Osvaldo Alonso

Loons Calling: How Minnesota United is Exceeding Expectations by Carl Carpenter

Making the step up from the NASL into Major League Soccer can be extremely difficult (commiserations Cincinnati fans), and Minnesota’s first two seasons in MLS are an excellent example of this. Defensively, the Loons struggled to keep the ball out of the net consistently (Statistically the worst defense in the league in 2017, and tied for third worst in 2018). Adrian Heath’s insistence on playing a high-risk/high-reward brand of soccer was seen as extremely foolhardy considering the construction of his roster, and his history of “brand over results” which ultimately cost him his job at Orlando City. 

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Expected Narratives: There's a Bad Loon on the Rise by Ian L.

It finally happened! I got one right last week! I did! I was doing a sarcasm and lo and behold I got a take dead on. ANALYSIS! Yes Atlanta and Cincinnati did in fact turn out to be a low scoring affair between two evenly matched sides. It feels like six months ago I was called a straight up hater for raising my eyebrows at De Boer’s most recent entries on his resume, but now discussing whether or not he knows what he’s doing is the take du jour. What can I say folks? I was bashing FDB before most of you had even heard of him. I have it on vinyl.

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Seattle Sounders 2019 Season Preview by Ian L.

I suppose that by Seattle’s lofty standards you could consider last season to be a bit of a disappointment. For the first time in three years, they weren’t contesting the MLS Cup final, having been knocked from the competition in heartbreaking fashion by Portland on penalties after 120 minutes of what can very reasonably be called the most exciting playoff match in team history. So how do you bounce back? Is there actually anything to bounce back from? Why don’t teams have long-sleeved jersey options all of a sudden? What’s actually going on with Adidas anyway? If the Seattle Sounders were a character in Game of Thrones which one would they be? We shall endeavor to answer some of these questions within.

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Minnesota United FC 2019 Season Preview by Ryan Anderson

I have the unfortunate pleasure of being both a Minnesota United fan and a soccer analytics nerd. MNUFC was bad last year…and the year before that. Historically bad. Despite how genuinely entertaining their home games are to attend, my fanaticism ached for the Loons to cease their fruitless flapping. But every so often I hear the voice of reason telling me to come to my senses and wake to the comforting reality: “they could have been worse.”

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Postseason Preview: Seattle Sounders FC by Ian L.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. The start to the 2018 campaign was, at best, a complete and utter disaster. Expectations were high for a team that had just made its second consecutive MLS Cup final appearance. You don’t usually see trains derail without gaining any significant speed or momentum, but somehow that’s exactly what happened here.

Jordan Morris, coming off of an injury and a disappointing sophomore campaign looked primed to return to the form that saw him capture Rookie of the Year honors in 2016, instead he suffered another devastating season ending injury and Seattle went from dreams of CCL Glory to that one where you show up to class naked and have to take a final you didn’t study for.

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Seattle Sounders 2017 Season Preview by Benjamin Harrison

One is tempted - given the Seattle Sounders' dramatic recovery of a seemingly lost 2016 season to seize a playoff berth, and, ultimately, the MLS Cup - to take those last 14 games (plus the playoffs) as the best sign of what the team has to offer in the coming season. But with new acquisitions bolstering the bench, players developing in key positions, others returning from injury, and still others adjusting adjusting to the league, the team could easily see improvements over the championship campaign. Designated Player Clint Dempsey was available for only four games of Seattle's stretch run thanks to a heart condition, but is now cleared to play. Brad Evans struggled with injuries throughout the last half of the season. Young starters Jordan Morris and Cristian Roldan are a year older and more experienced. Left back Joevin Jones is entering his physical prime. Even if the Sounders have not put the dire days fully behind them, this is a team that should expect to make the playoffs and contend in the postseason.

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Ozzie Alonso Is Good Again and Not For The Same Old Reasons by Harrison Crow

From 2009-2014 there were few terrifying midfielders as deadly to other opponents and frustrating to opposing supporters as Ozzie Alonso of the Seattle Sounders. Not only did he deliver crunching tackles into attackers but he also pulled away a fair number of them with the ball going the other way. To Seattle, and what they aim to accomplish, he’s been a vital cog.

The last two years have started to point towards a declining if only in terms of the statistics in which he had previously tended to collect. Coupled with that decline of numbers was a rise in fouls committed. These rise in fouls could be attributed to the referees calling him tighter with his noted reputation to be rough and tumble. The other explanation could be him losing a step and becoming slower creating an increase of rash decisions. This is something that we’ve seen with Kyle Beckerman and to a lesser extent Rico Clark. 

