05 Mar MLS 2015 Season Set for Kick-off
New teams, new players, new logos and a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) – the highly anticipated MLS 2015 season gets underway on Friday 6th March as defending champions LA Galaxy host Chicago Fire.
The 2015 season has been expanded to 20 teams, with New York City FC and Orlando City SC joining the ranks, and Chivas USA making way. Interestingly, these two teams meet each other on the opening weekend, with 60,000 tickets sold as fans in Florida eagerly await the Sunday 5PM ET kick-off.
New York City and Orlando have also been behind some of the biggest transfers ahead of the season, with New York City bringing in Spain’s record goal scorer David Villa, and Chelsea legend Frank Lampard. There has of course been much controversy surrounding Lampard, after his initial short-term loan to Manchester City was extended until the end of the Premier League season. He will join his new teammates in May, but that hasn’t stopped some fans from feeling short-changed.
Orlando City have signed former AC Milan and Real Madrid midfielder Kaka as their marquee signing, LA Galaxy will have to make do without the retired Landon Donovan, but have signed Liverpool star Steven Gerrard (who will also join in May), while New York City have been linked with a move for Barcelona playmaker Xavi.
Perhaps the most unexpected signing was Italian international Sebastian Giovinco leaving Juventus for Toronto. The 28 year old forward has become the highest paid MLS player of all-time, taking home a tidy $7million per year, and his move may help to dispel the notion that the MLS is just a retirement league for Europe’s elite.
Meanwhile, MLS has rebranded to mark 20 seasons, including changing the logo for the first time. The logo will feature on the jerseys of each team, in their own colours.
Despite all this, up until the eve of the big kick-off the season was in doubt as MLS and the Players Union negotiated over the terms of a new CBA, with players threatening a strike. Fortunately, a deal has been agreed with the new CBA in place for the next five seasons. As part of the deal, a form of free agency will be introduced, although it will only apply to players who are 28 or older, and who have been in the MLS for at least eight seasons. Further details have yet to be released, although it is rumoured that the minimum salary has nearly doubled to $60k per year, and the salary cap has been increased by 15%.
MLS has been eager to expand its brand to a wider international audience, which will no doubt be aided by the arrivals of Kaka et al, but they also scored a big victory after it was announced that Sky Sports in England will air two MLS matches each week. Whether or not kick-off times are changed to suit the English audience remains to be seen, but the increased exposure can only be good for the league.
All in all, these are encouraging times for MLS on its 20th anniversary.