Everything you need to know ahead of MLS 2022
The 27th season of Major League Soccer kicks off on Saturday 26 February, with 28 clubs now competing in the ever-expanding competition.
To date, 14 different clubs have won MLS Cup after New York City FC beat Portland Timbers on penalties back in December for their first title.
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of the new season including key dates, the favourites and some new signings to watch.
Regular season begins: February 26
Rivalry Week: July 8-17
All-Star game: August 10
Decision Day: October 9
Play-offs begin: mid-October
MLS Cup: November 5
The 28 teams are slit into two conferences, east and west, based on geographical location (aside from Nashville).
Everyone plays 34 regular season matches but the schedule is unbalanced.
Each team plays everyone else in their conference home and away, as well as an additional eight matches against teams in the opposite conference.
The top seven in both conferences advance to the play-offs; the team with the most points across the entire league is awarded the Supporters’ Shield.
Who are the favourites?
The champions: New York City FC
Can New York City FC retain their title?
Last season was NYCFC’s seventh season in MLS and it delivered their first piece of silverware, landing the biggest domestic prize in December.
Ronny Deila’s side ousted Atlanta United, Supporters’ Shield winners New England and then Philadelphia to reach MLS Cup for the very first time.
There, they took the lead through Valentín Castellanos but Portland Timbers’ 95th minute equaliser forced a penalty shootout.
Sean Johnston was the hero at Providence Park, saving two spot-kicks, as New York returned from Oregon with the trophy.
Since then, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, Jesús Medina and James Sands have all left for LAFC, CSKA Moskva and Rangers respectively.
Thiago Martins is the big new signing, moving from Yokohama F. Marinos, and he made his debut in the CONCACAF Champions League against Santos de Guápiles.
Crucially, key players Castellanos, Héber, Maxi Moralez and others have stated as NYCFC chase more success in 2022.
The Supporters’ Shield winners: New England Revolution
In 2021, New England Revolution won the Supporters’ Shield for the very first time, finishing a whopping 12 points clear of Colorado Rapids.
However, they were then eliminated in the first round of the play-offs, losing a penalty shootout to eventual winners NYCFC.
In the past, the Revs have appeared in five MLS Cups but lost them all, doing so in 2002, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2014.
Under manager Bruce Arena, who’s actually won five MLS Cups in his career, can they finally claim the biggest prize?
In the off-season, the headline transfer news is that Canadian striker Tajon Buchanan has made his $7 million move to Club Brugge.
Also, goalkeeper Matt Turner is expected to join Arsenal but is still in Massachusetts until the summer.
In terms of incomings, safe to say Arena has gone for experience.
Omar Gonzalez, Sebastian Lletget and Jozy Altidore have arrived; they are 33, 29 and 32 respectively and have all played for Arena before.
Alongside Carles Gil, Gustavo Bou and Adam Buksa, New England very much have a front-line to be feared.
Two-time MLS Cup winners: Seattle Sounders
When it comes to MLS Cup, Seattle Sounders are always there or thereabouts
Since Brian Schmetzer’s appointment in 2016, they’ve appeared in four of six MLS Cups, lifting the trophy in 2016 and 2019 and losing in 2017 and 2020.
Overall, each of the last seven MLS Cups have featured a team from the Pacific North West, four times Seattle and the other three their rivals Portland.
However, last season, despite finishing third overall, the Sounders crashed out in the first round of the play-offs against Real Salt Lake on penalties.
They’ve been relativity quiet in the transfer market with Albert Rusnák the most eye-catching arrival, joining from RSL.
The big boost though is having Jordan Morris fit after he missed almost all of 2021 with a cruciate knee ligament rupture.
Morris, Raúl Ruidíaz, Cristian Roldan and Nicolás Lodeiro form an attacking quartet that is the envy of almost everyone in this league.
Will the side in Rave Green rule MLS in 2022?
Who are potential dark horses?
Can Club Internacional de Fútbol Miami finally get it together and be competitive in this league?
This will be Inter Miami’s third season and, to date, they’ve really underwhelmed, finishing 19th and 20th in the overall standings.
So, in his second season in the job, the pressure is surely on Phil Neville to deliver, at least, a play-off spot.
The Herons’ boast two of the league’s biggest names in Blaise Matuidi and Gonzalo Higuaín, as well as whole host of other familiar faces.
DeAndre Yedlin, who’s joined from Galatasaray, could feature in a defence that also includes Kieran Gibbs.
Around $2.7 million was spent on brining Emerson Rodríguez from Millonarios, while Leonardo Campana is on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers.
On the other hand, they have been weakened by the departures of Lewis Morgan, Leandro González Pírez and Rodolfo Pizarro to NYRB, River Plate and Monterrey.
Whilst it would be a major surprise if Inter Miami won MLS Cup in November, they should certainly be a more competitive outfit, although the bar is low.
Will Toronto FC rediscover that winning feeling in 2022?
Between 2016 and 2019, TFC appeared in three of the four MLS Cups, losing to Seattle in 2016 and 2019 but getting their hands on the trophy in 2017.
