MLS will start the season with replacement referees, perhaps many from overseas. For the second time in 10 years, match officials and their third-party employer are at a labor impasse.

Members of the Professional Soccer Referees Association were locked out by the Professional Referee Organization after rejecting a tentative collective bargaining agreement Saturday.

Barring an 11th-hour breakthrough, MLS will start the season with replacement referees, perhaps many from overseas. For the second time in 10 years, match officials and their third-party employer are at a labor impasse.

Members of the Professional Soccer Referees Association were locked out by the Professional Referee Organization after rejecting a tentative collective bargaining agreement Saturday.

Rule initiatives

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To help fans in the stadium, the scoreboard clock will now continue running into stoppage time instead of stopping at 45:00 and 90:00. To help those in attendance and watching remotely, the referee will now announce video-replay decisions.

To discourage time-wasting, substituted players must leave the field within 10 seconds. If they fail, their replacement must wait 60 seconds before entering. That doesn’t apply to injuries and goalkeeper changes.

To discourage feigning injury, a player who remains on the ground for 15 seconds with a suspected ailment must leave the field for at least two minutes. There are exceptions for a potential head injury, goalkeeper injuries, serious medical events and fouls resulting in yellow or red cards.

To help fans in the stadium, the scoreboard clock will now continue running into stoppage time instead of stopping at 45:00 and 90:00. To help those in attendance and watching remotely, the referee will now announce video-replay decisions.

To discourage time-wasting, substituted players must leave the field within 10 seconds. If they fail, their replacement must wait 60 seconds before entering. That doesn’t apply to injuries and goalkeeper changes.

To discourage feigning injury, a player who remains on the ground for 15 seconds with a suspected ailment must leave the field for at least two minutes. There are exceptions for a potential head injury, goalkeeper injuries, serious medical events and fouls resulting in yellow or red cards.

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