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10 things to watch out for in the new MLS season

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SOCCER/The 15th Major League Soccer season kicks off on Thursday as fans thankfully turn their thoughts from collective-bargaining agreements and guaranteed contracts, to action on the field, safe in the knowledge that the only strikers making the news this week will be those who score goals.

Others will make their judgments on the deal that avoided a strike — but what is certain is that the new five-year contract and modest salary structure ensures not only that MLS will start on Thursday (Seattle Sounders host the Philadelphia Union) but also that it will enter its 20th year in much the same status as it began its first – a league featuring a surprising number of good players, being paid a surprisingly low amount of money.

But anyway, this writer too has had enough of all the financial and contractual talk and rather is looking forward to the start of the new season. Here are ten things to keep an eye on this year:

1. Philadelphia Union – a brand new franchise to finally give the enthusiastic supporters club who preceded them, the Sons of Ben, something to cheer about. With the canny Pole Peter Nowak as head coach, the Union will be well prepared but they lack a proven prolific goalscorer and are relying on the unpredictable (but superbly named) Brazilian midfielder Fred for their inspiration. Expect workmanlike solidity, the odd upset and perhaps some sparkling moments from their number one draft pick Danny Mwanga, who could get more playing time than most rookies.

Donovan must think hard about Everton move

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Everton hope to complete the signing of Landon Donovan on loan from Major League Soccer’s L.A Galaxy, a move which has generated plenty of excitement among North American soccer fans.

The move makes a lot of sense for Everton manager David Moyes – it gives him no-risk attacking cover, particularly useful while Nigerian Yakubu Aiyegbeni is away throughout January at the African Nations Cup. What is less obvious is why a short term loan spell is a good move for Donovan.

Big decisions loom for growing MLS

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Major League Soccer shows plenty of signs of good health and progress but beneath the surface the North American league has some critical decisions to make over its future direction.

After a week of largely upbeat build-up and nationwide publicity for a sport that so often struggles to get space, the league’s title deciding game, MLS Cup, was played out in front of over 46,000 fans here in Seattle – the city that is staking a strong claim to be the de facto home of U.S soccer.

Are you ready for MLS Cup?

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Major League Soccer’s finale, MLS Cup, takes place on Sunday in Seattle and (perhaps surprisingly to some) the game between L.A. Galaxy and Real Salt Lake will be broadcast in over 120 countries.

For the benefit of those fans outside of the States, who might be tuning in to watch David Beckham play for the Galaxy (or perhaps admire the intelligent midfield play of Real’s Clint Mathis?) and aren’t familiar with MLS or it’s final, here are some answers to the kind of questions you might be asking yourself as you sit down on the sofa and get ready for…

Beckham’s return to AC Milan confirmed

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David Beckham will tread a familiar path once the MLS season is over, joining AC Milan on loan again for a five-month loan spell from January.

Milan have just announced the deal on their website (just in Italian for now), meaning any lingering hopes Premier League clubs had of changing the England midfielder’s mind have finally been dashed.

Americans fall for soccer but can MLS cash in?

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The US national team beat European champions Spain in the Confederations Cup and give Brazil a scare in the final. In the NFL heartland of Baltimore, 71,000 turn out to watch Chelsea v AC Milan.

In Pasadena, Chelsea v Inter Milan pulls in 81,000.

David Beckham gets booed and jeered on his return for L.A Galaxy and the American sporting public laps it up – top sports talk shows, which usually ignore soccer other than to mock the game occasionally, lead their bulletins on the issue.

Soul of soccer survives in Florida

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One of the most appealing aspects of football is that, unlike with most sports, you can find the passion of the game in almost every corner of the world, often hidden away in the most unlikely places.

 

What separates football from, say Formula One or tennis, is that even at the lower levels of the game you can still get the buzz of being a fan even without the top stars or the fully-serviced facilities.

Barcelona’s American dream comes to nothing

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The prospect of former Real Madrid player David Beckham lining up against a new Barcelona-Miami franchise was a soccer marketing man’s dream — the most marketable man in the game against one of the biggest team brands, playing in the ‘capital of the Americas’.

A couple of months ago that scenario looked on the cards, with Beckham tied into a long-term deal with the L.A Galaxy and Barcelona’s Miami bid for a 2011 MLS expansion slot widely considered a ‘shoe in’.

Vlog on the Pitch meets Clint Dempsey

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As Tony Adams and then Luiz Felipe Scolari discovered this week, football is not a patient game.

In a recent interview aired on Revista de la Liga on Sky Sports, Real Madrid defender Michel Salgado said that at his club there was no such thing as a long term project as far as he could see. All that mattered was what was happening now.

Beckham chooses Milan

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David Beckham has surprised the many doubters among fans and pundits by scoring two goals in five starts for AC Milan and it looks increasingly likely he’ll be hanging around Serie A for a lot longer.

All in all, it’s turned into a very happy move for the former Manchester United and Real Madrid midfielder 

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