What all is happening in this 2021 Soccer League?
Orlando City’s visit Friday night to Inter Miami was the type of game that even the best MLS teams know how to lose. The Lions played their third game in seven days. Inter had six days to prepare and desperately needed a positive result to shake off a disappointing start to the season.
Miami player turnout Gonzalo Higuain obtained the owners’ superiority with more ball territory and chances to take the lead for more than an hour. Orlando, however, didn’t let up and focused on the day ahead. On the contrary, Nani ensured his team won 2-1 with two extraordinary goals.
Who are the newcomers?
Newcomers to Major League Soccer, whether players or coaches, often note that what surprises them most about the MLS is its rigor and parity, in which every game can be a win or a loss. The Philadelphia Union returned from Champions League duty in midweek and beat a rested Chicago Fire 2-0 in May. The Seattle Sounders won two games in which they had two days less rest than their opponents, 1-0 in San Jose and 2-0 at home against LAFC. Such outcomes are more common.
The league is on track to be the league’s fewest points tally since 2001. At the other end of the table are seven teams – more than a quarter of the company – averaging a point or less per game. That breaks the record of seven finals from last season for the most in MLS history (in total and percentage).
In total, 60 clubs are on track to earn between 10 and 20 million euros, the second-lowest percentage in league history. Fewer than 45 MLS clubs make 12 or 18 PPG – the lowest proportion since 2010. These statistics represent the current season and the continuation of a gradual change that has taken place since 2017.
Several possible factors can contribute to this, but the exponential expansion of the leagues in recent years is most apparent. More players, coaches, technical directors, and owners in the league have more than enough MLS experience. This gives an outsized advantage to those with successful past experience; many are still stuck deep in their learning curve.
Chicago and Toronto challenged the Tampa Bay mutiny for the fewest points in 2001, while D.C. United had the second-fewest wins in 2013. The eye test suggests that none of these teams were exceptional on goal difference. The slide back to the bottom of the table will continue this season.
Less parity is a new development, but that does not make it a bad one. The league maintains its popularity through the relative equality of its teams. Success is vital within the MLS markets, and clubs have worked hard to build a brand that helps the league reach casual fans in their markets.
With age, the crème de la crème of the league has become a little higher from game to game. It is not clear whether this will be a permanent trend. Parity could return, and the company could end its expansion, which could happen in the next decade. With 27 teams, most observers do not believe the company will grow much beyond 32.
The good news is that it is increasingly the case that four or five teams do well enough to create an exciting race for the Supporters Shield or Conference Championship rather than dominating the rest. For those who support the MLS clubs at the other end of the table, the better news for them is that there is no relegation in the league.