Five storylines to follow during the 2023 Major League Soccer (MLS) season which kicks off on Saturday:
LAFC’S REPEAT BID
Los Angeles FC return this season looking to retain their crown after a wildly successful 2022 during which they won the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup, becoming the first team to win the double since Toronto FC in 2017.
The club still boasts plenty of talent to remain in the mix but faces some questions about their depth in attack now that some key players, including Gareth Bale, have moved on.
But LAFC have also made some notable acquisitions, including former MLS Defender of the Year Aaron Long and highly-rated Croatian youth international Stipe Biuk, and will open their sixth season as favorites to finish as champions again.
After falling short in a penalty shootout defeat to Los Angeles FC in last year’s MLS Cup, Philadelphia Union return with every starter from their 2022 squad that finished with the same amount of points as LAFC and set a goal difference record.
Philadelphia will be eager to go one better after coming so close in the 2022 MLS Cup when they scored a 124th-minute would-be winner before LAFC responded with a 128th-minute equalizer to level the game at 3-3 before winning on penalties.
For Union, who also lost the Supporters’ Shield last year on a tiebreaker due to having fewer wins than LAFC, success is no longer based on just making the playoffs. With experience and some added depth, the Union are well-placed to take the next step to landing a maiden MLS Cup.
NEW CLUB ON THE BLOCK
The long wait for an MLS side in St. Louis is finally over as the expansion club, led by first-year coach Bradley Carnell, will make its debut.
The club, which will be known as St. Louis City SC, had been scheduled to make its MLS debut in 2022 but was delayed a year due to the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on both the commencement of business operations and stadium development.
Former Swiss international goalkeeper Roman Burki, who St. Louis signed last year from German Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund, has been named the expansion club’s captain.
LEAGUES CUP BREAK
MLS and Liga MX will pause their respective seasons so all 47 clubs from the top two leagues in North America can compete in a World Cup-style tournament from July 21 to Aug. 19.
The Leagues Cup will be played in the United States and Canada and reward the first-, second-, and third-placed teams with berths in the CONCACAF Champions League with an automatic Round of 16 berth awarded to the winner.
The Leagues Cup will not have any draws. During the group stage, both teams will earn a point if a game is tied after 90 minutes while the winner of the subsequent penalty shootout will get an extra point. Regulation wins will count as three points.
Eighteen clubs, or 62% of MLS’s teams, will qualify for the 2023 postseason compared to 14 teams last year. After a play-in Wild Card round between the eighth and ninth seeds from each conference, there will also be a new best-of-three Round One.
The Wild Card matches to determine who plays the top seed in each conference will be hosted by the No. 8 seeds and go right to a penalty shootout if tied after regulation time.
In Round One, where each conference’s top seven teams are assured a spot, there are no ties or aggregate scores and games tied after regulation time will also go straight to penalties. The conference semi-finals, finals, and MLS Cup remain single-elimination matches hosted by the higher seed.