A Watershed Year in MLS History

Why 2014 will be the turning point when looking back at MLS
by Herb Scribner   |   Friday, February 07, 2014

Major League Soccer (MLS) 2012 Season Preview

Savor it while you can. The 2014 season marks the end of an era for MLS. It’s the final season before everything changes – for better or for worse.

What the era will be called or remembered for specifically is still to be determined, but we’re approaching the last page of this chapter for league.

Starting in 2015, things will be different. Much different. A new TV deal will likely be in full swing. New York City FC will buy its way to superclub status. Orlando City will samba into MLS culture with a purple parade of fans behind it. More information should come from David Beckham’s Miami club, including a start date, investors, team name and stadium location at best. And other potential MLS spots – like Atlanta, Minneapolis, St. Louis and San Antonio – will make a push for the coveted expansion spots that are left.

By then, everyone will have a better idea of how Clint Dempsey will fare as an MLS player. He was recovering from injury in 2013 and had to deal with the consequences suffered of a midseason transfer. But 2014 will show how Dempsey really does as a player for the Seattle Sounders. Is Dempsey past his peak and on the decline, or is he merely dipping down to rise back up? 2014 will hold the answer to that question.

And the same can be said for Michael Bradley. The verdict has yet to be reached on his shocking move from AS Roma to Toronto FC – which may not benefit the United States Men’s National Team over the long term – as the American international has yet to play a regular season match. But come the end of 2014, we’ll have a better idea if Bradley – along with Jermain Defoe and Gilberto, who are both Designated Players and huge signings by Toronto this winter, were legitimate moves to make the team better or a play by MLSE to appease fans ahead of a major move to buy the CFL Toronto Argonauts and let them play at BMO Field.

The LA Galaxy are going to have an important year, too, which will have effects on the North American soccer pyramid moving forward. Just last week, the LA Galaxy created the LA Galaxy II to begin play in the third tier USL PRO, something other MLS teams might try and emulate in the future. This will be the first time a club can stream players from academy to development club to top-level club in North American soccer. It’s innovative, different and a major step towards developing better domestic players for use in MLS.

How RSL – always a contender in MLS and one of the few consistently successful teams in the league over the last few years – responds to the loss of former manager Jason Kreis will also be answered in 2014. By this season’s end, analysts and pundits alike will be able to tell if RSL is a fading star of a team without Kreis or a club that’ll never lose the style and competitive play it has become known for.

San Jose recently unveiled their new kit and logo, so they’re entering 2014 looking to blaze a new path in their final year at Buck Shaw Stadium. And as star striker Chris Wondolowski ages and begins to wear down, the Quakes will be looking to make changes to their approach to winning. With a new stadium and a club transition on the horizon, especially after failing to make the playoffs in 2013, it’s no doubt they’ll be looking to make more changes, for the better.

FC Dallas will start their new era with an old face in Oscar Pareja. The Columbus Crew will begin their transition under a new owner, coach and possibly a new logo with a less blue-collar feel. The New England Revolution are still trying to sort things out with their club, especially as they nonchalantly search for a Boston metro locale to place a soccer specific stadium of their own. Colorado hopes to move past Pareja’s move and hopefully names a head coach before the season kicks off. And many other clubs – like the Philadelphia Union and DC United – are looking to rebound in 2014 and make their way back up the table.

Everyone is progressing and moving forward. And that’s not a bad thing. MLS and North American soccer are successfully growing at a rapid rate, and there’s no reason to slow that down. But it’s noteworthy that we’re on the cusp of serious change. The next step forward by MLS is on the horizon. It’s important that the league, it’s fans and analysts take in that journey towards the next era, and remember the league as it is now. Whether it’s 5, 10 or 15 years from now, 2014 will be the year that people look back on as the last year of an MLS era.

Because once 2015 hits, everything will change.

Next year, money and stardom comes with NYCFC. More Pacific Northwest-like fandom and grassroots virality will plant themselves with Orlando. A new TV deal brings MLS into the American consciousness even more. USMNT players will have their answer on whether it’s a positive move to come back to MLS. A positive showing by that same squad in the World Cup in Brazil this summer, may give MLS a nice boost forward. Youth development and pro player progression will have a blueprint for the future. Another team will be moving stadiums and cementing themselves into their region.

2014 is a watershed year for MLS and North American soccer. While 2015 might have the sparkle, glitz and appeal, it’s 2014 that is the must-see season, as it’s the last time you’ll be able to see this league, and this culture, before it progresses forward.

Herb SCRIBNER

Nationality:
USA
College:
UMass Amherst
Club Domestic:
NE Revolution
Club Foreign:
Bayern Munich
SN managing editor, award-winning journalist and recent college grad, Herb has always been known as "The Soccer Guy" wherever he goes. He's been published by the Boston Globe and has experience with film production and novel writing.
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