Now that we’ve overcome the certain doom that was to befall the league with the threatened strike / lockout, with cooler heads prevailing, we can get down to celebrating First Kick Twenty.
Remember back when MLS was going to fold after the first season, and the second, Ok, maybe the fifth? No? OK, No way it makes it ten years, Surely not fifteen…
Well, guess what, Season 20 kicks off in less than twelve hours with all twenty teams playing Friday through Sunday. Not bad for a league that had to survive Nike’s original jerseys & team branding, the Americanized countdown clock, tiebreaker shootouts, some guy named Doug Logan promising teams to proto-hipsters, contraction of two franchises to stop the bleed and the Chivas USA experiment. Though I still believe the gravest threat was Alexi Lalas’ All-Sport commercial with contracting goals and other silliness. And thankfully, MLS survived Fraser v. Major League Soccer and three or four labor negotiations, including the recently settled CBA negotiation where no one was all that particularly happy, which means there was a compromise that everyone could live with.
Now, On with the Show…
Friday March 6 – Chicago Fire versus Defending Champion LA Galaxy – 10 ET / 9 CT
Why you Shouldn't Watch: No real reason, it’s first game of Season 20, even though it has the potential to be a truly ugly game if you’re a Fire fan like me. Vacillating between neglectful out of market owner and petty micromanager that has to have a PR lacky pen propagad…rrrrr PR editorials running down Section 8 because they had the temerity to demand that he “do better”, Fire Owner Andrew Hauptman has driven one of the league’s better clubs into a ravine. Not satisfied with just that, he’s backed up, driven off into a deeper ravine, shot out all the tires and is now enjoying a Virginia Slim on the back bumper, flicking ashes onto the ground where the leaking fuel tank is draining.
Nothing the Chicago brain trust of Frank Yallop and Brian Bliss have done in the off season makes me think this team will be better. Some veterans that should have left a season or two earlier finally retired and some other deadweight was cut loose to sink. What’s been brought in as designated players in the form of David Accam, Kennedy Igboannike & Shaun Maloney isn’t especially promising. You bring in Designated Players to either spin the turnstiles or the opponents center back, hopefully both. Nothing these players showed in pre-season, let alone the team as a whole, make me think Chicago isn’t in for another long season of losses and draws, probably finishing below both Orlando & NYCFC. I wish I had hope, but seven seasons under Hauptman with Frank Klopas, followed by Frank Yallop took that hope out to the yard, chained to the clothesline pole and beat it to death.
Why you Should Watch: If you’re a fan of LA or a fan of watching Chicago get kicked in the face, you have all the reason in the world to watch, above and beyond it’s the end of a long and cold off-season that saw us all internetting our same old off-season arguments: Spring/Fall Schedule switch, Promotion/Relegation, harping about FIFA and the 2022 WC moving to a winter event. But if you’re just fan of MLS, you’ll get something else out of this.
Every couple of years, Bruce Arena gets another opportunity to prove to us that he is to date, the best club coach in the history of US soccer and this is one of those times. Landon Donovan is gone, but Arena still has Gyasi Zardes & Robbie Kean and I expect them to put 2-3 past Sean Johnson, even though he’ll have 5-10 amazing & acrobatic saves. It will be interesting to see which of Arena’s reclamation projects like Robbie Rogers continue to resurrect their careers and how much he can squeeze out of the journeymen that he surrounds his stars with. Landon’s retirement gave the league the opportunity to name its MVP award after the best and most iconic player of MLS’ young life, the same should and will likely happen with the Coach of the Year Award.
Prediction: LA 3 – 1 Chicago:
I’ve never seen a Frank Yallop team that didn’t have Landon Donovan come storming out of the gate, nor have the will to fight back in the face of defeat that didn’t have the Goonies. Mike Magee is still out following surgery and there’s too much mediocrity for Sean Johnson to earn the Fire a draw without all of the unproven talent making a splash that it couldn’t pull off in pre-season. LA won’t be as good out of the gate without Landon to lead the team, but they have more than enough veterans and weapons to handle the Fire as long as they haven’t already penciled in the three points.