The 2023 MLS season is finally underway and we've already learned a great deal from the league's opening fixtures. From the on-field play to the coverage and other adjacent news surrounding kick-off, MLS fans will certainly have lots to talk about before the match week has even finished.
Five things we learned from MLS opening day
#1. Apple TV coverage needs some work
With its new massive Apple TV deal, MLS took a massive step towards creating a unified brand for all 29 teams. Each club is required to produce a great deal of video content for use on the streaming service for the MLS Season Pass which will no doubt help bring fans closer to their clubs, as well as educate more casual viewers on what it means to support an MLS team. Unfortunately, some teams are better than others, and upon watching programming such as “The Ritual” it's clear that several clubs have not prioritized this part of their brand.
The league and Apple TV don’t escape criticism either. Many who tuned in to opening day were understandably surprised and confused to see how the service utilized its new MLS 360 program, which has been described as the MLS version of NFL Red Zone. However, MLS 360 comes up short in several key areas.
I love the 4 person crew on MLS360 but the point of the whiparound show is to quickly go from game to game and hear the announcers for big periods. The studio should just fill in gaps. Hopefully they improve on this #MLSSeasonPass— Taylor Mucaria (@Tmookie) February 26, 2023
For starters, while the panel of experts is interesting, there's a limit to what they're capable of. They excel at analysis but when the matches kick off, they should no longer be the focus. At the moment, the “whip-around show” does very little actual whipping around.
Instead, the coverage consists primarily of the hosts facing away from the camera watching hard-to-see side-by-side action on a giant screen. They occasionally will tune into the games being played but will often keep the audio from the studio rather than cutting to the match commentary.
What viewers also found to be quite jarring was the inclusion of commercial breaks. For a service that costs as much as the MLS Season Pass does, it's baffling that the service feels the need to continue forcing advertisements down the viewer's throat.
MLS 360 is really great. The type of show the league has always needed, but why does it have commercials?? Kinda defeats the purpose, no? Just cut from game to game during studio breaks. #MLSSeasonPass— The Cooligans (@SoccerCooligans) February 26, 2023
It feels as if the show's producers had never actually watched a show of this nature, especially when there are such programs that exist. Paramount+ has nearly perfected their “Golazo Show” during the Champions League and Europa League coverage. Apple TV could do with some inspiration in this department.
#2. Extreme weather is still a factor at this time of year
The League’s opening weekend slate of matches was mouth-watering, headlined by El Tráfico set in the Rose Bowl to close out the evening’s matches. It was not meant to be, however, as the match had to be postponed due to severe weather in Los Angeles. The league quickly moved the game to July 4, assuring that any and all tickets would be valid at the summer’s event.
El Tráfico 2023 MLS season opener at the Rose Bowl stadium has been postponed due to safety considerations resulting from inclement weather ⛈ pic.twitter.com/yGZIzAJTRj— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) February 24, 2023
This news on its own would be devastating enough, but the previous day had seen Portland postpone its match against Sporting Kansas City due to heavy snowfall.
There has always been much criticism from those who do not closely follow the league for not adhering to the European soccer calendar, but this weekend should be a wake-up call that an August-May soccer season would simply never work for MLS. With a host of teams that play in outdoor stadia from Toronto to Portland and Massachusetts to Minnesota, playing games through the Northern American winters and springs is just not possible.
#3. Philadelphia’s hype is justified
Ok, now to the soccer. On the pitch, we were treated to some fantastic opening matches but it was Philadelphia’s dominant performance against Columbus that really grabbed our attention.
Despite going 1-0 down just before the half-hour mark, the Union kept their nerve and turned the game on its head, dispelling any doubt that Philly is a top team in MLS. Dániel Gazdag scored twice from the spot while Julián Carranza bagged a brace of his own as Jim Curtin’s side were 4-1 winners at home.
Joaquin Torres with an instant impact off the bench for the Philadelphia Union, with this assist to Julian Carranza.Union pick up just where they left off last season, with a convincing 4-1 win over Columbus. This team can challenge for every trophy. pic.twitter.com/0SY3riWMZK
— Tom Bogert (@tombogert) February 26, 2023
Last season’s MLS Cup runners-up also missed out on the Supporters' Shield on a tiebreaker. However, unlike LAFC who bested them on both fronts, Philadelphia retained their entire starting lineup and actually strengthened, thanks to the additions of Joaquín Torres and Andrés Perea.
So bad news if your favorite team is in the Eastern Conference: Philadelphia is still really, really good.
#4. Last year’s two-horse MVP Race may have added another horse
Despite Hany Mukhtar starting from the bench against NYCFC, his Nashville side took care of business in his absence before releasing the beast for the final 15 minutes. It took last season’s MVP just five minutes to show his class as he dribbled through New York City’s defense before assisting Jacob Shaffelburg to double his side’s advantage.
That's why he's the reigning MVP!Hany Mukhtar enters, Mukhtar cuts up the defense, Mukhtar drops a dime to Jacob Shaffelburg for the goal. pic.twitter.com/iZnRTaRNBh
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) February 25, 2023
Austin FC’s main man, Sebastián Driussi, bagged himself a statement goal with a bit of individual brilliance followed by a delicate and daft dink over a stranded Roman Bürki. Despite his side losing to the newest expansion side in St. Louis City SC, the 27-year-old will no doubt have another standout campaign.
World class from El CRACK! pic.twitter.com/BhbQ8DvEzd— Austin FC (@AustinFC) February 26, 2023
Finally, it was the late, late show in Atlanta courtesy of Thiago Almada’s heroics. The Argentine’s side fell behind early and looked set to drop all three points to an impressive San Jose team, but deep into stoppage time, the World Cup winner wrote his name in lights once again. Almada scored a stunning strike in the 93rd minute before calling "game" with a free kick that his countryman Lionel Messi would be proud of. A brace to save his team from the jaws of defeat? Yeah, he’s him.
#5. MLS comes to life in stoppage time
Do not, under any circumstance, turn an MLS game off before the final whistle blows. Opening day saw a staggering nine goals scored in the 80th minute or later and four of those came in added time. Almada’s magic in added time is only the fourth time in MLS history that a player has scored two goals in stoppage time, securing his place in league history for his performance on the night.
THIAGO ALMADA IN THE 99TH MIN
— B/R Football (@brfootball) February 26, 2023
In the nation’s capital, DC United completed a stunning comeback of their own after Toronto’s second goal in the 83rd minute looked to ensure the Canadians would be taking all three points. Up stepped Christian Benteke and Theodore Ku-DiPietro who found the back of the net twice to turn a loss into a memorable win.
We’ve missed this. Long live Major League Soccer.