The important League Football season ended with winning the Columbus Crew SC MLS Cup on Saturday night, and with preseason action starting in a month’s time, the focus is already on 2021. But before we look too far into the future, ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle and Austin Lindberg look ahead to a 2020 season that won’t be soon forgotten.
Indent: A Team Worth Saving | Impact of COVID-19 | Start in Miami, Nashville | Black Players for Change | Philadelphia Legitimizes National Draft | Young Players Depart | New Minimum for Labor Relations | Best XI
Crewis worth saving Crew.
Three years ago the Columbus Crew SC seemed to have no future in the capital of Ohio. Owner Anthony Precourt announced in October 2017 his intention to move the club to Austin, Texas in 2019 if a new downtown stadium, partly funded by state taxes, cannot be obtained.
Shortly after the announcement, he told ESPN that the club would experience dramatic changes in attendance and other factors if it stayed in Columbus. When he read between the lines, it was clear that nothing kept him from bringing a crew from the capital of Ohio to the capital of Texas.
What he did not count on was the fierce opposition, organization and conviction of the fans and the local community. He didn’t count on the #SaveTheCrew movement.
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Fans did their best to make their voice heard on Capitol Hill and in MLS stadiums – and in many cases the stadiums hosted teams that had nothing to do with the crew. The city of Columbus is courting a group of local entrepreneurs who would keep the club in town.
One year after Precourt’s announcement, the Haslam and Edwards families started negotiations to buy the team. By the end of 2018, the crew had been rescued. A week later, Caleb Porter was appointed director and Tim Bezbatchenko president.
Thanks to a major investment by Haslams and Edwardses, including the signing of player Lukas Zelarayan for $7 million and the opening of a private stadium in the city centre in 2021, as well as the vision of Porter and Bezbatchenko, the team has started to reinvent the club, culminating in winning the MLS Cup last Saturday.
For many reasons, 2020 was a miserable year, with few bright spots. The Crew Championship, on the back of the virtuous fans, a successful campaign to keep their club – the original Bundesliga club – in town, is a bit of sunshine that we could all enjoy. — Austin Lindbergh
Fault! The file name is not specified. Three years after the owner announced he was going to move the club, the crew won the MLS Cup in Columbus. Joseph Majorana/United States Monday sports
Exposure to COVID-19
Give the credit to MLS. The competition reached the final of the MLS Cup with a total of 10 positive cases despite the outbreak of COVID-19 that occurred in the post-season with champion Columbus Crew. This was the case earlier in the year with FC Dallas, Nashville SC and Colorado Rapids.
None of this happened on the 12th. March possible when MLS launched a four-month shutdown in the first days of the pandemic. Nevertheless, the union managed to get out of the picture. The first one with MLS was the Back Tournament in Florida.
This game was one of the first in the United States to prove the effectiveness of the bubble environment and helped bring the competition back to the fans. It became even more complicated when the teams resumed the championship in August. Three Canadian MLS teams, playing against each other for the first time in a series, were forced to travel to the US due to travel restrictions between the US and Canada. A total of seven games were cancelled, forcing the league to go to points per game to determine a team’s place in the conference rankings.
Wounds – some financial, some physical – will heal over time. The MLS players’ union indicated that almost 20% of the players in the league signed a contract with COVID-19 at some point in the year. The long-term effects of these infections are not yet known. There have also been layoffs throughout the league, both at league headquarters and at the MLS teams.
But the competition is still there, underlining the resilience that has long been one of its characteristics. One can only hope that the 2021 campaign will be easier for everyone. — Jeff Carlisle
Description of the two extension groups
When the Nashville SC and Inter Miami CF started the season, Nashville looked like a cheap luxury sedan, while Miami looked more like a shiny sports car. But sometimes it’s better to get to your destination with a limousine, and that was the case here.
General Manager Mike Jacobs set up a first-team defense that allowed Nashville to finish seventh in the Eastern Conference, which it would qualify for the post-season even without a generous expansion of play-off spots, while Miami finished in tenth place. These teams met in the final round of the post-season, where Nashville turned out to be the much better team with a 3-0 victory.
Of course, it’s impossible to keep your eyes off Miami, which is rapidly approaching the status of a car accident. CEO and sports director Paul McDonough paid the price for too many relocations and failures in the international transfer market and resigned last week. Then, on Monday, ESPN confirmed a story in The Athletic that manager Diego Alonso went to an end-of-year meeting with the owner thinking he had been fired and told the players and staff that this wouldn’t happen. Alonso is still the director, although his constant presence seems awkward at best. After six years of waiting owners David Beckham and Jorge Mas have to clean up a bit. — Jeff Carlisle
Fault! The file name is not specified. Gonzalo Higuain and Inter Miami forget their first season in MLS. Pictures USA Today
Formation of black players for change
Not only because of the coronavirus, some players were nervous. The death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis has revived the black MLS community and led to the formation of the Black Players for Change team. The organisation wanted to advocate social justice and implement programmes to achieve this goal, both inside and outside football.
