This fall is chock-full of great sporting events with the start of the NFL, the NBA and the World Cup. Despite all the hoopla for these tremendous sporting spectacles, I care to offer an unsung hero of autumn — the MLS playoffs.
With the rise in funding, the league dedicated its money to invest in the next generation of soccer fans. The youth academy league, MLS Next, and the development league, MLS Next Pro, are examples of this goal, as the league grows its market beyond the traditional MLS base.
The growth in the U.S. soccer-watching market is having a positive impact on the league as a whole. The MLS incorporates new teams into the fold constantly with the addition of Austin FC in 2021 and Charlotte FC in 2022. The momentum is not dying down either, with new expansion teams joining in 2023 and beyond.
All of this expansion has led to an exciting upcoming playoff season where more big-name players and teams are ramping up to face off.
One of these upcoming squads is the Philadelphia Union. The Union made a dramatic rise over the past two years, going all the way from 20th in 2020 to first in 2022. The leaders of this start-up squad include the Hungarian midfielder Daniel Gazdag, who is the third highest scorer in the league, and German left back Kai Wagner, who is a shutdown player for the Union’s defensive front. The club dominated the league statistics, ranking first in goals per match, clean sheets and interceptions per match.
Philadelphia’s rival and longtime MLS team, CF Montreal, is using consistency to stay at the top of the league standings. Despite being 18th in clean sheets and 25th in interceptions per match, the team carved out a firm place at second in the Eastern Conference and four wins above the third-place team.
CF Montreal is the old west sheriff of the MLS. They may not be new or flashy, but they know how to impose law and order on the rest of the league. This law bringer isn’t a bad shot either, with Montreal always winning in a shootout.
The last big team in the Eastern Conference is New York City FC. New York is the reigning champion from last year and hopes to repeat its success this season. While they haven’t been nearly as dominant compared to 2021, NYC FC utilized their strength at goalkeeping to push them to victory.
At the end of the day, it’s hard to beat a team you can’t score against, and the only other team that equals them in defensive stopping power is the Philadelphia Union.
While the Eastern Conference is generally full of consistency and big statistics, the West chooses to be big on star power.
Los Angeles is home to two teams — Los Angeles FC and the LA Galaxy. While LA has struggled to be a big hub for new teams and sports, the MLS’s expansion and growth have been quite the exception. The two teams perfectly utilized the merging of star talent, entertainment and of course, weather. LAFC boasts a cast of worldwide superstars, including one of the greatest Welsh footballers of all time Gareth Bale and the legendary Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini.
The Galaxy isn’t a team to be upstaged, and since these big LAFC signings, the LA Galaxy has worked on adding some dynamic players as well.
The Mexican national team hero Chicharito has been a huge highlight for the team since his signing in 2020, and things have just gotten better with the team bringing in Riqui Puig from Barcelona FC. These are both great teams to root for, but fair warning the Galaxy is close to being knocked out of the playoffs, so keep a close eye on them.
Regardless of who you choose to root for, this MLS playoff season should be one for ages. It not only marks a big change for the U.S. sports industry but for the development of soccer all across the U.S. and Canada. Happy watching, and may the best club win.
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