The Major League Soccer will no longer compete with the National Football League for ratings (just kidding). It was a long, thrilling season, but the MLS finally crowned a new champion.
Prior to the beginning of the season, New York City FC wasn’t among the soccer betting favorites to dethrone Columbus. That’s just a friendly reminder that nothing is impossible. Not even winning the MLS Cup despite finishing 22 points out of first place.
New York City FC was the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference. They weren’t the top scoring team. They didn’t own the best defensive record. So, what was their secret? Well, New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio has the answer.
“The team motto is ‘For the City’ and this team lives it out. They inspire us, they make us feel hope even in the toughest moments. This is an amazing team for the ages,” said de Blasio during a celebration ceremony.
He’s not wrong. NYCFC never gave up. Not even when the Portland Timbers sent the MLS Championship Game into overtime in the last minute. NYCFC fought bravely during extra time and won the penalty shootout 4-2.
I predicted that New York was going to win the title game, but not on penalties. Let’s be honest, that way was much more exciting.
Valentin Castellanos scored the first goal during regular time. He finished as the league’s top scorer with 22 goals. He could be on the move to Europe, as even Manchester City head coach Pep Guardiola said that Castellanos is ready.
Maximiliano Moralez also deserves a lot of credit. He finished as the team’s leader in assists with 13. That’s only one less than Carles Gil, who finished atop the league’s chart with 14.
The Colorado Rapids and Real Salt Lake also deserve congratulations.
Colorado finished atop the Western Conference with 61 points. Prior to the beginning of the season, the Seattle Sounders were the betting online favorites to finish on top. Yes, the Rapids lost in the conference semifinals, but they were a lot of fun to watch.
Real Salt Lake advanced to the postseason in seventh place, but that didn’t stop them from slaying some giants. They eliminated the Sounders and Sporting KC, the second- and third-place teams in the Western Conference.
They lost to the Timbers in the conference final but put up a good fight.
Individual awards don’t mean much without winning the title, but they’re important.
Bruce Arena won Best Coach after leading the New England Revolution to a league-best 22-7-5 record in the regular season. New England clinched a spot in the postseason several weeks prior to the end of the regular season. Unfortunately for them, NYCFC crossed their path.
Carles Gil, New England’s midfielder, won Most Valuable Player. As I mentioned before, he finished as the league’s assists leader with 14. The third Spanish player to win the award, he also scored four goals.
I think Castellanos deserved MVP, but Gil is an excellent player. The MLS is becoming an attractive market for players in their prime and that’s always going to be a positive thing.
Defensively, veteran Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC) won Best Defender while Matt Turner (New England) won Best Goalkeeper. Nashville allowed only 33 goals in 34 regular-season games while the Revolution conceded 41.
Early Favorites for Next Season
The reigning champions will always deserve respect, even after Columbus didn’t even qualify for the postseason. If Castellanos leaves, New York City FC must sign a veteran striker right away. They won’t have time for experiments.
New England has something to prove and will be stronger. Arena is one of the best MLS coaches of all time, so don’t you dare to underestimate them. The Sounders are a similar case and don’t forget that they played in four of the last six finals.
If you want a dark horse to include in your soccer pick, I like Atlanta United. The team improved a lot since Gonzalo Pineda took over and their roster is very talented.
The 2022 regular season is expected to begin on Feb. 26 and conclude on Oct. 9. Keep in mind that the 2022 World Cup begins on Nov. 21, meaning all leagues must accommodate their schedule.
Be sure to constantly check the sportsbook to find the odds for the 2022 MLS season.