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Major League Soccer Returns For An Electrifying 26th Season

The 79 day wait for Major League Soccer fans all over the world has come to an end as M.L.S. is back for its 26th season in existence featuring young talent, new faces, and most importantly bitter rivalries. Nine months of passionate soccer being played amongst 28 teams across America was set to commence in 2022. From February 26th to February 27th, all teams loaded with talented young stars and battle-tested veterans returned to the field for nothing but 90 minutes of entertaining soccer. Arenas were sold out packed with M.L.S. fans ready to watch their team’s campaign get off on the right track. These spectators saw some early “Game Of The Season” matchups within the first few days of action. The regular season began in February so that it can wrap up with the M.L.S. Cup final on Nov. 5, the earliest date for the championship game in 20 years, and more than a month earlier than last season’s final. The shift has been made to keep the season out of the way of the World Cup, which kicks off on Nov. 21 in Qatar. A disruption-free season was the goal after the pandemic led to a significant revamp of the 2020 campaign and a delay and stadium restrictions in 2021. The league reports that its players are 97 percent vaccinated, which is crucial to the rest of the league. 


The inaugural M.L.S. season began in 1996 with only 10 teams competing for the coveted M.L.S. Cup trophy. On October 20, 1996, the first-ever M.L.S. Cup was held at Foxboro Stadium. The match pitted D.C. United against the LA Galaxy, who put on a thrilling performance in a torrential downpour. The Galaxy, led by Cobi Jones and Jorge Campos, took a two-goal lead midway through the second half. But D.C. United, then coached by Bruce Arena and led by stars Marco Etcheverry and Jaime Moreno, came back late to force the game into extra time, during which rookie Eddie Pope scored a "golden goal” to crown United the first champions of M.L.S. That was just the beginning. Now 26 years in, the M.L.S. has had some lasting memories that would be forever etched in history. Finally, the calendar turned to February 26th, and Major League Soccer was back and teams were eager for their season to begin. 


The reigning champion New York City FC was looking to defend their title against the rising L.A. Galaxy. New York was led by 25-year-old all-star Valentin Castellanos who led the team in scoring 22 goals. The stage was set for a primetime matchup in Hollywood where millions around the world tuned in to see if New York could prove why they were once called champions one year ago. Both teams went back and forth, shot for shot, and a match that was going to come down to the wire. Veteran Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez ensured that the new campaign began with a win against the reigning M.L.S Cup champions. The Mexican striker scored a 90th-minute winner to lift the Galaxy to a 1-0 victory over New York City FC on Sunday, snapping a goal-less deadlock at Dignity Health Sports Park. NYCFC’s title defense began with a stumble, as manager Ronny Deila’s men failed to generate a goal against the Galaxy’s inspired defense. The weekend was not over as the other 26 teams got their opportunities to score three points on opening day. 


The youngest team in M.L.S, the New York Red Bulls were looking to get their campaign off right as they took on the San Jose Earthquakes. The first half was touch and go, but the Red Bulls were able to put on an offensive onslaught in half two, defeating the quakes three goals to one. Nashville SC played the role of road spoilers on the night of February 26th, handing Seattle a 1-0 defeat at Lumen Field, with Anibal Godoy’s 80th-minute winner earning his squad all three points over a Sounders side that entered the season considered a top title contender. Atlanta United breezed by visiting Sporting Kansas City on Sunday, using first-half goals from stars Luiz Araujo and Dom Dwyer to set the tone in a 3-1 victory. Teams like the Columbus Crew, Los Angeles FC (LAFC), and Austin FC all dominated in their opening matchups shutting out their opponents and taking home the three points.


Since its installment in 1996, M.L.S has expanded from 10 teams to 29 teams in 2022 with Charlotte FC becoming the hottest new club. Their opening match did not go as well as they hoped, crumbling to D.C. United three goals to zero. With Charlotte playing in the 75,000-capacity Bank of America Stadium, home of the N.F.L. Carolina Panthers, there is an expectation that its home opener will be against Los Angeles F.C. on March 5th will break the M.L.S. attendance record of 73,000, which was set at the 2018 cup final in Atlanta. The 2021 M.L.S. The draft class was loaded with talent all across the board, from Marylands’ attacking midfielder Ben Bender to Indiana's Goalkeeper Roman Celentano. These rookies made an impact on their new teams on opening night. 


M.L.S. Matchday two kicked off on March 4th, and all clubs were either looking to continue their winning streak or get back on track following tough defeats. However, this was just the beginning and fans didn’t have to wait long to see their clubs back in action. 


