MLS: 23 new things in 2023

Major League Soccer kicks off its 28th season on Saturday. Here's a look at what's new on and off the field.

New network.

MLS Season Pass — the new network on Apple TV — moves into full swing on Saturday with 12 games (the Timbers-Sporting KC game has been postponed until Monday due to the record snowstorm that hit Portland), all but one kicking off at 7:30 p.m. local time, creating a five-hour window of non-stop MLS action across four time zones.

MLS Season Pass will feature "MLS 360," an English-language whip-around show to provide live look-ins and updates from every game over the five hours. Shoulder programming will include “MLS Countdown,” a pregame show available in English and Spanish that will air in 30- or 15-minute segments to preview all the games coming up during each of the four broadcast windows (ET, CT, MT, PT), and  “MLS Wrap-Up,” a live postgame show also available in English and Spanish at the end of all the evening's action at 12:30 a.m. ET.

MLS Season Pass will offer free coverage of all matches on the opening weekend of play. It is a subscription service, but about six matches should be available for free viewing during each week of the regular season.

Apple will pay MLS $2.5 billion over the 10 years of the agreement, and the two parties are spending millions more on creating the league's own network. Included are new studios for the three game-day shows in Manhattan's Spanish Harlem.

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Sacha Kljestan: Leaving the field after a 17-year pro career for the broadcast booth
Danielle Slaton: Keeping soccer in her life forever, the Apple TV appeal, and her playing career highlights

New team.

St. Louis has a long tradition of soccer — five of the 11 starters when the USA beat England, 1-0, at the 1950 World Cup were St. Louis natives — but St. Louis City SC has surpassed all expectations, drawing more than 60,000 deposits for the 19,000 available season tickets at CityPark, the 22,500-seat stadium in the city’s Downtown West neighborhood. The remaining tickets for the March 4 home opener against Charlotte FC sold out in five minutes.

MLS's first majority female-led ownership group has invested heavily in the team, paying an expansion fee of $200 million for the rights join the league and $458 million on the privately funded stadium, which is part of a 30-plus acre campus that also includes a high performance center, three training fields, a two-story retail outlet and the MLS team’s corporate offices.

The lead-up to St. Louis City's launch hasn't been without issues. Covid forced MLS to push back the launch of its 28th and 29th teams by a year. (Charlotte FC debuted in 2022.) CityPark faced power issues last fall after water damaged the stadium during a trenching operation. On top of that, Centene Corporation pulled out of an agreement to be the stadium naming-rights sponsor.

The first-year team has a distinctly German feel. Lutz Pfannenstiel, St. Louis City's sporting director, was hired from Fortuna Düsseldorf, where he held a front-office position, and he has brought in former Borussia Dortmund keeper Roman Burki as captain, Brazilian forward Klauss from Hoffenheim and midfielder Eduard Loewen from Hertha Berlin as the team's three Designated Players.

Lutz Pfannenstiel: St. Louis soccer's new boss wrote a unique book about the global game

New playoff format.

On Tuesday, MLS introduced a new format and schedule for the 2023 playoffs.

MLS has expanded the playoff field from 14 to 18 teams, adding a wild-card round and a best-of-3 series (no ties!) to Round One. The changes will increase the number of playoff games from 13 in 2022 to 25-33, depending on how many series go to a third game in Round One.

The break for the November FIFA window — Nov. 13-21 — will effectively cut the 2023 playoffs into two, one with the wild-card round and Round One and the other with the rush to MLS Cup, featuring the single-game conference semifinals and finals.

New coaches.

Four teams will have new coaches on the sidelines in 2023. What is unique about the hires is they all have previous MLS head coaching experience.

4 Luchi Gonzalez. San Jose Earthquakes (FC Dallas 2019-21)
5 Hernan Losada, CF Montréal (D.C. United 2021-2022)
6 Wilfried Nancy, Columbus Crew (CF Montreal 2021-2022)
7 Ben Olsen, Houston Dynamo (D.C. United 2010-20)

New summer break.

The Leagues Cup isn't new -- it was played in 2019 and 2021 -- but what is new about the 2023 edition is that league will break for five weeks to allow for all 29 MLS teams to compete against Liga MX's 18 teams.

