Will the World Cup give MLS a bump?

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 7, 2014 at 1:27 pm •  Published: March 7, 2014
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The new advertising campaign for Major League Soccer proclaims: "For Club And Country."

Because nothing stirs passionate soccer fans — and even the sport's casual onlookers — quite like the World Cup, the premier U.S. league is hoping to draw on the excitement surrounding the big event this summer.

"It's a perfect theme for our march to Brazil," Commissioner Don Garber said. "It's not just about American players wrapping themselves in their flags, it's Tim Cahill and Robbie Keane wrapping themselves in their country's flags. It's a big connection between our clubs and the national teams."

The league hopes that connection resonates with new fans.

MLS has seen a steady growth in popularity, with attendance averaging from 15,504 in 2006 to a record 18,807 in 2012 before dropping slightly last season to 18,594. The biggest jumps in attendance over that span have come in the seasons following World Cup years. Television viewership, which the league continues to struggle for, also bumped up in the season following the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

The league's 19th season gets underway on Saturday, when defending MLS Cup champion Kansas City visits the Seattle Sounders. It is the first of seven games on the schedule for that day.

The top teams from last season didn't make all that many moves.

Sporting KC, which went 17-10-7 last season, returns 10 of 11 starters from the MLS Cup match. About the team's only loss was the retirement of goalkeeper and captain Jimmy Nielsen. This season, longtime backup Erik Kronberg will have the best chance to replace him.

Sporting defeated Houston to claim the Eastern Conference title before besting Real Salt Lake in a dramatic shootout for the league title.

Salt Lake went 16-10-8 last season and won the Western Conference by downing upstart Portland after eliminating the two-time defending league champion Galaxy in the semis.

RSL heads into this season with new coach Jeff Cassar, hired after Jason Kreis took the head coaching job with the expansion New York City FC, which joins the league next season.

Like Sporting, RSL enters the season with close to the same lineup as last year. Another similarity? Injuries. Salt Lake will be without veteran Robbie Findley and promising second-year forward Devon Sandoval to start.

The New York Red Bulls, who finished atop the Eastern Conference and won the Supporters' Shield for best record at 17-9-8, return veterans Cahill, Thierry Henry and Jamison Olave.

Because of the World Cup, MLS will take a break from June 12-24. The league's All-Star game will be held on Aug. 6 at the newly renamed Providence Park, home of the Portland Timbers.



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