That year, they became the first, and only, MLS side to complete the treble, also winning the Supporters’ Shield and Canadian Championship.
However, last season was a particularly miserable one for the Reds who ended up second bottom of the overall table, above only FC Cincinnati.
But, since then, it’s been all change for the Canadian club.
Bob Bradley has joined as Head Coach having previously won MLS Cup with Chicago Fire and the Supporters’ Shield with LAFC in 2019.
His son Michael, now 34, remains captain of this team having joined from AS Roma eight years ago.
Another stall-wart of Toronto’s recent success Jozy Altidore has left the club though, transferring to New England in the off-season.
In has come experienced Mexican centre-back Carlos Salcedo, taking up one of the DP spots.
TFC’s other key winter move is what has caught the eye.
Euro 2020 winner Lorenzo Insigne will arrive from Napoli when his contrast expires on 1 July and many are saying he could become the best MLS player of all-time.
Insigne will certainly have a lot of hype to live up to but his future teammates, spearheaded by Alejandro Pozuelo, will need to stay in the play-off race until he arrives.
Will Major League Soccer’s most successful club be adding another star to their badge in 2022?
LA Galaxy have won a record five MLS Cups in their history, but haven’t won any silverware at all since be crowned champions in 2014.
In fact, the Galaxy have actually missed the play-offs in four of the last five seasons, including each of the last two.
In 2021, Greg Vanney’s men ended up below the play-off line on goal difference thanks to a 3-3 draw with Minnesota United on decision day.
So, a top seven finish will be the minimum aim this year.
In the off-season, Sebastian Lletget’s seven year association with the club came to an end as he was sold to New England for $300,000 GAM.
But, as is the Galaxy’s want, they’ve managed to make a superstar signing.
Douglas Costa has joined on loan from Juventus, having won three Bundesligas, three Scudettos and numerous other trophies during his European career.
The 31 year old will be looking to link-up with Javier Hernández who scored 17 goals in 21 appearances last season.
Five new signings to watch
Lorenzo Insigne – Toronto FC
He’s already been mentioned but, when discussing Major League Soccer right now, Lorenzo Insigne’s name is going to come up.
The Italian won’t even arrive in Canada until the summer with his first game, potentially, coming against Seattle Sounders on 2 July.
Even though he’ll miss exactly half the regular season, there’s still much excitement that the man who shone at Euro 2020 is coming across The Atlantic.
He’ll be looking to follow in the footsteps of compatriot Sebastian Giovinco who was directly involved in 134 goals in 142 TFC appearances, winning five trophies.
In the summer, when men’s European soccer goes into hibernation, Insigne’s debut in red is certainly something worth keeping an eye out for.
Xherdan Shaqiri – Chicago Fire
Another familiar face dropping down in the U.S. is Xherdan Shaqiri.
The 30-year-old has 18 major honours during his club career, including the UEFA Champions League with both Bayern Munich and Liverpool.
Now, after a brief six-months at Olympique Lyonnais, he’s moving to Illinois, hoping to show his quality.
Shaqiri joins a Chicago Fire side who’ve only made the post-season in one of the last eight campaigns, finish fifth bottom of the table last year.
So, the man who will feature at this year’s World Cup with Switzerland, will be hoping to be on top form in MLS.
Douglas Costa – LA Galaxy
LA Galaxy’s whole identity is about bringing superstars to Hollywood and they’ve got another coming your way in 2022.
Douglas Costa has quite the CV already, racking up 31 Brazil caps as well as winning 21 major trophies in Ukraine, Germany and Italy.
However, since being at his peek with Bayern Munich and then Juventus, he’s gone off the rails, loaned out to boyhood club Grêmio in 2021.
Nevertheless, Costa is still only 31-years-old so arrives in southern California with a lot still to give.
Don’t be surprised if Costa is one of the best players in MLS this year.
Jozy Altidore – New England Revolution
From new arrivals to one of the league’s old veterans.
Jozy Altidore has scored 77 goals in his MLS career, winning the treble at Toronto in 2017 and the CONCACAF Gold Cup with the U.S. that same year.
Now, after seven years with the Canadian giants, he’s reunited with his former national team coach Bruce Arena in Massachusetts.
Altidore’s new team, New England Revolution, won the Supporters’ Shield last season and are aiming to win their first-ever MLS Cup in 2022.
The 32-year-old may no longer be in his prime but is still more than capable of scoring goals if his teammates can provide the chances.
Thiago Almada – Atlanta United
Can this be the signing that takes Atlanta United back to the top?
In only their second-ever season, the Five Stripes won MLS Cup in 2018 before adding the U.S. Open Cup and Campeones Cup to their cabinet a year later.
However, in 2020, they failed to make the play-offs for the first time before suffering first round elimination to NYCFC last season.
The key to their initial success was brining in highly-talented South American players and they’ll be hoping Thiago Almada is the next one of those.
The 20-year-old has arrived from Vélez Sarsfield in his native Argentina, for whom he scored 24 times in 100 appearances.
Alongside Luiz Araújo and talismanic centre-forward Josef Martínez, Atlanta certainly have the firepower to beat anyone in this league.