Best of 2013: What are the biggest MLS storylines of 2014?
MLSsoccer.com polled 20 of our editors, writers, videographers and statistics specialists to bring you the Best of 2013, running Dec. 23 through Jan. 1. Each day we'll hand out an award in a variety of categories culled from the storylines of MLS, including Biggest Controversy, Gaffe of the Year and, via fan vote revealed on Dec. 29, the Moment of the Year.
We wrap up the series with our annual look at the year ahead. What are the biggest storylines on deck in 2014? We asked our editors and contributors to offer up their take on the one storyline they're most interested in this year. Let us know what you'll be watching for in 2014 in the comments section below.
Greg Lalas, editor in chief – MLS wins CONCACAF Champions League … finally
I've made this prediction before, but this time, I feel good about it. Three MLS clubs are still alive in the CONCACAF Champions League: the LA Galaxy, Sporting KC, and the San Jose Earthquakes. Both LA and Sporting have the tools to go all the way. (Sorry, Quakes. You have some real rebuilding to do still.)
It won’t be easy. The three remaining Mexican clubs – Tijuana, Cruz Azul, and Toluca – aren't pushovers. Cruz Azul, in particular, are scary and only got scarier when they added El Tri star Marco Fabian.
But LA and SKC have a lot going for them: organized defenses, pace on the flanks, power in the middle, and good finishers. And both have real international ambitions. The Galaxy nixed off-season loans for Landon Donovan and Omar Gonzalez, citing the CCL as one reason.
And Sporting KC co-owner Robb Heineman, a week after winning the MLS Cup, said it all: “As great as that was … obviously, the Champions League is next.”
Jonah Freedman, managing editor – Jason Kreis, New York and Manchester City
What will Jason Kreis be like without the one thing that makes him tick? We'll find out in 2014. For the first time in 18 years, the former Dallas Burn star and Real Salt Lake coach will not inhabit an MLS pitch.
Instead, Kreis will be getting the Manchester City crash course as he prepares to coach New York City FC in their debut season. He'll spend much of this year in England, learning the City way, from coaching to scouting to the business side, and will be tasked with bringing that back to Gotham to start a team from scratch.
And speaking of scratch, that's what he won't be able to do in 2014: Feed that compulsive itch that has driven him throughout his 30-plus years in soccer. How will MLS' most obsessive personality deal with not being able to stand on a sideline for more than 12 months? And what can he accomplish instead? We're about to find out.
Simon Borg, senior editor – Expansion, expansion, expansion
Many thought 2013 was a big year for expansion. Wait 'til 2014.
We'll see the first real moves by new members New York City FC and Orlando City SC – and those first impressions, including NYCFC's choice for a home in their inaugural season, will go a long way toward molding each club's image. But they will still likely be overshadowed by updates on David Beckham's Miami dreams, arguably the most challenging expansion project in MLS history.
Want even more expansion intrigue? There's the race for those final two league slots – No. 23 and No. 24. And if the reports about Atlanta turn out to be one of them, there'll be plenty of debate as to what region deserves the final team: Midwest? Texas? West Coast?
Nick Firchau, senior editor – Another memorable year in Portland?
A few weeks before the 2013 season, I was in Caleb Porter’s office at JELD-WEN Field talking about what, exactly, it would take for him to be a success with the Portland Timbers. And while I’m sure he expected to hit the ground running in his first season and earn the accolades he did – Coach of the Year, best record in the Western Conference – I had my doubts. MLS is largely an old boys’ league when it comes to successful coaches, and new kids usually take a pounding in Year 1.
Just before I left, we both fantasized for just a second. More than 14,000 fans showed up for a preseason game in the Rose City the next night and expectations were high for the team to matter in MLS. I said something in passing about the solid fan support in Portland even when the team was in the dregs in 2012, and he bid me goodbye with this: “How amazing will it be if this becomes a championship team?”
We’re still waiting to see.
