Tonight the soccer world turns to Chicago, Illinois. Well, sort of.
MLS will field their best against the epic Real Madrid in a glorified exhibition match. This All-Star game signals a transition to the second half of the season. Clubs will begin to turn up the heat as the hunt for the Cup begins. Here are five things to look out for post the All-Star game:
LA Galaxy & Orlando City’s Push:
In 2016, the Seattle Sounders lost 12 of their first 20 games. Two days after their 12th loss, they sacked Sigi Schmid and hired Brian Schmetzer as interim. One day after naming their new man in charge, Seattle made a splash and signed creative Uruguayan midfielder Nicklas Lodeiro as a Designated Player. A club that was trending nowhere, changed their fortunes around. Within weeks, they were one of the most feared clubs in the league. The Sounders also went on to lift the MLS Cup.
The Galaxy are pretty much exactly in the same position heading into the All-Star Game as Sounders was in 2016. Having lost ten of the first 21 games and sitting in ninth in a weaker Western Conference, the board sacked Curt Onalfo, hired Sigi Schmid, and signed Mexican international attacking midfielder Jonathan dos Santos from Villarreal as a Designated player.
Struggling Orlando City did not sack their manager, but just pulled off the largest trades in MLS history for Dom Dwyer. Since 2014, Dwyer is second in goals scored with 55, just behind New York Red Bull’s Bradley Wright Phillips. With Kaka on his final year of his contract and Cyle Larin rumored to leave, the push to make the playoffs begins this weekend.
The Galaxy or Orlando City could repeat what the Sounders did in 2016, but it remains to be seen. However, no one should overlook the fact that the Galaxy and Orlando City to a degree pulled off the same moves as Seattle in 2016. It’s just about getting hot, and these two clubs are poised to do so following the All-Star Game.
LAFC is set to join in the league 2018. David Beckham ownership group’s vision to put an MLS club in Miami might be voted on by the league as early as tomorrow. If it gets the vote of approval, the league will have grown to 24 teams in just 22 years. It was hard to imagine 24 clubs in MLS a decade ago, and it is not stopping. The league wants to expand to even a larger size of 28 teams. There are currently 11 cities (Phoenix, Sacramento, Cincinnati, Tampa Bay, San Diego, Nashville, Detroit, San Antonio, Charlotte, Indianapolis, and St. Louis) bidding to become one of the final four clubs in MLS. The interest grows by the day as clubs release renderings of beautiful stadiums hoping to persuade the league and public. There is a lot of money and reputation at stake for the league, meaning a wrong decision cannot be made. The league is set to vote on the next round of expansion clubs in the coming months.
The “beauty” of MLS is that any one club still has a chance to win the Cup. The season unofficially begins this weekend after the All-Star Game as suddenly every game matters a little bit more than the previous. For the next several weeks it is just about making the playoffs and becoming hot. Clubs like Orlando City, San Jose Earthquakes, the Galaxy, and New England Revolution could make the push into the playoffs after a disappointing first half. A good rule of thumb in MLS, unless having completely botched the first half of the season, is every club is still in the hunt. All a club needs to do is get hot at the right time and make the playoffs, then anything is possible.
The Big Boys and Pressure:
With Toronto FC, Chicago Fire, NYCFC, FC Dallas, and Sporting Kansas City in clear control of their season, there is more to accomplish than just making the playoffs. First off, who will claim the Supporters’ Shield? Then, Toronto FC will want to avenge their MLS Cup loss. NYCFC and the Fire will want to illustrate that their method of spending works on the field. FC Dallas will finally want to make their mark in the league. These clubs have an expectation to lift silverware, and when it comes to the playoffs the last several years, they have all fallen short. The pressure from fans is also beginning to mount. Can they continue their conquest with the other clubs turning up the heat?
Last week LAFC announced Bob Bradley as their manager. It was a power move to begin their conquest to become kings of LA’s soccer scene. As step one was complete, step two is about filling in their squad. With big name rumors such as Wesley Sneijder, Javier Chicharito Hernandez, and Michael Bradley, but no official signing, it will be interesting to see who LAFC brings in. And because it is a World Cup year, players will want to stay in Europe playing at the highest level, wanting to impress their international bosses, making it even more difficult for LAFC to find their stars. LAFC could have an underwhelming offseason.
The remainder of the season will be thrilling to follow on and off the field. If you are just tuning in now or undecided about it, it will be well worth for time.