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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Five storylines that could define the 2023 Major League Soccer season

The 2023 Major League Soccer season kicks off this weekend with anticipation high ahead of the new campaign. Los Angeles FC enter the year as defending MLS Cup winners and Steve Cherundolo’s team are expected to be among the contenders once more, but several teams are capable of challenging.

St Louis City will enter MLS as the league’s 29th franchise while the Seattle Sounders are targeting a better season after a disappointing 2022. Here are five storylines that could define the 2023 MLS campaign.

Will Atlanta United’s rebuild make them a force again?

It was clear towards the end of 2022 that Atlanta United needed a rebuild of their squad and so they hired Garth Lagerwey to lead it. Widely considered one of the best general managers in MLS after success with Real Salt Lake and Seattle, Lagerwey’s appointment was a serious coup for a franchise with one of the highest ceilings in North American soccer.

Giorgos Giakoumakis has been signed from Celtic to be Atlanta United’s new number nine while Derrick Etienne Jr and Luis Abram have also joined to bulk out Gonzalo Pineda’s squad. This is a club with lofty ambitions and the pressure is on for the Five Stripes to bounce back after a fallow year.

Can Josef Martinez find his scoring touch again for Inter Miami?

Josef Martinez was one of the players pushed out the door by Atlanta United, as Inter Miami stepped in to land the Venezuelan striker. At his best, Martinez is one of the best goal-scorers in MLS, but he has recently struggled for fitness and form. Inter Miami have gambled on the signing of the 29-year-old.

This, however, is a gamble worth taking. Gonzalo Higuain’s firepower played a key role in driving Inter Miami towards the playoffs in the seconds half of last season and Martinez’s signing will go a long way to replacing the goals that left DRV PNK Stadium with the Argentinean’s retirement at the end of 2022.

Have New York City FC given themselves too much to do?

The New York City FC team that lifted MLS Cup in 2021 has been dismantled. Taty Castellanos left midway through last season, as did Ronny Deila who left for a fresh challenge in Belgium. Maxi Moralez, Sean Johnson and Alex Callens also left over the off-season as NYC FC have reached the end of a cycle.

There is still a lot of individual talent within Nick Cushing’s squad, but there are doubts over NYC FC’s squad depth heading into the new season. Talles Magno might not be able to provide the firepower to make the Bronx team contenders as their first-choice number nine while their defence looks weaker than it did last term.

Will Toronto FC be stronger after Italian revolution in 2022?

Toronto FC made some big moves last season. Most notably, they lured Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi from Serie A to give them one of the strongest attacking lines in MLS. However, TFC were in such a deep hole by the time they arrived in the summer that their 2022 campaign couldn’t be salvaged.

Insigne and Bernardeschi both delivered as individuals after joining Toronto FC, but Bob Bradley needs to find a way to strengthen the defensive structure of his team. That’s why so much of their off-season activity has focused on adding defensive quality with Johnson arriving from NYC FC and Matt Hedges joining from FC Dallas.

Can the Philadelphia Union take the final step under Jim Curtin?

The Philadelphia Union were seconds (and a Gareth Bale stoppage time equaliser) away from winning MLS Cup in 2022. Jim Curtin’s team have improved year-on-year for a number of seasons and have established themselves as the dominant force in the Eastern Conference. There is only one thing left for them to do.

Philly have managed to keep the core of their team together for 2023 which should see them pick up where they left off at the end of last season. The one thing that could stop the Union is the possibility Curtin could be poached by US Soccer to be the USA’s new men’s national team head coach, which certainly isn’t out of the question.

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