More on MLS's one-man wrecking ball after the jump.

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2016 ASA PREVIEW: SEATTLE SOUNDERS by Harrison Crow

It’s fair to say that the Sounders are one of the most despised team in MLS. But strip away the fans, Alonso’s crunching tackles, the cheeky Dempsey smirk, the league moves that “just so happen” to coincide with things going the Sounders way (as *if* by magic!) and what do you have? 

The answer is simple: a team that makes smart business decisions and continually puts their organization in the best possible position to consistently win games.

But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. More after the jump.

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2015 ASA Preview: Seattle Sounders by Harrison Crow

*xG = expected goals, xA = expected assists, xGD = expected goal differential. For more information see our xGoals by Team page.

By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)

I am a Sounders fan. Let me allow you in on a little secret... there are plenty of people that dislike Sounders fans, and that's warranted—most of the time. There is no one more ready to tear apart a Sounders fan than... well, another Sounders fan. You think you're clever with your little “ACES” slogan or whatever but by the time this is over I'll have more angry comments and hate mail from Sounders fans than I do non-Sounders fans.

There are still supporters wondering why Sigi Schmid has a job. Mind you, the Sounders just won two out of the three trophies they were afforded the opportunity to win last season. Pay all that no mind. We'll argue and talk down and be disparaging to each other for whether or not Brad Evans is good or if Obafemi Martins works hard enough or if he really is 30 years old or not. We're self loathing, scum of the earth and no one hates us as much as we do. And if you haven't figured it out by now, we invented hating the Seattle Sounders.

Last year they didn't win MLS Cup and that's a huge indictment on the organization, front office, coaching staff and players because supporters put such a premium on each season and every single match. Supporters have the highest, and probably a bit unrealistic, expectations every year. Some may choose to look at that as being entitled and I can certainly see the fine line that is walked carefully by many supporters in their realm.

Scoring goals, winning games, hosting cups. These things are expectations of wearing the Sounders badge. The goal every year is to lift the MLS Cup regardless of the probabilities or likelihood of such scenarios from the start. It's setting the bar high and never wavering from that, and that, you have to admit, is ballsy and kind of cool.

Looking back at the 2014 season there are a few things that will stand out, but the one thing above all else is NOT that on the last day the Sounders defeated the LA Galaxy at home to take the trophy. No, more interesting to me is the fact that Seattle kept pace with a club that according to many of our measurements was the best team in MLS, perhaps of all-time. You can argue about Chicago, New England or Columbus in the early, mid and late-00's. DC United in the late 90's or periodically through the years. You could talk about the 2012 version of the Galaxy. I don't care who is actually “the best”. Seattle kept pace with a team that is flat out HISTORIC and that's incredibly impressive.

Seattle didn't have one stretch of more than two games where they didn't have a win. Their biggest slump was taking only seven of 21 points from July 5th to August 20th which they in turn rebounded with four straight wins.

The Coach

Sigi Schmid is maybe the most under-appreciated coach in US soccer history. He's always considered a second fiddle to Bruce Arena. Despite being one of the winningest coaches in MLS history he's always having something he does questioned, and regardless of how he wins it's never good enough or classy enough or “soccer” enough.

Schmid to me is a coach that is constantly evolving. Looking at the fact the Sounders scored the second most goals (30) in MLS in the final 30 minutes of a match and conceded the least (10) during that same time period speaks to me. I felt his substitutions in the second half where the best by any coach in MLS last season and I just wish he was a bit more respected by both home and opposing fans. When all they have is weight jokes... maybe, it's not such a bad thing.

The Goalkeeper

I've played the back-and-forth game a lot with Stefen Frei. Our numbers last year didn't favor him as Frei accounted for four additional goals by himself. Again, there is a sample size to consider and it's not to say he didn't perform exceptionally well in the playoffs. I personally think, though there are numbers that can be crunched to verify, that he performed better down the stretch of the season once the rust of not playing the past two seasons was shaken free.

That said, the Sounders needed a back-up keeper and made the move to bring in Troy Perkins this off-season. Perkins has been a starter at his last four clubs, but his time in Montreal wasn't great (we account for him adding a full five goals above the average keeper) and while his defense didn't help him (saw nearly six shots on goal a game, top-five during his tenure) neither did being the highest paid keeper in MLS. I'm interested to see if having Perkins will push Frei to be better than last season or create personnel decision and complications for the coaching staff.

