Leading up to the club’s First Kick against Toronto FC on March 19, Whitecaps FC ambassador Carl Valentine will take a closer look at all things Major League Soccer every Monday.
Major League Soccer concluded their 15th season in Toronto, where Colorado Rapids defeated FC Dallas 2-1 in the MLS Cup final. It was another year of growth for the league, as it just keeps going from strength to strength.
In recent times, expansion and re-branding have become buzzwords for the league and its fans. In 2007, MLS teams started selling advertising space on the front of jerseys to go along with the league-wide sponsorship partners who had already been advertising on the back of club jerseys. As of April 2010, 11 of the league’s 16 teams had signed sponsorship deals to have company logos placed on the front of their jerseys.
Off the pitch, MLS opened two more soccer-specific stadiums in 2010, bringing the total of soccer-specific venues in the league to 10. New York Red Bulls opened their season in the new Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. Then midway through the campaign, expansion club Philadelphia Union opened PPL Park in Chester, Pennsylvania. In their new home, the Union finished 2010 with the league's fourth-best attendance record, as they averaged nearly 20,000 fans per match. It was also in 2010 that Montreal was granted an MLS expansion franchise for the 2012 season.
There were also hard-fought negotiations between MLS and its players before the start of last season, but this was eventually resolved, with the players gaining some improved benefits in return for accepting the single-entity structure. A new collective bargaining agreement between the league and the MLS Players Union was agreed on March 20. This avoided any interruption to last season through a threatened strike.
MLS also modified their Designated Player (DP) rule in 2010, as they allowed teams to have as many three DP signings from the previous number of two. This resulted in the arrivals of former French international Thierry Henry, Mexican star Rafa Marquez, and Brazilian Geovanni to the league. The allowance for a third DP was positive news for MLS clubs. Seattle Sounders FC, for example, went on to name one of their best players in young Colombian Fredy Montero their third DP.
MLS also renewed its emphasis on improving the league's quality of play with the creation of a league-wide youth development system. Evidence of this emerging talent came on April 27 when 17-year-old Juan Agudelo made his New York Red Bulls debut in a Lamar Hunt US Open Cup match versus Philadelphia Union. After playing for the Red Bulls' U-15, U-16, and U-18 academy teams, Agudelo went on to score the winner for the United States in a friendly versus South Africa late last year.
Back on the pitch, the league crowned a first-time MLS champion in Colorado Rapids. The Coach of the Year award went to FC Dallas' Schellas Hyndman, who led his team to the MLS Cup final, where they lost to the Rapids. FC Dallas attacker David Ferreira won the 2010 Most Valuable Player award.
The Rookie of the Year honour went to DC United's Honduran midfielder Andy Najar, while the Defender of the Year award was claimed by Real Salt Lake's Jamison Olave. The league's Goalkeeper of the Year was Jamaican international Donovan Ricketts from Los Angeles Galaxy. Bobby Convey deservedly won the Comeback Player of the Year honour with San Jose Earthquakes, while Costa Rican international Alvaro Saborio beat out Thierry Henry to win the MLS Newcomer of the Year award.
Another big story in 2010 was the emergence of San Jose Earthquakes striker Chris Wondolowski, who claimed the MLS Golden Boot as the league's top goalscorer and the Breakout Star of the Year award. He finished the regular season by scoring all of San Jose's 10 goals through their final eight matches - including two stunning hat-tricks inside the space of a month. Of the 18 goals that Wondolowski scored last season, nine were match winners, which was also a league best.
Los Angeles Galaxy won the Supporters' Shield, which MLS recognizes as the team with the best regular season record. Unfortunately for them, they ran into a rampant FC Dallas side in the playoffs and lost 3-0 at home. 31,311 turned up at Qwest Field (a record for the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup) to watch Seattle Sounders FC beat Columbus Crew 2-1 to retain their trophy and become the first two-time champions of the competition since 1983.
One of the greatest MLS players of all time in Jaime Moreno retired at the end of the season, but not before scoring in his final game for DC United, as he completed his career total of 133 goals - an MLS record. Another player of note to retire was Brian McBride, who played four years with Fulham FC in the English Premier League and appeared in three FIFA World Cups with the USA. He played his last game for Chicago Fire on October 16, ending a 17-year career.
This year’s MLS All-Star Game was hosted by Houston Dynamo at Reliant Stadium, where Manchester United beat the MLS All-Stars to become the first international club side to win the match in regulation time.
Our neighbours Seattle Sounders FC still set the bar, as far attendance goes, as they averaged 36,173 fans for their 15 home dates and sold out every match in their first two years to top the one million mark. Toronto FC finished the season with a third-best attendance average (20,453).
New teams, new stadiums, and a new champion helped make 2010 one of the most memorable seasons in MLS history, and with our Vancouver Whitecaps FC joining the fray in 2011, we will again see things reach another level.