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MLS 2022: Back to the Future

Major League Soccer returns this weekend with a brand-new expansion team and revamped plans for fan engagement. Here’s what you need to know.

Not every offseason is as agonizingly long as the NFL’s. Just 77 days ago, New York City FC outlasted the Portland Timbers in a penalty shootout to win their first-ever MLS Cup title.

Now, the Cup is officially up for grabs again. Major League Soccer is back.

From the debut of Charlotte FC to a bevy of new partnerships and activations to enhance the fan experience, there’s never been more to enjoy from the premier soccer league in the US and Canada.

Let’s get you set for this year’s kickoff.

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What happened last season?

Like every other large sports league in the world during the pandemic, it took Major League Soccer some time to rev up in 2021. But once it did, MLS’ 26th season provided entertainment, young star power and a blueprint on how it will succeed moving forward.

Led by MVP Carles Gil, and U.S. Men’s National Team goalie Matt Turner, who will play for Arsenal starting this summer, the New England Revolution led the league with 73 points to take home its first ever Supporters Shield. Despite the lowest payroll in the league, the Colorado Rapids took the top seed in the Western Conference. The Philadelphia Union, 2nd year club Nashville SC and NYCFC rounded out the top four in the East, while the Seattle Sounders, Sporting Kansas City and the Portland Timbers finished in the West’s top four. Oh and David Beckham-owned Inter Miami was punished for illegally circumventing the league’s salary cap and designated player rules.

Back on the pitch, some amazing young players made their presences known in MLS enough to be sold to international clubs in big money transfers.

  • FC Dallas and USMNT 18-year-old sensation Ricardo Pepi ended up being sold to German club FC Augsburg for as much as $20 million.
  • Orlando City striker Daryl Dike, 21, was sold to English 2nd Division club West Bromwich Albion for $9.5 million.
  • D.C United midfielder Kevin Paredes, also 18, was sold to German club Wolfsburg for $7.35 million.
  • New England also sold 23-year-old Canadian midfielder star Tajon Buchanon to Belgian side Club Brugge for $7 million.
  • Kansas City was able to sell 19-year-old USMNT midfielder Gianluca Busio to Italian side Venezia for $6.6 million.

As usual in MLS, the single elimination playoffs were wild and unpredictable. Both No. 4 seeds reached the MLS Cup Final, with Portland winning at Colorado and Real Salt Lake and NYCFC defeating New England and Philadelphia on the road. After the hometown Timbers tied the game at 1 with a last-gasp goal in extra time of regulation at Providence Park, City won in a penalty shootout for its first ever MLS championship.

Led by 2021 MLS Golden Boot winner Taty Castellanos — who has attracted transfer market attention from everyone from Brazil’s Palmeiras to England’s Leeds United — NYC is geared up for another run at glory. But they’ll face some stern challenges on the road back to the Cup.

Who’s new this season?

After welcoming upstart Austin FC last season, MLS rolls out the red carpet in 2022 for expansion team Charlotte FC, the 29th club to join the league.

Owned by David Tepper, whose portfolio also includes the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, CFC will begin play Saturday at DC United before a historic home opener at the Panthers’ Bank of America Stadium on March 5.

MLS fans will recognize names on the roster like Christian Afful and Yordy Reyna, but keep an eye on Christian Fuchs, the Austrian fullback who won an unforgettable Premier League title with Leicester City in 2016.

Metaverse League Soccer

It’s an inevitability. Don’t fight it — lean into it and join the game.

The metaverse is here, and soon, it will be eternal. Major League Soccer understands this, striking up a deal with GreenPark Sports to take footy fandom to another level by marrying the worlds of the physical and the digital in one great gamified community. Enthusiasts (and their virtual avatars) can look forward to contests, giveaways, and activations around live events all seamlessly tied into an always-on metaverse experience.

As MLS Senior Vice President of Emerging Ventures Chris Shchlosser said of the breakthrough deal:

“MLS is excited to partner with GreenPark to bring new cutting-edge digital experiences to life for MLS fans around the globe. We have set up our Emerging Ventures group to help great young companies easily partner with MLS, our Clubs, and Properties. GreenPark has a fantastic founding team and we are proud to work closely with them in their quest to build the future of fandom.”

Click here to read more from Boardroom’s Randall Williams about MLS’ metaverse partnership with GreenPark.

Noah Beck: Social MVP

Every soccer club needs a proper No. 10 who can pull the strings as the tip of the midfield spear. An assist man with discerning vision. A throughball wizard. A playmaker.

In keeping with this imperative, MLS is taking things a step further in bringing in a different kind of playmaker: Noah Beck, a former Real Salt Lake academy kid and University of Portland midfielder who came to make good — really, REALLY good — as a social savant.

Meet Major League Soccer’s first-ever Social Media Playmaker.

Beck’s new gig will find him taking MLS’ TikTok game into the soccer stratosphere. Look out for “Beck’s Corner,” a recurring TikTok series recapping the latest action from around the league.

Who’s gonna win?

In most soccer leagues around the globe, New England would have run away with the 2021 MLS title, earning 12 more points in the regular season table than any other club. This time around, the Revs are the betting favorite on FanDuel because they’re even better on paper this year after acquiring USMNT stalwart Sebastian Lleget from the Los Angeles Galaxy and signing former national team stars Jozy Altidore and Omar Gonzalez on free transfers from Toronto FC — which in turn made its own big splashes in acquiring Italian star Lorenzo Insigne and Mexico’s Carlos Salcedo.

The Seattle Sounders aim to enjoy a full season from the previously injured Jordan Morris along with new acquisitions Albert Rusnak from Salt Lake and 21-year-old Brazilian winger Leo Chu. Los Angeles FC still has the legendary Carlos Vela in tow, and spent $2.5 million to add Colombian center forward Cristian Arrango while acquiring USMNT midfielder Kellyn Acosta and Canadian goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau besides. Defending champion NYCFC is +1000 despite keeping most of its key players while spending $4.5 million on the transfer market Brazilian center back Thiago Martins.

Sporting Kansas City will still be a young, strong, gung-ho attacking team even without Busio, while Philadelphia upgraded its attack by spending $2.8 million on Danish striker Mikael Uhre. Nashville broke the bank signing 23-year-old Ivorian forward Ake Loba from Mexican power Monterrey for $6.8 million while signing solid veterans Sean Davis and Teal Bunbury. Colorado acquired Mark-Anthony Kay from LAFC to boost its squad, while Atlanta United dropped $16 million on 20-year-old Argentine midfielder Thiago Almada and $12 million on Brazilian winger Luiz Araujo from defending French champions Lille.

Count on these clubs to bring star power, goal scoring, and international flair to help make MLS’ 27th campaign even more energetic and exciting than it’s ever been.

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