The Defenders

Obviously no more DeAndre Yedlin, he's gone. Gone, gone, gone. Yedlin wasn't just fast, he got to a lot of loose, 50/50 balls. He won 53% of his tackles and was in the t-17th in interceptions with 78 and 4th among full backs. It's not that those specific stats yield much difference in expected goals against but he did a great job of helping Seattle retain possession and create shots as quickly as possible. He's going to be missed for more than singular physical attribute—and the cool hair cuts.

Yedlin's absence has given way to the club signing Tyrone Mears, former Bolton Wanderer. So... yeah. He runs like a soccer player, so I've been told. Any other data can remain on the sideline to this point because it's all from England and we don't like data from them because it's all in the metric system.

Also, filed under news I'm sure you already knew, Zach Scott is old! Love the guy and I really love that he's somehow gotten better every year after the age of 30. But the time has come that Seattle has to gameplan that he can't be the fall back guy. The heir apparent for that role seems to be the ever versatile Brad Evans,  a guy who most know from his time at right back with the USMNT. He's great with the ball at his feet, was 18th in total aerial duels--winning 60% of them--and had an great foul/win ratio of 1:1. How that translates to being a defender, I guess we'll see.

Lastly, there is Leo Gonzalez whom I can't believe is no longer getting Costa Rica call-ups. His defense is among the best at full back in MLS. The key is health and keeping healthy. Dave Tenney, Ravi Ramineni and the rest of the impressive Seattle Sounders sports science team have to find a way to keep Gonzalez on the pitch for those last five or six games in the playoffs. Basically, I just want a chance to reference Dave and Ravi because I think they're pretty neat fellas.

The Midfielders

Lamar Neagle is perhaps one of my favorite things about the Seattle Sounders. Yes, I know Oba and Clint play there too. I'll get to all of that. Over 2500 minutes Neagle projects to create about 10 goals a season. That's not a crazy amount but the fun thing is that whenever he's given the minutes he does all that AND a bag of chips.... not even Lays, no grease!

I wonder if Neagle might be a top-five wide midfielder/winger in MLS. And not only are you, the RSL or Portland fan that is, for some reason or another, reading this article and wanting to barf, but so are most Sounders fans who right now have at least three fingers counting other players in the league they'd rather have.

Look, I'll give you Brad Davis and Graham Zusi for sure, but Lloyd Sam, Darlington Nagbe? I like both a lot and on pure talent you have an argument, but I'm not sure either are better than Neagle or that there is substantial data that proves either theory. Maybe, Ethan Finlay. Maybe. This is seriously an interesting conversation with you start to think about it on a production level.

Real quick, Ozzie Alonso was on a bit of a downward trend with minutes the last four years. From 2011 to 2013 each of his seasons saw decreased minutes and more injuries, which was frighting for any supporter to see happen to a vital member of the team.

Alonso finally breached the 2800 minute mark again (for only the second time in his six season career) in 2014 but is now looking at missing more time after having surgery on his groin. The question I have not just is whether or not the Sounders are going to be able to recover from a losing out on Alonso for any amount of games but if we're going to see that once great ball winner return to be actually great.

The Forwards

I'm not sure two players in Major League soccer have as much fun as Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey do while they are on the pitch together. 

Still, when you look at our expected goals and see that we tally Oba with scoring three more goals than the expected goals model predicted last season, that isn't just luck. His Shot leverage (.162), which is the average location and expected likelihood that a shot would score, is the 10th highest in our four year data set. Meaning that Oba doesn't take lucky shots. He's made some lucky shots, but the ones he makes aren't all luck. He obviously has an immense amount of skill in repeatedly getting to his goal scoring locations. While the model hints at some regression, it should be an interesting case study to see if he can continually beat the model and what we can take from how he does it.

Clint Dempsey is awesome too, and expected goals loves what he does more than Martins. That's because of two things: volume and quality. He creates an incredible amount of shots from all sorts of great locations, and while his shot leverage is four points lower than Oba, he makes it up in nearly two and half additional shots created a game.

Summary

Seattle has all the pieces to continue being really good and they didn't have a lot of roster churn which I think is vital in MLS. It makes a lot of sense to consider them the team to beat out of the Western Conference and possibly the MLS Cup favorite to this point. 

The thing that really distinguished them as a club for me last year was their expected goals against was about in line with what it was last year and the amount of goals they gave up regressed back to the mean. I'm sure a lot of that had to do with using Chad Marshall, but don't underestimate the amount of heartache that defense went through between using the Djimi Traore, Scott tandem and Dylan Remick at full back, too. Finishing 6th in MLS isn't anything to sneeze at and you shouldn't sneeze at things anyway, as it's rather gross.

