PARRY: What to watch for when the MLS season kicks off

Chris Parry is a sportswriter for the Tyler Morning Telegraph. His column can be read each Thursday in the Tyler Paper and on ETFinalScore.com.

The soccer league played in America begins this week.

Just a little reminder in case fans are too busy setting their alarm clocks to get up for European games on Saturday and Sunday. There is more soccer to enjoy in the afternoon in this country.

What was a fledgling league began just after the 1996 World Cup. The WC brought huge interest to soccer in the USA, helped by the U.S. Men's National Team reaching the knockout round for the fist-time ever.

Looking to strike while the iron was hot, a new league was created called Major League Soccer. I wonder how many MLB fans changed the channel to soccer accidentally in 1996. Maybe that was the plan all along — to get eyeballs on their new soccer league.

Just like the country that created it, MLS strived to be a unique. The MLS season would be played in the spring and summer months, to avoid competing against the NFL for viewership. It would not have ties, but rather, give the fans a shootout after overtime to determine a winner. Rosters would be controlled by the league itself to prevent one team from acquiring all of the talent, a la the New York Cosmos of the failed North American Soccer League.

The first season began with 10 teams: Colorado Rapids, Columbus Crew, D.C. United, Dallas Burn, Kansas City Wiz, Los Angeles Galaxy, New England Revolution, NY/NJ Metro Stars, San Jose Clash and Tampa Bay Mutiny.

The league played out with D.C. United defeating the L.A. Galaxy 3-2 in the first-ever MLS Cup on a goal from American international Eddie Pope.

I, like many soccer fans have been slow to warm to MLS.

Why should I watch this league when I can change the channel and see superstars like Ronaldo or Wayne Rooney play in the European leagues?

Maybe because I grew up overseas, but I always enjoyed the pace, passion, speed, physicality and overall pageantry of the English Premier League.

Why watch the MLS?

Well, thanks to last season, which produced a thrilling campaign and even better postseason, I have come around.

The 2015 MLS season begins this weekend. The league now has 20 teams and sports big-name players like Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Kaká (Orlando City) and David Villa (New York City FC).

Note: There could still be a strike because players are grumbling about free agency, but for now, let us concentrate on a positive outlook.

Here are five more reasons to watch the MLS:

 

1. Expansion — This weekend, New York City FC and Orlando City begin their first seasons in the MLS. NYCFC is an offshoot of the powerful and wealthy Manchester City of the EPL while Orlando City was very successful in America's lower league, so much so that it earned enough notoriety to move up to the MLS.

 

2. Newness — There is a new MLS logo and the league now comprises 20 teams. Every team feels it has a chance to hoist the MLS Cup right now.

Eastern Conference

Chicago Fire

Columbus Crew

D.C. United

Montreal Impact, Revolution

New York City FC

New York Red Bulls

Orlando City

Philadelphia Union

Toronto FC

Western Conference

Colorado Rapids

FC Dallas

Houston Dynamo

L.A. Galaxy

Portland Timbers

Seattle Sounders

San Jose Earthquakes

Real Salt Lake

Sporting Kansas City

Vancouver White Caps

 

3. Superstars — Not only does the league boast U.S. men's international players like Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Jermaine Jones and others, but MLS now will feature soccer legends like Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, who will join later this summer. The biggest step for the league is Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco, an Italian international still in the prime of his career who left Serie A to join MLS. That is a big sign of progress for the league.

 

4. Television — The MLS went through a dark period viewership-wise where there was maybe one game per week on ESPN shown on Thursday nights. Now, the league can be viewed on ESPN networks, NBC Sports Network and Fox Sports. Not to mention all of the local affiliates that broadcast their local teams. Plus internet streaming and games on SiriusXM radio, it is a great time for MLS fans.

 

5. Houston Dynamo and FC Dallas — East Texas residents can form bonds with other teams in MLS, but are fortunate enough to have two top-notch clubs within driving distance for games. The Dynamo won the MLS Cup in 2006 and 2007 and reached the championship game in 2011 and 2012. FC Dallas played in MLS Cup in 2010.