As you’ve probably noticed, it’s that magical time of the year again, folks: the English Premier League is back! Yes, it’s been nearly three months since Leicester City capped off the most improbable season in history, capturing the 2015/2016 title after beginning the campaign with 5,000-to-1 odds of winning the league.
The EPL kicks off Saturday morning with that very same Leicester City side visiting Hull City in the opening match, and I know what some of you are thinking: "Premier League’s back, so that means I no longer have to subject myself to the MLS!"
First of all, stop saying "the MLS," you guys.
Second, that’s not true, MLS is still as watchable as ever, with plenty of compelling story lines to keep you locked in through at least the end of the regular season in October, and then on through the playoffs.
History on the Horizon for FC Dallas?
It’s been an incredible season up to this point for those down in Frisco (Fabian Castillo drama aside). As FourFourTwo’s Paul Tenorio recently noted, Dallas has a chance at becoming the first team in MLS history to win the league treble — winning the U.S. Open Cup, Supporters’ Shield, and MLS Cup all in the same season.
Dallas will enter play this weekend with a three-point lead over the Colorado Rapids in the Supporters’ Shield race, and seven points up on the next closest competitor. And after defeating the LA Galaxy Wednesday night, the club moved on to the final of the U.S. Open Cup, where the Hoops will take on the New England Revolution next month.
As its record clearly indicates, Dallas has been one of the best teams in the league this season. While its road record can be improved on, the Hoops are undefeated at home in 12 contests and have two more wins than anyone else in the league. They have arguably the deepest roster in the league, with players like Mauro Diaz, Max Urruti, and Tesho Akindele, to go along with one of the league’s best coaches in Oscar Pareja.
If there’s any team capable of winning the treble, it’s this FC Dallas squad.
Sebastian Giovinco Continues To Light It Up
Speaking of making history this season: only one player in the 20 years of MLS has been named the league MVP twice — Sporting Kansas City’s Preki (1997, 2003). Sebastian Giovinco could very well be the second player to do so.
Toronto FC’s Italian play-maker is putting up spectacular numbers — or making sensational plays — yet again this season, leading the league in goals (15). He's also tied for second in assists (10), coming off a season in which he posted 22 goals and 16 assists — both league bests — and enough to set the MLS record for most combined goals and assists in a single season.
Giovinco has seven goals in his last four games — including two hat tricks — after going over two months without a goal. He’s arguably the hottest player in the league right now, and has Toronto rolling, riding a four-game winning streak and pulling within one point of New York City FC for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Don’t take your eyes off this guy, because you’ll probably miss something special.
Who’s Actually Going to Win It All This Year?
That’s the best part: no one knows. It could be FC Dallas. It could be NYCFC. It could be the Colorado Rapids. It could be the LA Galaxy. It could even be the Chicago Fire or Houston Dynamo, which are both still mathematically in the playoff race.
MLS is built on parity, and that parity has made this MLS Cup race closer than ever. Any given team can go on any given streak and surge into the top half of the league, and the Eastern Conference is as wide open as ever, with six points separating the top five teams in the conference. The West is a little less competitive in comparison, with the focus shifted more towards who the final two or three teams to qualify will be. For now, the Portland Timber have put themselves on a good run and over the red line, with the Vancouver Whitecaps just two points behind.
Unlike the Premier League season, where regular season standings mean everything, the playoffs — giving 12 of 20 teams entrance — mean nearly every team in the league still has the same shot at winning the MLS Cup as the team sitting above them.
The American sports model: you gotta love it!
Three Things to Watch for this Weekend
- FC Dallas vs. Sporting KC: SKC is on a three-game road losing streak falling to the Portland Timbers this past weekend and heads into Frisco to take on FCD, which is currently on a three-game undefeated run of its own. Kickoff: 9 p.m. ET, tonight.
- Alejandro Bedoya’s Union debut: Philadelphia’s big summer signing could make his MLS debut with the club on Saturday in New England. All eyes will be on the U.S. international and where Jim Curtin decides to play him on the field. While Bedoya can be a factor from all over the midfield, his best position remains in the No. 8 as a deep-lying midfielder. Elsewhere in the match: Charlie Davies, who was acquired from the Revs by the Union just before the transfer window closed last week, makes his return to New England, where he had played since 2013, including coming back just two weeks ago from being diagnosed with cancer earlier this year.
- Can Toronto Keep The Momentum Going? I mentioned TFC earlier and how hot Giovinco has been lately, but overall, the Reds have been one of the hottest teams in the league of late after going 4-0 and outscoring their opponents 12-2 during their four-game home stand. Jozy Altidore has also returned from injury to score a goal in each of his last two games and Michael Bradley is back as well. But can TFC keep the winning on the road? The Reds' outlook is good this week, heading south to face a pretty weak Houston side that just recently traded away one of its best players in Giles Barnes. When healthy, like Toronto is starting to become again, it’s hard to bet against the Canadian side.