The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

28th MLS season as 2026 World Cup build up begins

- By Anne M Peterson

The push toward the World Cup in 2026 begins now for Major League Soccer.

The league, entering its 28th season this year, has a new team in St. Louis City SC and a new media deal with Apple TV. This season will also feature an expanded Leagues Cup, which will involve all of the MLS and Liga MX teams for the first time.

The tournament is part of an ever-increasing collaborat­ion between MLS and Liga MX, with both profession­al leagues looking forward to the attention they’ll see in the runup to the World Cup hosted by the United States, Mexico and Canada.

The 2022 World Cup in Qatar was already recordbrea­king, with 36 MLS players making national team rosters — double the league’s players that were in Russia in 2018.

LAFC is the defending MLS Cup champion and Supporters Shield winner. The Western Conference team is loaded with talent, including Carlos Vela, Kellyn Acosta and Giorgio Chiellini, but top scorer

Cristian ‘Chicho’ Arango was sold to Pachuca in Mexico.

Wales legend Gareth Bale, LAFC’s splashy signing last June, retired in the offseason but not before he provided a memorable moment in the championsh­ip game with an equalizer late in extra time that

sent the match to penalties and a victory over the Philadelph­ia Union.

“I think our first 11 is still pretty good, and we’re quite pleased with it. And we have a few very good players off the bench, we just don’t have as deep a bench as last season. So we’re focusing on staying

healthy, and trying to manage a lot of games in a congested schedule this year,” LAFC second-year coach Steve Cherundolo said.

Philadelph­ia, the Eastern Conference’s top finisher last season, didn’t make many huge moves in the offseason but lost key sub Cory Burke in free agency. The Union scored a league-best 72 goals and allowed just 26, fewest in MLS last season and a record for a 34-game season.

“It’s going to be hard to replicate what we did defensivel­y last year, setting a record in goals-against, and then scoring as many goals as we did is certainly going to be a challenge, but this group will fight like hell for our fans and try to get back to that MLS Cup final,” Union coach Jim Curtin said.

The 28th MLS season opens this Saturday.

How about them apple(s)

MLS kicked off a 10-year partnershi­p with Apple with the launch of Season Pass on Apple TV+ this season. Apple has made previous forays into sports streaming, but this is its first significan­t involvemen­t with a league.

MLS will receive at least $250 million per season from Apple. The league averaged $90 million per season under its previous eight-year agreements with Fox, ESPN and Univision.

Oh, and for those who prefer watching games at the local pub or eatery, the league has a “commercial establishm­ents” deal with DirectTV.

New kids on the block

St. Louis City joins MLS this season as the 29th club. City opens the season on the road at Austin but returns home to face Charlotte on March 4 at the team’s soccer-specific stadium, CITYPARK. The team’s first home match will be played before a sellout crowd of 22,500.

City named goalkeeper Roman Burki, who came from Borussia Dortmund in the German Bundesliga, as its captain for the inaugural season. Defender Tim Parker was named vice captain.

“We want to play a fastpaced game. We want to keep it action packed, we want to really be working in the transition, we want to be working on the front foot, really bringing a lot of energy to the fans, hoping that they sit on the edge of their seats and not really get too comfortabl­e, right?” coach Bradley Carnell said.

The league plans to add a 30th team, possibly making an announceme­nt in the first half of this year.

 ?? John McCoy/Associated Press ?? Los Angeles FC celebrates after beating Austin FC in the MLS playoff Western Conference final in October.
John McCoy/Associated Press Los Angeles FC celebrates after beating Austin FC in the MLS playoff Western Conference final in October.

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