The reigning Supporter Shield winners, the New England Revolution, were looking to come away with the full three points, following a draw against the Portland Timbers. In the closing stages of the first half, Revolution all-star Carles Gil was awarded a penalty kick, and delivered, giving his team the lead and more importantly the victory against F.C. Dallas. The final score from Foxborough, Revolution 1, Dallas 0. 


The New York Red Bulls were looking to continue their hot start to the 2022 campaign as they visited Canada to take on Toronto F.C. Toronto was looking to rebound after a draw against F.C. Dallas. Bob Bradley’s squad was crushed in their home opener, with Redbulls new signing Lewis Morgan delivering a hat trick in the first half. Morgan and defender Aaron Long, delivered a combined four goals, giving New York the three points and two straight road victories. The final score from Canada, Red Bulls 4, Toronto 1. 


Sporting Kansas City was looking to come back from their shaky 3-1 defeat against Atlanta, with their home opener against the Houston Dynamo who tied with Real Salt Lake in week one. Both teams went back and forth, with a combined 20 shots and eight shots on target. In the end, it was ultimately Kansas City running away with three points, when attacking midfielder Rémi Walter put it past Dynamo goalkeeper Steve Clark in the 60th minute. The final score from Kansas City, Sporting 1, Houston 0. 


The Montreal Impact were looking to bounce back from their 2-0 loss against Orlando, with their home opener against the Philadelphia Union, who drew against Minnesota United. A scoreless first half left both teams even, however it was the Union who broke through, delivering two goals by Alejandro Bedoya and Daniel Gazdag. The Impact did get one goal back, but it was not enough to get the win. The final score from Montreal Impact 1, Union 2. 


The San Jose Earthquakes were looking to leave their supporters a victory after their second straight home matchup. Their season opener did not go to plan with a crushing loss at the hands of the New York Redbulls. Meanwhile, the Columbus Crew were looking to continue their dominance after blowing out the Vancouver Whitecaps on matchday one. The Crew jumped out to a 3-1 margin, which should have been easy to hold onto. It was the 80th minute, and it was looking grim for the Earthquakes to make a comeback. All of the sudden, San Jose was awarded a penalty kick, and Fransisco Calvo buried it in the back of the net, giving his side a small chance of catching up. The 95th minute rolls around and the referee gives San Jose a corner kick, being the final play of the game. The cross came in and it was headed in the goal by Calvo, giving both teams a point each. The comeback was complete in San Jose leaving a final score of Quakes 3, Crew 3. 


Both the Chicago Fire and Orlando City were split at a point each in a match where no team could manage to score. The same could be said for New York City F.C. and the Vancouver Whitecaps match, in which no team was able to eke out a goal, leaving them with a point apiece. Also, Minnesota United played host to Nashville S.C., with both teams scoring one goal each meaning only one point was won amongst both teams. L.A.F.C. were looking to push their winning streak to two wins when they faced off against the Portland Timbers, who were eager to get their first victory of the 2022 campaign. Both squads went back and forth, and in the end, L.A. and Portland managed to score one goal apiece, becoming the fifth game on matchday two to end in a draw. 


D.C. United was looking to continue their winning streak with a trip to Ohio to take on F.C. Cincinnati. Even with a red card leaving D.C. down to 10 men, they were able to come away with the three points with a goal by forwarding Ola Kamara in the closing seconds. The final score from Ohio, Cincinnati 0, D.C. 1. 


The Colorado Rapids were shut out on the road against L.A.F.C on opening day and were destined to get their promising season back on track. The Rapids faced an Atlanta United team who came off an impressive 3-1 victory over Kansas City. Colorado took a commanding two-goal lead before things for Atlanta went from bad to worse. United defender Miles Robinson was sent off with an instant red card due to a dangerous tackle on Rapids midfielder Andre Shinyashiki. Andre had a chance to go from a two-goal lead to a three-goal lead in the closing stages of the match, and he delivered. All in all, a resounding victory for Colorado as they knocked off Atlanta 3-0. 


Real Salt Lake was hungry for a victory in their home opener as they faced off against their western conference rival, the Seattle Sounders. Along with a goal scored by U.S. national striker Bobby Wood, Salt Lake managed to knock off the Sounders, their first victory against the club in nearly four years. Seattle fell to 0-2, which is their worst start to a season since joining M.L.S. in 2008. 


Dominance, absolute dominance was what Austin F.C. left on the field on March 6th, as the club racked up their second five-goal victory. Austin had the worst record in 2021, but they were not willing to be called a low-ranked team this season. Austin crushed F.C. Cincinnati by an astounding 5-0 victory in their home opener. Matchday two came around and Austin F.C. faced off against Inter Miami, who were looking to get their first win in 2022. Miami completely collapsed and Austin made it look easy as they cruised to a lopsided 5-1 victory. 


