The 2017 MLS Season just came to an end, with Toronto FC defeating the Seattle Sounders 2-0 in Toronto to claim MLS Cup. That completed a record-setting treble for TFC, who also won the Canadian Championship and the Supporter's Shield. Sporting Kansas City wrapped up the US Open Cup. Along with the trophies, there were also two expansion teams in Minnesota and Atlanta, the introduction of video review, and lots more. We've got the SSFC staff here to have their say on what stood out for the year now that the season has wrapped up and we start looking towards 2018.
Donald Wine II
In the end, the best team won the title. Toronto FC dominated the league the entire year, and they were deserving champions. Where other teams have fizzled out in the playoffs, they excelled. When they were missing some of their best players, they still got results week in and week out. I think that’s the best thing to come out of this season.
Where we can always have room for improvement is having more eyeballs watching these exciting games on television sets. Local and national TV time slots may need some reconsideration in an effort to find the time where most fans will watch matches.
While Toronto FC lit the league on fire after years of molding a mega team together, this season, for me, is all about the story of Atlanta United. From off the field building of a community and culture to on the field excitement, they proved that soccer can thrive in the south. Whether you hate the MLS franchise model or not, it's undeniable that Atlanta United are the new gold standard for starting a soccer club in America. If MLS can find more owners with Arthur Blank's belief and more technical staffs willing to commit to both youth and an exciting brand of soccer, the sport in America will be in good hands. Yes, I'm completely biased in my assessment of this season, but I strongly feel that Atlanta United was not just the biggest story in MLS, but in world soccer in 2017.
This year showed the best and worst of MLS. On the one hand, Atlanta United showed that building an exciting and talented team could energize a fan base primed with grassroots marketing. Meanwhile, the league's strategy of bringing USMNT players back to the league paid off with Toronto FC winning MLS Cup, helping to turn around that franchise. On the other hand, Anthony Precourt moving the Columbus Crew showed that the cynical motivations of an owner backed by the league could forsake the history, tradition, and fan built passion that MLS claims as its foundation. With all the success MLS is claiming in 2017, it is still a mixed bag, and while Atlanta Unites showed that fans can help build something special, MLS is ignoring a true grassroots movement to save an original member of the league, and that's a real shame.
The 2017 season in Major League Soccer was a season where many teams turned the corner in ways that made them exciting and with an eye to the future while others simply took the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” approach. In a league of supposed parity it appears that a gap has formed between the new, elite standard of clubs and others that appear intent on plodding through mediocrity.
Toronto has done a fantastic job developing and signing players to accompany their three well paid designated players. NYCFC, to a lesser extent, has been good as well. Seattle has a sports science staff that is second to none. Atlanta United has been off the charts with their player signings and marketing.
On the flip side Orlando seems unable to get out of their own way and is retooling this offseason. D.C. United continues to make questionable decisions. New England needs a new stadium. Montreal, aside from a few players, is stuck in neutral. LA Galaxy was absolutely terrible.
The good, young players that entered the league in 2017 shows the progress that MLS has made in many of its front offices as well as going a long way towards improving the league in its hopes of becoming a destination rather than an afterthought.
The time is now for the struggling teams to adopt a more proactive approach or else they will be left behind as the league clearly has teams that have adopted this methodology while others that are either happy with the status quo or haven’t yet figured out how to reach the next level.
There was a lot of really good that happened in MLS this season. Toronto put in an incredible, historic season from top to bottom, fueled on the smart acquisition of Designated Players and a very, very deep bench. There were two incredible MLS Expansion teams that came into the league. While Atlanta captured many of the headlines with their stylish play, massive crowds, and on-field success, Minnesota United also came into the league and made their mark.
But, rather than all these incredible stories, I wanted to highlight a different change. Across the league, there was a big boost in the quality of play, along with a bump in the goals and attacking play (which isn't necessarily tied to quality, but fun soccer is good soccer). A big reason for this has been the infusion of TAM. TAM, or Targeted Allocation Money, is a type of allocation money used within the league in order to allow teams to sign players who are above the salary cap without making them DP's or to create room under the salary budget. It can also be used to get a new DP while buying an old DP down to a lower cap hit. This has allowed teams to sign more DP's and stock their team with more high quality players. Thanks to TAM, teams can now have 5 or 6 high quality players (or even 7 or 8 using General Allocation Money and Home Grown Players) instead of the 3 or 4 with just Designated Players. TAM has also meant that DP's are higher quality players. Instead of burning a DP slot for a player making $1,000,000, you turn them into a TAM player and use that DP slot for an even more expensive player. TAM has been used on such players as Victor Vazquez, Darlington Nagbe, Wil Trapp, Romell Quioto, Lee Nguyen, Justin Meram, Ola Kamara, Mauro Diaz, Brad Guzan, Benny Feilhaber, Matt Besler, and Diego Chara. Thanks to MLS investment through TAM, teams are now able to field a lineup that is deeper and more talented, instead of teams that are very top heavy, with only a few highly talented players.
However, not everything new went off so nicely. In particular, there was a lot of interest and build up with the introduction of video review for refereeing at the end of summer (VAR or Video Assisted Review), but it didn't quite pan out as expected. VAR sometimes turned out to be a little time intensive, one of the big fears of the system. But a far larger problem was the unwillingness for officials to use video review. There were a number of moments where referees ignored player requests for review (to my mild bemusement). An even larger problem was where officials ignored VAR, or, in the case of Xavier Kouassi, used video review and then gave a red card that was later rescinded. It's clear that video review still needs some work. The process needs to be streamlined, expanded to include more offenses, and referees need to be better trained and instructed in using the systems.
What about you? What did you think of the 2017 MLS season? Was there something we missed? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.