FOX Soccer Exclusive
A glimpse of what MLS could be
Since its creation 16 years ago, Major League Soccer has been waiting to boast strong, entertaining and star-powered teams in the New York and Los Angeles markets.
Two marketable teams capable of raising the league’s profile and winning over casual fans waiting to see evidence of an improving league.
On Friday night, fans will get to see just that as two of the league’s best teams square off in the most highly-anticipated match of the MLS regular season.
MLS: June 23-25
|Thursday, June 23|
|Saturday, June 25|
|San Jose||0-0||LA Galaxy||Recap|
|Real Salt Lake||3-1||Toronto||Recap|
|Sunday, June 26|
|MLS Scores | Table | Fixtures|
The New York Red Bulls take on the Los Angelels Galaxy on Friday night in a match that always figured to generate its share of hype, and deservedly so. Even without injured superstar Thierry Henry, who will miss the match for New York with a knee injury, Friday’s Galaxy-Red Bulls showdown will feature Mexican national team captain Rafa Marquez, U.S. national team superstar Landon Donovan, Designated Player success story Juan Pablo Angel and David Beckham, arguably the most popular player in the world.
So why is the match important beyond the big names, mega media markets and chance for valuable publicity? It matters because it will give us a glimpse of what MLS can be.
We will have two teams that don't just boast big names, but also play quality soccer. We have two teams that not only have high-salaried international players, but also some of the most promising young players in MLS.
It is the model for the new MLS. Roster and salary cap changes have been made to allow teams to not only go and sign high-priced players, but also build strong teams around those stars. It no longer is an either-or proposition.
If you have smart team builders, and owners with the willingness to spend money, you can build yourself a strong and entertaining club capable of winning games as well as increasing ratings and filling stadiums. Both the Galaxy and Red Bulls have invested millions in trying to build teams unlike any they have fielded before and both have succeeded. You could argue that the current Galaxy and Red Bulls teams are the strongest in each club’s history.
No, it isn't the only way to go about building a team. Real Salt Lake and the Columbus Crew have built two of the league's best teams on the strength of strong drafts and smart foreign signings. Neither has spent mega-millions the way the Red Bulls and Galaxy have, but as more teams make full use of the league's salary and roster changes, we should see more teams featuring top-flight talent and boasting stronger teams than we’ve ever seen in MLS.
For now, we have the Red Bulls and Galaxy in what could be an MLS Cup final preview. The Galaxy has struggled since the World Cup after starting the season looking untouchable, but still carry the mantle of Western Conference leader. The Red Bulls have grown stronger in recent months with the help of the arrivals of high-priced signings Henry and Rafael Marquez.
The match will boast intriguing battles all over the field. You have Marquez and Donovan renewing their long-standing battle. You have Omar Gonzalez, one of the league’s best defenders and brightest American prospects, going up against Juan Pablo Angel. You have MLS scoring leader Edson Buddle going up against MLS rookie of the year candidate and U.S. national team prospect Tim Ream.
That New York and Los Angeles enter Friday’s match as two of the better teams in MLS is the fulfillment of a dream for a league that has spent 15 years waiting to have strong teams in the nation’s biggest media markets.
The Galaxy has won before, with two MLS Cup titles and a tradition of success in the Western Conference. The New York team has been the one struggling to keep up its end of the bi-coastal bargain. The Red Bulls have shown flashes in years past, and have even given us some memorable matches with the Galaxy, but New York-LA has never boasted the type of rivalry in MLS that it has enjoyed in other top sports leagues.
That could change Friday night as two teams with championship aspirations and star power collide in the type of high-profile match we could expect to see more of in MLS in years to come.
Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering Major League Soccer and the U.S. national team.