As Major League Soccer begins its 22nd season of operation, the dawn of a new era looms.
The 2017 season sees the ever-growing league add another two teams, Minnesota United and Atlanta United.
Atlanta immediately made it known that they wanted to be taken seriously, hiring former Barcelona manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino as head coach and signing talented young players such as winger Héctor Villalba and Paraguayan international midfielder Miguel Almirón.
Minnesota, though less flashy than Atlanta, also made headlines quickly.
The Loons, as Minnesota fans affectionately call their team, broke an MLS record for a transfer between teams by paying Orlando $650,000 for the services of midfielder Kevin Molino, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Last year’s trophy winners have remained relatively quiet.
Toronto, holders of the Canadian Championship and MLS Cup runner-up, have mostly shuffled around depth players, while MLS Cup winners Seattle welcome back star forward Clint Dempsey from a heart issue that kept him out of the end of last season.
They’ll also welcome back fan favorite and former MLS All-Star Fredy Montero this season; however, it won’t be in Seattle’s rave green.
The Colombian forward, who played for Seattle from 2009 to 2012, was recently acquired by their Cascadian rivals, the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Dallas, which won the Supporters’ Shield for best regular-season record as well as the U.S. Open Cup, made the most noise, picking up Paraguayan youngster Cristian Colmán to lead their attack.
A consistent goal scorer has been the Hoops’ Achilles heel in recent years, and they hope Colmán can deliver.
This season also sees the addition of a UVM Catamount to the league, as forward Brian Wright was drafted in January by New England Revolution.
Wright has impressed Revs head coach Jay Heaps from the get-go, drawing a penalty less than 15 minutes into his first preseason game.
The biggest turnover this summer has been in Harrison, New Jersey, with the New York Red Bulls.
Sporting director Ali Curtis left the club after a power struggle, which many attributed to the decision to trade captain Dax McCarty to Chicago Fire. Curtis was rumored to be against the trade, while head coach Jesse Marsch supported it.
The biggest change in MLS this season, however, will likely be perception. Since David Beckham first joined Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007, many have considered MLS to be a “retirement league,” where old soccer stars would come to get one last paycheck.
However, that perception is slowly dying. The average age of an MLS signing this winter was 25.7, according to Philly Voice. Many of these old soccer stars, such as Andrea Pirlo, Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard, have either retired or are in the last season of their contract.
Even Beckham’s old Galaxy side have largely abandoned the “retirement signing.” LA’s marquee signing this winter, Romain Alessandrini, is a 27 year old winger who played for French powerhouses Olympique de Marseille last season.
The MLS season kicked off March 3, when Portland Timbers defeated Minnesota United 5-1 at Providence Park in Portland, Ore.