After a nail-biting finish to the 2016 season, the MLS is back this weekend (March 3). Let’s take a moment to brush up on some of the changes and preview some of the favorites.
There have been a few changes to the MLS this season, most notably the extension of the Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) fund. In 2016, the MLS introduced a new fund designed to attract and retain high-impact players. The Designated Player Rule opened the door for established stars, but it didn’t do much for promising young talent. An increase in the TAM this season (from $800,000 to $1.2 million) allows MLS teams to build a more complete squad rather than front-loading their lineup with a few (former) world-class players. The league has also introduced a Homegrown Players Fund, which puts $125,000 to building MLS youth academies. It’s a big step in growing the sport domestically.
These forward-looking changes are signs of a maturing league. The MLS is starting to shed its reputation as a “retirement league” and may finally become competitive on an international stage (or at least against other CONCACAF clubs).
The commercial success of the MLS has led to an expansion of the league, with Minnesota United and Atlanta United being added for 2017. Another LA team, Los Angeles United, will be added next year. Expanding the league will grow the fan-base and should increase revenue, which is never a bad thing. But perhaps a European-style promotion/relegation system would go further in actually improving the league. But hey, what do I know?
The 2016 MLS Cup final between the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC was one for the ages. After a scoreless game, the winner was decided by penalty shootout. Justin Morrow missed Toronto’s fifth penalty, and Seattle’s Roman Torres scored to seal Seattle’s first ever MLS Cup.
The two teams start the 2017 season just under NY Red Bulls as the favorites. The Red Bulls finished the 2016 regular season as the top Eastern Conference team. Some may argue they were the best team over the course of the year, but that’s not what the standings said when the season closed.
The Supporters’ Shield, the award for the best regular-season record, went to Western Conference power FC Dallas. It’s a notable achievement for Dallas, but it is partly due to the imbalance between the conferences and isn’t a great predictor for MLS Cup success. Still, Dallas are unsurprisingly among the favorites for 2017. Joining them near the top are the Colorado Rapids and LA Galaxy, despite both flaming out in the postseason last year.
In the East, New York FC and DC United are outside favorites to take the cup. Both are looking to return to the playoffs and get a little vengeance for the good ole US of A, after their postseason exits led to an all-Canadian conference final. They’re in with a shot, but the hopes of the Eastern Conference are mostly with Toronto and the NY Red Bulls.
Want a more readable breakdown of all that intel? Here’s the full top-ten list for the 2017 MLS Cup odds.
Odds to win the 2017 MLS Cup
NY Red Bulls: 6/1
Seattle Sounders: 7/1
Toronto FC: 15/2
Colorado Rapids: 10/1
FC Dallas: 10/1
LA Galaxy: 10/1
New York FC: 16/1
Kansas City Wizards: 22/1
Colorado Crew: 25/1
DC United: 25/1