2020 has been a very disruptive year for sports, but fans are delighted to see that seasons have been able to restart over the summer. While the NFL and NBA garnered all the big headlines, the MLS teams were also working hard to get back into the action. Soccer is some way behind other American sports in terms of popularity and media coverage, for a multitude of reasons. Lots of Americans just don’t think the games are as exciting, and when they’re used to games where scores are regularly into double figures for both teams, the idea of watching a full soccer match just to see a couple of goals – if any – seems absurd. Some of the most exciting parts of a soccer game are the tactics and the midfield battles, rather than just getting the ball into the back of the net but for casual observers, these finer points are often lost.
MLS is only in its 25th year, and it has yet to attract the same level of advertising and corporate promotion as other sports, which would otherwise work to raise awareness and generate a buzz around the games. Soccer matches have no opportunities for impressive half-time shows, infrequent advert breaks, and very few of the players have the star power found in other sports teams. You just have to look at the national squad to see how much soccer isn’t valued in the US; only one player in the latest squad roster plays for an MLS club, with the majority of the rest playing their regular team football in Europe.
MLS Season 19-20
The MLS season structured just like any other American sport, with national conferences meeting in a final playoff cup. We’ve already seen one in-house tournament this year, with the MLS is Back Tournament played out over the summer in a COVID-secure bubble inside the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World in Florida. Four weeks saw the group and knockout stages whittled down to a final match between Portland Timbers and Orlando City SC, with Portland taking the win 2-1 and securing themselves a Concacaf Champion’s League spot.
To drum up more interest, the MSL ran competitions during the tournament, encouraging fans to place bets on each round of matches and have a go at drawing up their own bracket. For followers wanting to continue to add to the excitement of games by wagering some money on the outcomes, there are plenty of legal online sportsbooks out there. Illinois is one of several states that have legalised online sports betting in their independent state in recent years attracting more people to bet on sporting events like the MLS. Despite not being the most popular sport in the United States and likely to be a popular favourite for sports betting, there are still residents that will back their local or favourite team.
MLS 2020 Playoffs
Berths for the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs are quickly filling up, and with the competition widened to 18 teams this year, there are plenty more games to come. The Western conference has already been decided, with Sporting Kansas City and Portland Timbers leading the way. The two teams are very close on points and both look like good contenders to reach the final. On the Eastern side, there are still the final two places up for grabs, with a close battle between six teams, all of whom are still mathematically able to qualify.
Amongst them are a pair of teams who desperately need to find some form. Montreal Impact and Chicago Fire FC are currently holding the remaining two spots despite both losing four out of their last five games. Montreal have the easier remaining game against 13th place D.C. United, whereas Chicago have to play New York City FC who have already taken a playoff berth. Whoever makes it through will still have to take part in a playoff round, as those final four teams need to be whittled down to just two.
Topping the Eastern conference with 13 wins apiece are Philadelphia Union and Toronto FC, and Philadelphia are hotly tipped to take the final trophy. Their goal difference is the highest of both conferences, highlighting how exciting they are to watch: you can be guaranteed that any game involving Philadelphia will see plenty of goal mouth action. Unfortunately, they lost their last game, which saw them unable to put their hands on the Supporters’ Shield just yet. It all comes down to their final game against New England Revolution, and they need to finish with a better result than Toronto in order to add the silverware to their trophy cabinet. But the loss of their star keeper could prove to be a major setback – which will only make Decision Day all the more exciting for all the MLS fans.
Whoever makes it through the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Finals to lift the trophy, this season will always be remembered for the way teams had to battle against the odds in order to play. Postponed games, positive COVID tests and injuries caused by lack of fitness, have all made the competition that little bit more challenging. This year’s champion will have had to fight a harder battle and travel a longer road than normal, but once they’ve got the trophy, I’m sure they’ll feel it’s all been worth it.