The team's expected goals in even game states fell back a tiny bit. That is to say the likelihood that the team scores before their opponent. I don't think it's anything to worry about. The take away from an expected goals point of view last year is that they're not as good an attacking team as they seemed, but they're also a better defense team than they seemed, too.

While a first place finish and competing for the Supporters Shield is very possible, I think a 2nd or 3rd place finish is probably more likely for Seattle in 2015.

5 Reasons Why You Should Watch Major League Soccer by Harrison Crow

So you’re excited about the US Men’s National team breaking through the group stage? It may even be that you find yourself liking this whole soccer thing. That’s not surprising; most Americans you talk to that follow soccer, including myself, have had that specific moment that sealed commitment, a moment often from a past World Cup. Whether that be the 2002 World Cup run in South Korea or the 2010 heart break against Ghana that brought you to the “beautiful game," because of the placement that soccer has in the standings of American culture, it’s just common to have these iconic moments associated with the sport. The thing that distinguishes people like us from the rest of the excited US supporters across the nation during this time is that, once the World Cup tournament concludes, we'll still want more.

Well, fear not because there is a serious and thriving league here in the US. If you are or have ever been called a ‘Euro snob’, then you can probably stop reading now. You’re going to argue and just generally disagree with most everything I have to say. So what’s the point? I’m not trolling you and it’s great that you like soccer in Europe. But we’re to talk to these new recruits about soccer in the United States. So here we go. Here are five reasons and examples about soccer in the US, and why you should follow it after the World Cup.

 

1)   Soccer in the United States is actually good.

Once upon a time Major League Soccer was viewed as a retirement league. A place where aged stars came for one last pay day once they were out of their prime. It was viewed as such simply because it was exactly that. It wasn’t that long ago, and because of that there some pretty common misconceptions about MLS.

“It used to be that just CONCACAF [The Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football] internationals and retirees came here. In 2014 Brazilians, Spaniards, Englishmen (that just miss out), Australians, Persians (Iran), and Irish all play in MLS, and they also play roles for their home countries in the World Cup, or are of World Cup quality.”

Look, most people that don’t like MLS likely have not watched more than a couple of games; which is silly considering they base all their opinions on those few games. It would be like me basing the entirety of the NBA on a Cleveland and New Orleans games or New Jersey and Phoenix. Neither of which are what we would call riveting match-ups.

The quality of MLS is improving every year. If you believe MLS still to be a ‘retirement league’ or a ‘first division with watered down depth’ you haven’t really invested any time in getting your facts straight. Truth is most people are forming opinions based on a small sample size from years ago.

Looking at numbers produced by Dave Clark and the statistician known by the handle Sidereal, one finds strong indicators that MLS has just continued to improved over the last few years. The league is gaining traction to being near par with some quality European soccer leagues.

2) MLS is on the verge of getting even better and it starts with increased wages.

“Although not often addressed, there's no question that achieving that vision will require increasing MLS player salaries to attract more top players. It's just a question of how fast, and the salaries may need to increase much sooner than 2022.”

“…”

“What could the future MLS look like? Or what would it need to look like for the Don Garber to see his vision meet reality? Let's build the reality. Let's assume by 2022 the MLS will pay their players 50% of total revenues, in line with the current Bundesliga level. MLS won't need to reach revenues of the Bundesliga to be considered a top league in the world, but they will need to be close to be paying quality players closer to market rate. Let's assume that MLS can achieve Don's dream by reaching Ligue 1 revenues but paying Bundesliga salaries. Finally, let's assume that Ligue 1 revenues grow at a modest 4% per year until 2022.”

“…”

“The target MLS revenue growth of 16% is very aggressive but Don Garber has a good amount of low hanging fruit to pick. The new rumored TV deal is for about $100M in 2015 and would increase the 2012 revenues (the basis for these numbers) by nearly 15%. The next TV deal might fetch the same 15% growth or more. MLS has also announced a five-team expansion plan which will bring at least 26% growth as the teams come on. Without doing much, MLS can get almost a third of the way to the goal according to my calculations.”

Okay, I pray that Jared will forgive me for lifting so many of his brilliant words from his article. Go read the whole piece because it’s great. Unfortunately it’s a bit of an involved article, and I just wanted to frame a great thought from his head.

