Major League Soccer has grown at a stunning pace, doubling in size in the space of just 13 years. By the time the 2022 season rolls around, there should be 30 sides competing to lift the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy. As the expansion history graphic on the official MLS site displays, the competition has swollen at a remarkable rate to provide more entertainment for domestic and international fans alike.
Picking an MLS winner
This decade will be one of the significant evolution for US soccer, with the expansion of MLS occurring alongside the growing availability of online sportsbooks. While the MLS draft system gives the league its American identity, bigger tables and more betting options bring MLS in line with the top European competitions. The full extent of legal sports betting options in the US can be found at https://www.wsn.com/sports-betting-usa/, with more Americans able to punt on their predicted MLS victor at sportsbooks.
With more teams in play, it will be harder than ever for those punters to pick out a winner. Should punters be wary of backing a debut team and give them a season to acclimatize to MLS? Or could a new side be underrated by markets and have all the ingredients needed to hit the ground running?
As points of comparison, here’s how four recent MLS entrants have performed.
FC Cincinnati – 2019 – 24th
To call it a tough debut season for FC Cincinnati would be a gross understatement. The 24th franchise came in as the 24th best team in MLS, 13 points adrift of Orlando in the Eastern Conference having conceded a league record 75 goals. A 7-1 thrashing in Minnesota was the nadir in a campaign that proved Cincinnati’s roster lacked the star quality of established MLS sides.
Los Angeles FC – 2018 – 5th
LAFC secured 3rd in the Western Conference and 5th overall, before losing out to Real Salt Lake in the Playoffs. The allure of LA attracted stars from the start, with the prodigiously talented Mexican forward Carlos Vela racking up 14 goals and 13 assists. Exciting young attacker Diego Rossi provided able support, while the nous of Bob Bradley as head coach made LAFC a team to fear.
Atlanta United – 2017 – 4th
As former manager of Barcelona and Argentina, Gerardo Martino brought a wealth of experience to this new team. Atlanta came 4th in both the Eastern Conference and overall standings, before losing on penalties to Columbus Crew in the Playoffs. Josef Martinez’s 19 goals showcased the talents that have made him an Atlanta legend, while Miguel Almiron’s midfield creativity would eventually earn him a move to Newcastle United in the Premier League.
Minnesota United – 2017 – 19th
Adrian Heath guided Minnesota through their first season, ending 9th in the Western Conference and 19th overall. It wasn’t a debut on Atlanta’s level, but Minnesota did outperform MLS original members LA Galaxy and Colorado Rapids in the Western standings. Christian Ramirez stepped up from NASL with Minnesota and bagged 14 goals, but a lack of international experience made life difficult for Minnesota.
Austin and Charlotte are set to join in 2021, with Sacramento and St Louis slated to join the fun in 2022. Experience among players and staff is clearly crucial to a new MLS franchise’s success; Vela once played under Arsene Wenger, while Martino coached a certain Lionel Messi for club and country.
Austin have already secured former US international Josh Wolff as head coach, while Charlotte will rely on the esteemed scouting talents of Zoran Krneta to attract quality players. There’s still lots to learn about these franchises before they make their MLS bow, but it will be fascinating to see whether they struggle like Cincinnati or emulate the debut success of Atlanta United.