M.L.S’s game of the week was set for a showdown in the queen’s city as Charlotte F.C. played host to the L.A. Galaxy. The supporters of Charlotte showed up by the thousands as early as nine am to commemorate the home opener for the club. B.O.A. Stadium was loud and ready to rumble with a sell-out crowd of 74,918 in attendance. Charlotte was looking to rebound following their first match defeat against D.C. United. Meanwhile, the L.A. Galaxy’s expectations were riding high considering their 1-0 victory against the reigning M.L.S. Cup champions New York City F.C. The louder the noise grew, the more engaging the game was. Shot for shot, save for save, Charlotte vs Galaxy was a match to remember. In the 75th minute, 18-year-old Efraín Álvarez shocked all Charlotte fans in attendance, with a bullet in the back of the goal from 30 yards out giving L.A. the lead and ultimately the victory. 


The 2022 M.L.S offseason was considered the busiest ever with all teams attempting to make deals for new stars from all over the world. Several clubs were eager to showcase their prize transfer acquisitions in a quest to land a playoff spot at the season's end and make a push for M.L.S. Cup. Plenty of money was shelled out for young talent this past winter, and some key free transfers were also brought aboard. It was a combination of big names and bright up-and-coming stars, with M.L.S. clubs landing a mix of established international talent while also investing in the next wave of future stars. One of the most high-profile acquisitions in M.L.S. history on a whopping $8 million contract, according to reports, was finalized in early February. Italian soccer star Lorenzo Insigne's arrival marked a watershed moment for the league and an enormous snare for new head coach Bob Bradley and the Canadian club Toronto FC. The Italian international is expected to become one of the league's most fearsome frontmen on arrival this coming summer when he is eligible to take the pitch. 


While Toronto FC fans will have to wait until midway through the season for their European star to arrive, Chicago Fire supporters would get theirs from the get-go. The former Liverpool and Bayern Munich midfielder, Xherdan Shaqiri made an immediate winter switch from French club Lyon, where he was seen as a bit-part player. Like Insigne, Shaqiri is 30 years old, but he brings more than just experience to M.L.S and Shaqiri still has plenty left in the tank. While his numbers in France did not exactly pop off the page (81 percent passing, 10.4 possession losses per 90 minutes on 37.7 touches), he is considered to be a force to be reckoned with in the midfield position. According to Shaqiri’s former coach Rudi Garcia, “his flexibility is a bonus, able to play through the middle as a number eight or number 10, plus the ability to deploy out wide.”

Rounding out the top three big M.L.S. Signings is a Brazilian international forward with previous stops in Europe is always going to stand out in M.L.S., but the truth is that Douglas Costa has plenty to prove on his arrival to the United States. The 31-year-old has struggled across his last few seasons, with just six goals and nine assists over his last four league seasons in Italy, Germany, and Brazil. In 2018, Costa produced more yellow cards than goals scored causing his promising career to take a downward spiral. It remains to be seen whether he can revive his career in Los Angeles. 


Twenty-six years later, new rules and new reviewing techniques have been added to M.L.S. to ensure players and coaches have their fair share of potential controversial calls made by the officials. In 2017, following a successful trial period, and approval from the International Football Association Board (IFAB), M.L.S. became one of the first domestic leagues in the world to adopt Video Assistant Referee (VAR). Match officials can make mistakes that can have an impact on the outcome of a game, so it is beneficial for them to embrace the power of technology to aid their decision-making process. “We’ve tried to implement it in M.L.S. in a way that does achieve what it was set out to achieve,” said Howard Webb, general manager of the Professional Referee Organization (PRO). “That’s a maximum benefit to minimum interference. Good officiating starts on the field of play. It starts with referees making good calls based on all of the considerations, and that feel for the game. And the VAR is there as a safety net, should the official not be able to make a good call.” The VAR will communicate with the on-field referee whenever a play may merit review, but may only be used for “clear and obvious errors ' in four match-changing situations: goals, penalty decisions, direct red-card incidents, and cases of mistaken identity. For example, it cannot be used to check an offside decision if the play did not result in a goal. VAR is only used for incidents in the four match-changing situations often in the background, without fans noticing. When appropriate, the referee will be advised to watch the incident on a screen by the side of the field before making a final judgment call. The implementation of VAR has sparked debate around the world, as some argue it slows down the game and detracts from its flowing cadence. It has also become controversial for its implementation in certain leagues, such as the Premier League, where Hawk-Eye technology is used to draw lines on the field to rule on offside calls. The thickness of these lines, along with the point at which they are drawn, has become controversial.


