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By Luke Moriarty
2020 has been a tough year for all of us.
However, I am constantly reminded to look for silver linings in everything. One of these has been the 2020 season for Major League Soccer.
Major League Soccer (MLS) has been seen as background noise in American sports, something that just appears on the statline ticker on ESPN. Given, most American soccer fans have loyalty to Premier League, Bundesliga, or even Serie A clubs, it has been tough for MLS to make its mark.
2020 has been different.
The start to the MLS season was 3 games in when the COVID-19 outbreak struck. As all sports did, all players went into isolation at home and there was no training for any teams. Once the summertime came around, MLS commissioner Don Garber decided to join in on the NBA’s decision with the ‘bubble’ model down in sunny Orlando, Florida. Garber organized the “MLS is Back” Tournament, a non-regular season tournament that strictly provided draft incentive and a very big check given to the winning club. Also, it was to be aired on Fox Sports and ESPN. That was plenty incentive for the players to put on a show and provide a very exciting tournament. And they did just that, ending with championship game hero Sergio Blanco and the well rounded Portland Timbers as champions.
Young stars like Philadelphia Union/Team USA midfielder Brendan Aaronson and Argentinian winger on loan, Chrisitan Pavon made the most of the spotlight and produced countless highlights in the tournament. And this is just to name a few, but there was plenty of other talent strutting their skills on the National stage.
This tournament got eyes on the product, and provided excitement and energy around the MLS.
As the 2020 fall regular season approached, we saw the league get even more exciting. Aged European superstars like the Frenchmen Blaise Matuidi and Argentine Gonzalo Higuain both transferred to the new intrigue of Inter Miami FC for a combined total of around thirty million dollars, as well as the extension of the inaugural season for Orlando City FC of former Manchester United and Portuguese National Team legend, Nani. Both Matuidi and Higuain transferred from the legendary Italian club, and current home of Christiano Ronaldo, Juventes. On top of that, clubs added on impressive loan players from European clubs like Jamiro Monteiro (PHI) from the French Ligue 1 side FC Metz, Jhonder Cadiz (NSH) from Portuguese club Benefica, and Gadi Kinda (KC) from Beitar Jerusalem.
This provided extra flavor for the 2020 season and it was very entertaining.
The stars who made their names known over the summer continued to dominate the league this fall. Uruguayan superstar Diego Rossi of LAFC won the Golden Boot with 16 goals, beating out Gyasi Zardes of Columbus Crew by a goal. South American studs like Brazilian Sergio Santos (PHI), Peruvian Raul Ruidiaz (SEA), and Argentine Diego Valeri (POR) continued to prove why the South American pipeline to the MLS stays so strong and productive. However, we saw players from new global soccer hotbeds make an impact as well. Slovenian striker, Robert Beric had 12 goals for Chicago FC. Danish winger Younes Namli had one of the highest average player ratings for Colorado Rapids with a 7.35.
This is an exciting trend for MLS, and we can partially thank Zlatan Ibrahimovic for creating the trend of bigtime names wanting to experiment playing in the league with his stunt in 2018 with LA Galaxy.
Finally, we have seen a growth in support and funding of MLS Academy and Youth Development Programs. One of the major factors that has held MLS and Team USA back is a lack of talent. Thankfully that is no longer, and the rise of young MLS homebred players is taking the league by storm. Whether it be former Vancouver Whitecaps FC and current Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies, or the new young craze of a midfielder Gianluca Busio for Sporting KC, the talent is starting to be produced in-house.
And I know, obviously the MLS will always struggle to compete with the NFL, NBA, NHL, or even the dying MLB.
BUT, it can still grow massively within the United States, and if this young potential and new additions of European stars can continue to occur, we could be in for a major treat.
So congrats on a Great season, MLS. I appreciate the willingness to continue to adapt to the growing fanbase and professional needs.
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