Powerful demonstrations in support of social justice took place when MLS teams knelt to the resumption of the MLS is Back Tournament, a statement that lasted until the end of the season. After police killed Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, BPC helped lead a protest at most league games on the 26th. August.
In addition, by working with the non-profit organization More Than a Vote, led by LeBron James, the national central bank has influenced the field by encouraging minority communities to register to vote and participate in the election process. In particular, he signed 95% of the players in the league.
BPC has also inaugurated its first miniplaza in Newark, New Jersey. The project, in partnership with the American Football Foundation, is the first of 12 such pitches being built in black communities across the country to encourage more children to play football.
Fault! The file name is not specified. TheBlack Players for Change put on an emotional show when the competition returned to the MLS Homecoming Tournament in July. Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Earlier this month, BPC received the League’s ‘Humanitarian of the Year Award’ in recognition of its efforts for 2020. — Jeff Carlisle
Philadelphia continues to legitimise the domestic draw
After 11 years of existence, the Philadelphia Union has finally won its first trophy, the Fan Shield in 2020. It was a fair reward for the fans whose passion City gave the club in the first place and never failed in the years that followed.
For the fans it probably means a little more that this silverware has been achieved thanks to the academy products Brenden Aaronson (who leaves for FC Salzburg in January) and Mark McKenzie (who himself gets a lot of interest from European clubs) and the SuperDraft selection and goalkeeper of the year Andre Blake. It also means a lot to all other MLS members: The success of Philadelphia emphasizes the usual pattern of success.
Union is the fourth team in the last six years (New York Red Bulls in 2015, Dallas in 2016 and the Red Bulls again in 2018) to win the Shield with a formula based on local talent. Thirteen years after the start of the American Football Academy program, the last six seasons have clearly shown that developing talent at home is the true path to success.
While more and more money is being spent in MLS year after year, mainly on emerging stars imported from South America or Europe, Philadelphia (as well as the Red Bulls and Dallas) shows that clubs can win in this competition without spending a fortune on exotic imports – even if it helps. — Austin Lindbergh
Fault! The file name is not specified. Game
Gregg Berhalter credits the Philadelphia Union with the progress Brenden Aaronson has made since his first USMNT camp in 2019.
Young players leave… …and it’s a good thing that…
For years, MLS has had a reputation for virtually taking young players hostage and rarely handing over players from the league before their contracts expire. But recent campaigns have shown that things are changing. According to the league website, only four players will be excluded from MLS in 2017. This number increased to 12 in 2018 and to 14 in 2019. By 2020, this number will have risen to 19.
And it wasn’t just people looking for their last paycheck. Tyler Adams and Alfonso Davies, from RB Leipzig and Bayern Munich respectively, will not be in the league in 2019. Reggie Cannon and Albert Elis were sent to Boavista last season. Brenden Aaronson of Philadelphia Union will move to Salzburg in 2021, while Joe Scully will join Borussia Mönchengladbach of New York City FC.
All this explains the source of income from which the MLS teams benefit to a greater extent. And the league academies produce players who attract the interest of foreign clubs.
Is there room for growth? Absolutely. But there is no doubt that league transfers are increasingly becoming the norm. — Jeff Carlisle
Then Thomas is joined by Craig Burley, Shaka Hislop and others to bring you the latest developments and discuss the biggest stories. Streaming on ESPN+ (USA only).
Industrial relations have reached a new low
Everything seemed rosy in February, when the MLS Players’ Association and the league agreed on a new collective agreement that gave both parties a sense – at least on the surface – of achievement. But the coronavirus pandemic struck, and as neither party ratified the new CBA, the League used its influence to force the MLSPA back to the negotiating table.
After the league threatened to lock out, the two parties finally reached an agreement in June, just one month before the MLS comeback tournament. However, MLSPA members are demoralized and have $150 million less than they agreed in February due to pay cuts, bonuses and a revenue-sharing plan related to the upcoming media rights agreement.
Even worse: The competition was successful in obtaining MLSPA to agree to a force majeure clause in the CBA. Although this provision allows both parties to terminate the agreement in the event of catastrophic circumstances, it gives the owner considerable leverage in that it can force the union to return to the negotiating table.
Work tensions usually only occur every five years, but they are now a constant reality between owners and players. — Jeff Carlisle
Goalkeeper: Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union)
Defence: Anton Tinnerholm (New York City FC), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC), Mark McKenzie (Philadelphia Union), Ryan Hollingshead (Dallas FC)
Midfielder: Alejandro Pozuelo (Toronto), Diego Chara (Portland Timbers), Nicolas Lodeiro (Seattle Sounders)
Forward: Chris Mueller (Orlando City SC), Diego Rossi (LAFC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC).
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