Here's how it will work:

• Dates: July 21-Aug. 19.
• Group play: 15 3-team groups (13 with two MLS teams and one Liga MX team and two with two Liga MX teams and one MLS team), 2 games each, 2 teams advance.
• First-round byes: LAFC and Pachuca.
• Knockout phase: Five rounds, each single games.
• Hosts: All games will be played in U.S.
• CCL qualification: Winner enters round of 16, 2nd- and 3rd-place teams qualify for Round One.
• TV: MLS Season Pass (except Mexico) and Univision networks.

New Designated Players.

Besides the three St. Louis City players, seven other DP signings will make their MLS debuts in 2023:

9 Evander
, Portland (cost Timbers a reported club-record $10 million from Denmark's FC Midtjylland).
10 Martin Ojeda, Orlando City (joins DPs Facundo Torres and Ercan Kara on the Lions' frontline).
11 Enzo Copetti, Charlotte FC (coming off 22-goal season in 2022 for Argentina's Racing Club).
12 Mateusz Klich, D.C. United (helped lead Leeds to promotion to the Premier League).
13 Andreas Maxso, Colorado (rare defender to sign as DP after helping Brondby win 2021 Danish title).
14 Dante Vanzeir, NY Red Bulls (scored 48 goals in three seasons with Belgium's Union St. Gilloise).
15 Giorgos Giakoumakis (below), Atlanta United (won Golden Boot titles in Dutch Eredivisie and Scottish Premiership)

New boss.

The biggest offseason move might have been Garth Lagerwey's decision to leave the Sounders, who won MLS titles in 2016 and 2019 and the Concacaf Champions League in 2022 with him in charge of the soccer operations, to Atlanta United.

Lagerwey, who worked at Real Salt Lake before he joined the Sounders in 2015, will be the president at Atlanta United, in charge of soccer and business decisions at MLS's best-supported club. He will have big shoes to fill, replacing Darren Eales, who left for Newcastle United last year.

The former MLS goalkeeper will face big expectations following his success with RSL and the Sounders, and he'll have considerable pressure. The Five Stripes slumped to 10-14-10 in 2022, finishing with their second losing record in the last three years.

New formation

The Philadelphia Union, the preseason favorite of most experts, returns every starter from last year's team that was seconds away from winning MLS Cup.

It also returns three of its U.S. U-20 standouts — Jack McGlynn, Quinn Sullivan and Brandan Craig — and acquired MLS veterans Damion Lowe, Andres Perea and Joaquín Torres to give head coach Jim Curtin plenty of options.

The Union has won a lot of games with diamond-midfield in its 4-4-2 formation, but those options allowed Curtin to experiment in preseason with a 5-3-2 formation to get both Craig and McGlynn in the starting lineup and a 4-3-2-1 formation.

“Formations, for me, are simply starting points for players,” Curtin told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Whether you’re 10 yards further up the field or 10 yards to the left or right shouldn’t really matter.”

New free agents.

Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, more players are eligible for free agency within MLS — players as young as 24 years old and with only five years of service — producing the deepest free-agent class in history.

Of the 130 players eligible for free agency — 27% of the 2022 player pool — here are the top players who switched MLS clubs ...

18 Derrick Etienne Jr., Atlanta United (MLS Cup 2020 champion with Columbus)
19 Matt Hedges, Toronto FC (2016 MLS Defender of the Year with FC Dallas)
20 Sean Johnson, Toronto FC (captain of MLS Cup 2021 champion NYCFC)
21 Aaron Long, LAFC (2016 MLS Defender of the Year with the Red Bulls)
22 Gyasi Zardes, Austin FC (MLS champion with LA Galaxy in 2014 and Columbus in 2020)

New name, new seats.

The Houston East End stadium that is home to MLS's Dynamo and the NWSL's Dash, has a new name — Shell Energy Stadium — and plenty of upgrades.

The stadium has new mesh seats — about 30 degrees cooler than the old ones! — an expanded premium area with an all-inclusive air-conditioned club and electric vehicle charging stations.

Everything should be ready for the Dynamo's season opener March 18 against Austin 18.

CityPark Photo: Bill Barrett/

2 comments about "MLS: 23 new things in 2023".
  1. Matthew Shaddock, February 24, 2023 at 12:16 p.m.

    Great summary! Thanks! This is what I like about soccer America. It doesn't feel like boosterism... it feels like a balanced portrait of a frowning league. Still has things I hate, but it's our top pro league so I support it. 

  2. Matthew Shaddock replied, February 24, 2023 at 12:16 p.m.

    *growing league

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