Jozy Altidore - Toronto FC - Mark-Anthony Kaye - LAFC - in action

I looked at the schedule this week for the first time since this all began. Selfishly, I wanted to know, what I’m missing. What we are all missing.

If you’re feeling a little down – I know I’ve gone through some ebbs and flows during the past month and a half – open up a new tab and scroll through the games that would have been played this weekend. It sounds sort of strange and maybe even a little depressing, but it felt good to imagine what normal might have felt like.

For a second at least, I forget about the pandemic and let myself wonder…

Where would Inter Miami be in their expansion journey? Still winless or on track? Would Jozy Altidore, Alejandro Pozuelo and Rodolfo Pizarro have put on a show in Miami? Who and how many call themselves Inter Miami supporters? How would they make that stadium feel after goals?

How would Chicago receive Bob Bradley, the man who brought an expansion double to the Fire, and his LAFC juggernaut? Would Carlos Vela be right back where he ended 2019, atop the Golden Boot standings? Who would the Fire be, anyway, after an offseason chopping and changing across the entire club?

Speaking of Golden Boot, how many goals would Chicharito have for the Galaxy? Could Orlando City finally take down Atlanta United sans Josef Martinez? What would they be grilling in the parking lots in Kansas City? Would the Atlantic Cup have any of that old Atlantic Cup vigor? Who would be the early darlings? The early disappointments? What would be the stories of a season that gave us two games before it went away?

That handful of minutes day dreaming was the closest I’ve felt to the 2020 season since the curtain came down on March 12. I miss the game. I miss this league. I miss people, full stop. Why not get even more specific?

The moment teams tweet their starting lineup…

I can’t be the only one scrolling Twitter and refreshing the MLS app over and over in the hour leading up to game time. Lineups are the first salvo, the framework for what’s to come.

Especially early in the season, there’s a sense of discovery. Who is injured? Who won the battle in training? How is the identity of the team coming together?  Is the manager making a tactical change? Who is throwing caution to the wind and who is playing it safe? Why doesn’t this lineup graphic include a formation?

It’s a sneak peek, a chance to let your imagination run wild before the ball is even kicked.

That feeling just before a scoring opportunity…

Have you ever muttered “goal” under your breath right before a shot is taken? It’s the emotional equivalent (ExG) of expected goals (xG). Maybe it’s the buildup. Maybe it’s the state of the game or the players involved. Maybe it’s a gut feeling. You just know something big is about to happen. The stadium begins to stand. You sit on the edge of your seat.

The crescendo builds. Sometimes it comes to nothing. Sometimes the ball ends up in the back of the net. Either result can be devastating or euphoric depending on which side you represent. No matter where your loyalties lie, it’s that feeling that keeps so many of us coming back, no matter the result. The anticipation. The payoff. The fallout. Repeat.

Picking the right game to watch on ESPN+ during a busy Saturday block…

I don’t have a sophisticated, multi-box viewing setup at home. My Saturday nights watching MLS are spent with one television, a nice glass of whiskey, my notes application open and hopes and prayers that I’ll pick the most entertaining game when there are multiple in the same time slot.

There’s nothing worse than checking Twitter and seeing the game you thought was going to be a snoozer absolutely popping while you’re watching two teams struggling to get into second gear. For me, it’s an odds game, and there’s no better feeling than knowing you’re getting the best possible/most entertaining soccer possible at any given moment.

When the referee puts his finger to his ear…

It’s a relatively new thing, but we get a double shot of anxiety and adrenaline with every potential video review. Emotions are already high given a potential red card, penalty or otherwise game-changing play has just occurred. The director of the broadcast is rolling replays, you’re formulating your opinion in real-time and so is the VAR and his crew.

No matter the recommendation and result – play on, video review, reversal, play stands as called – everyone’s got something at stake. It’s like watching justice being meted out in real time, and we all get to be judges.

A cleanly struck half volley…

There’s just something about the technique and timing that’s makes you want to see the point of impact over and over again. I can’t tell you how many times I rewound and rewatched this screamer by Ronnie Ekelund. We’ll get more of these someday…