Matthew Doyle, Armchair Analyst – Drama in Seattle
Can I just write "Seattle" 100 times? I think what's going on with the Sounders is going to dwarf pretty much every other MLS storyline next season. (Though TFC are a dark horse, right?) Either they win big and the free-spending ways of recent days are validated, or they come up short again and the whole thing collapses in upon itself creating a singularity from which nothing except errant penalties can escape.
All while Fredy Montero gets bought by Inter Milan and wins the capocannoniere, and Eddie Johnson leads D.C. United to the first-ever MLS Cup/US Open Cup/Supporters' Shield treble.
Andrew Wiebe, new media editor – Young coaches in MLS
Coaches, it seems, just keep getting younger and younger in MLS. And in 2013 at least, having the words “first-time MLS manager” next to your name didn’t seem to be a detriment in any sense of the word.
Mike Petke won the Supporters’ Shield in New York, relieving nearly two decades of suffering by one of MLS’ original franchises. Caleb Porter took Portland by storm, transforming the Timbers into the league’s most talked about club and a power between the lines.
Even more young faces join the game in 2014. Jeff Cassar takes the reins from Jason Kreis in Salt Lake. Carl Robinson hopes the kids can carry the day in Vancouver. Gregg Berhalter takes lessons learned in Sweden and applies them Columbus. Mark Watson gets his first full crack in San Jose.
How will they fare? And can the rest of MLS’ precocious head coaches – men like Ben Olsen, Jay Heaps and Ryan Nelsen – continue to build momentum? In many ways, the future depends on them.
Nicholas Rosano, new media editor – A new television deal for MLS?
The coming year’s biggest story might just take place not on the field, but in front of our television monitors – 2014 could be a watershed year for televised soccer in the United States. The 2014 World Cup, back in the Western Hemisphere for the first time since 1994, is poised to draw massive TV ratings, while the revamped Fox Sports networks will enter their first full calendar year covering the sport.
On top of all that, MLS is set to renegotiate a TV deal knowing that it will have two (and possibly more by the time the deal rolls around) expansions teams coming into the league, one of which could dramatically alter the entire landscape of MLS.
Charles Boehm, contributing editor – The future of Marco Di Vaio
One of the deadliest finishers ever to set foot in MLS, Marco Di Vaio scored 20 goals in 2013 and finished third in the league MVP voting. But he's been playing top-flight pro soccer since MLS was just a twinkle in Alan Rothenberg's eye, and he turns 38 in July.
His wife and their two daughters relocated to his native Italy months ago due to his mother-in-law's battle with illness. Yet he has agreed to one more year in Montreal, one more year to spearhead the attack of an Impact squad built around him in so many ways. With his family stationed in distant Italy (though regular visits to the City of Saints, including a long summer stretch, are planned), can he summon his devastating best before darkness falls on a gorgeous goalscoring career?
Alicia Rodriguez, contributing editor – Toronto FC’s quest for the playoffs
Is 2014 finally the year for Toronto FC? They have a fanbase that has suffered through season after season of poor results. They have made signing young local talent a priority, something that looks like it could finally be paying off. Can they get the marquee players they so covet, find the right formula, and finally make the MLS Cup playoffs?
If they can’t, can they at least remain in the hunt past the All-Star Game?
It’s hard for observers of MLS to say that any team has a chance to be a contender when TFC can’t get their act together. And Tim Leiweke may have trouble turning Toronto into the new LA Galaxy, despite his enthusiastic proclamations that’s it is coming. But either way, it will be fascinating to see if 2014 is the first year of a truly new era for TFC, or if we'll see more of the same.
John Bolster, contributing editor – MLSers in the World Cup
I’m going to go with the lead-up to Brazil 2014: What kind of form will the MLS candidates to make the trip – guys like Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson, and Landon Donovan – maintain in the spring of 2014?
The answer could go a long way toward determining how well the USMNT does in the world’s biggest sporting event, and how fast the world’s biggest sport continues to grow here in the States.