When M.L.S. launched its premier season, no one paid attention to the records made by some of the icons in the league. Then Tampa Bay Mutiny’s, Roy Lassiter scored the first goal in its club and M.L.S history. Lassiter went on to set the tone for recording 27 goals throughout the 1996 season and held that record for many seasons. Fast forward to 2018, and Venezuelan striker Josef Martínez made his first M.L.S. campaign one for the record books. Martínez racked up 31 goals, an M.L.S. MVP award, and helped lead Atlanta United to the cup final that same season. Martínez’s record of most goals in a season would only last just one year, when Mexican striker Carlos Vela came onto the scene, posting 34 goals. Vela’s record has yet to be broken. The LA Galaxy is considered one of the most successful franchises in M.L.S. raising the most cup trophies. The five-time champions are looking to make their mark on the league this season after a strong opening day victory over the defending champion New York City FC. 


On August 10th, 2022, the M.L.S. and its players will come together to celebrate the 26th annual M.L.S. all-star weekend, live from Minneapolis, Minnesota. The opponent to take on all-stars of M.L.S. is still unknown, however, the twin cities are thrilled to host the all-star festivities. “We are proud to bring the 2022 M.L.S. All-Star Game presented by Target to Minnesota,” said M.L.S. Commissioner Don Garber. “Since the club began to play in the league in 2017, Minnesota United and their incredible fan base have played a key role in the continued rise of M.L.S. and growth of our sport throughout the U.S. As the eyes of the soccer world turn to Allianz Field next August 10th, the people of Minnesota will be fantastic hosts and the supporters and ‘Wonderwall’ will create a memorable atmosphere for our marquee summer event.” 


The COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative lasting impact on the world and especially the sports world. For the past 12 months, there were little to no fans allowed at M.L.S. venues whatsoever. Fake noises were not going to cut it in all 28 stadiums. This is why the M.L.S. is bouncing back from this tragedy and now are allowing those passionate, iconic fans back. Vaccination status might play a small role for the fans, but that does not stop soccer from forging ahead. As far as the players, depending on the state, vaccines are required for team participation. The determination of whether a match is considered delayed or postponed shall be made by the League Office in its sole and absolute discretion. Matches may be delayed or postponed when circumstances exist such that the start or continuation of play would pose a threat to the safety of participants or spectators.


From rookie debuts to sensational comebacks and teams making statements, fans saw every aspect of what a great soccer game should be. The 28 games across two weeks were just the building blocks of how remarkable the 26th season will turn out. Any team can win on any given night. One thing is for sure, one team will come out victorious and hoist the Phillip F. Anshultz trophy in October, and right now it could be any of the 30 M.L.S. teams.


Below is a recap of M.L.S. matchday three which kicked off on March 12th and March 13th


New York City F.C. crushed the Montreal Impact in their home opener by a score of 4-1


Los Angeles F.C. claimed their first road victory of the season shutting out Inter Miami by a score of 2-0


The Colombus Crew managed to eke out a victory at home against Toronto F.C. by a score of 2-1


A five-goal thriller handed the L.A. Galaxy their first loss of the 2022 campaign falling short to the Seattle Sounders by a score of 3-2


The Houston Dynamo claimed their first victory of the M.L.S. season by surpassing the Vancouver Whitecaps by a score of 2-1


Another five-goal thriller, this time in snowy Foxborough, Real Salt Lake managed to claim their first road victory against the New England Revolution by a score of 3-2


F.C. Cincinnati had their home opener and ultimately defeated Orlando City S.C. by a score of 2-1 to claim their first victory of the season


The Chicago Fire managed to upset D.C. United on the road by a score of 2-0


The Philidelphia Union's victory gave their head coach Jim Curtin his 100th victory in M.L.S. as they shut out the San Jose Earthquakes by a score of 2-0


F.C. Dallas's victory shocked most M.L.S. fans as they were able to shutout an M.L.S. Cup favorite Nashville S.C. by a score of 2-0


The Colorado Rapids were not favorites to win the M.L.S. cup, however, they managed to shutout Sporting K.C. by a score of 2-0


The end of a dominant start to the M.L.S. season came for Austin F.C. as they fell short to the Portland Timbers by a score of 1-0


A last-minute goal crowned Atlanta United victorious against a struggling Charlotte F.C. winning by a score of 2-1


An early favorite New York Red Bull squad suffered their first defeat of the season at the hands of Minnesota United by a score of 1-0