New season brings renewed soccer interest

Otis Lyons , Editor In Chief

The 23rd Major League Soccer (MLS) season finished nearly two months ago, giving soccer fans just one more month to wait for the 2019 season. The cumulative event of the American soccer calendar, the MLS Cup, capped yet another impressive year of growth in a nation dominated by the NBA, MLB, and NFL. After a grueling eight-month campaign, followed by a month of heated playoff action, Atlanta United hosted the Portland Timbers for the right to be crowned king of American soccer.
Atlanta, in their second season, won in front of more than 70,000 fans at the famous Mercedes Benz Arena. In 2018, MLS once again made new leaps with increased attendance, revenue, and talent. World-renowned players such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA Galaxy), Wayne Rooney (DC United) and Carlos Vela (Los Angeles Football Club) entered the league, and each star helped to add to the increasing status of MLS as a top league. Additionally, the development of young players within MLS continues to grow. Canadian 18-year-old phenom Alphonso Davies (Vancouver Whitecaps) gained the attention of German powerhouse Bayern Munich; Davies began play in Germany after the MLS campaign. Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls), a 19-year-old American prospect, will join his Canadian counterpart in Germany for rivals RB Leipzig.
With the increased amount of world-class talent and teenage wonderkids emerging in the league, soccer fans will be holding their breath for 2019. Here’s what is in store for fans when the 24 teams take the field in early March. San Jose Earthquakes The hometown club struggled mightily in 2018, recording just 4 wins in 34 league matches, good for last place in MLS. However, there is reason for excitement in the Bay Area, as Argentine Matias Almeyda will take over the reigns as head coach. Almeyda joins the Earthquakes after winning the CONCACAF Champions League, the highest accolade for any North American soccer team, with Mexican club Chivas.
Due to his success in the continental competition, Almeyda was given the CONCACAF Coach of the Year award for 2018. Almeyda isn’t the only newcomer for next season. Exciting signings such as Cristian Espinoza (Argentina), Marcos Lopez (Peru), and Judson (Brazil) will give the Quakes a good chance of returning to the playoffs with a new team culture. Bay Area native Chris Wondolowski is within one goal of the all-time MLS goalscoring record, currently held by legend Landon Donovan. His second goal this season is bound to be historic. Favorites MLS is always one of the most unpredictable sports leagues, and 2019 should be no different.
However, certain teams have risen to the top due to smart spending, good team culture, and strong tradition. Defending champions Atlanta United stand out as favorites to repeat, despite only being in their third season as a club. Led by goal-scoring machine Josef Martinez, the “Five Stripes” have captivated the city of Atlanta, with no intention of slowing down.2017 champions Toronto FC will be eager to bounce back after a disappointing campaign last year. The New York Red Bulls complete the trifecta of powerhouses in the Eastern Conference.
Out west, there is no clear cut stand-outs. However Sporting Kansas City, FC Dallas, and LAFC will look to build on strong 2018 campaigns. JOLLY ROGERSPORTSExpansion For the first time, FC Cincinnati will take the field in 2019 as an MLS club. Previously playing in the lower United Soccer League (USL), the Ohio club will hope to mirror the success of other recent MLS expansion teams such as Atlanta United and LAFC. Headline players in their first season include Fanendo Adi (Nigeria), Kendall Waston (Costa Rica), former Earthquake Fatai Alashe, and top MLS Draft pick Frankie Amaya. “FCC” will visit the Bay Area on May 4 to take on the Quakes for the first time ever.