The United States first division is growing, and growing at a substantial rate. That is due to the injection of money and the fact they can start paying players what their worth. This brings in more players from all over the place that can use the league as not just a place to end their career, but really to start it.

A new Collective Bargaining Agreement will be negotiated this year after the season is over. I get that most of us sports fan are sick of labor talks and news of player strikes. I read you loud and clear. The thing that makes this different is simply that the league gets better with increase salary caps for clubs and the increase of minimum player wages. I don’t want there to be a work stoppage, but with the increased revenue from the TV deal that MLS just signed, they owe it to the players and fans to further the cause of soccer in this country.

 

3a) It’s not just about overpaying old guys to get eyeballs, MLS is acquiring young and exciting talent…

The main example you could probably point to for young guys coming into the league is Fredy Montero. Montero has transitioned over the last 18 months from one of the MLS top scorers to being a perennial talent in Portugal. Montero, who spent four very good seasons in Seattle, had the opportunity to make mistakes in a league that pushed his abilities enough even four years ago.

Montero’s arrival was followed by an influx of young international talent.

Darlington Nagbe, for example, is an international and former collegiate star at the University of Akron. He has been a critical piece for the Portland Timbers, is one of the most creative and eccentric talents in all of MLS.

Fabian Castillo, the Columbian winger with plenty of technical prowess, passed up opportunities in Europe for a stable playing environment and a chance for consistent playing time in Dallas.

Deshorn Brown is a high-end prototypical speedster from Jamaica. In his first season with the Colorado Rapids, he lead his club in goals scored and took them to the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.

For every Montero, however, there will always be a player that just doesn’t work out. The examples are many. In spite of that, MLS has begun the reverse transition from retirement league to what many would call a feeder league. While many, if not most, would not purpose to spend the prime of their careers in MLS (see point: 3b), they can still make a fine career for themselves and good wages because of how the league has grown to reward these players.

More and more young players are coming here in the vein of Montero, now viewing the US as an opportunity to get on the radar of European scouts and develop a pathway to launch a more lucrative career while still having stability and having the chance to prove them in a physical league.

“The increased visibility in M.L.S. is attractive to the players, who also benefit from the league’s financial stability compared with some leagues in their home countries.” (Leander Schaerlaeckens, NY Times)

It’s true that MLS still has more players retire at the end of the year from soccer than will transfer out of its league, but the players that are being transferred out are going to better and better clubs.

 

3b) ...and some of that league talent is even in its prime.

As I said, there aren’t many who look at MLS and think “gosh, I could have a good living in the US in the prime of my career." However there are a few where the stars lined up perfectly and they've chosen to play in America rather than going abroad with their talents. Such examples are:

Diego Valeri, the creative midfielder from Argentina, has been a force since arriving in Portland. And teamed with their young budding star, Nagbe, they're a spectacular pair just to watch.

Juninho, the Brazilian, is often glossed over in terms of the whole league, but his consistency in LA and his ability to play both ways centrally is fantastic. He could be earning much more abroad but the allure of being on an iconic franchise and coached by one of the best US coaches in the business, Bruce Arena, keeps him in LA... for now.

Osvaldo Alonso is a unique case. His heroic escape from Cuba and passport situation limit his options abroad, but believe me... he has them. Yet, he loves Seattle and MLS. He's easily a top-3 midfielder in the entire league and still has a couple prime seasons left in the tank.

Matt Besler, the Sporting KC and USMNT centerback has had chances to go abroad, and yet here he is in his prime. This has happened by way of MLS introducing retention funds to pay for... well, people whom they define as worthy of using it. His salary relative to the cap has been kept manageable because of those funds and he loves playing in Kansas City. He's possibly and probably the best defender in MLS.

 

4) It’s not just about foreign talent; we have a thriving league to grow future US national team talent.

Players like Shane O’Neil (Colorado), Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake), Benji Joya (Chicago) and DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle) are just a few names that play significant roles on their MLS clubs, and they still can't drink legally in this country. You could almost have thrown Will Trapp (Columbus) on this list too, but he busted the beer-drinking landmark at the beginning of the year.

All four have been featured in U-23 matches gearing up for the Olympics, just two short years away, and all look to be prominent members of future World Cup teams. There are others worth mentioning also, but the point here is that MLS is starting to become a facilitator of growing US talent. That’s important.

That doesn’t even highlight players such as Gyasi Zardes or Jack McInerney, who are both big-time names in the league and may not qualify as members of the Olympic roster. It also doesn’t include 19-year old striking sensation Diego Fagundez, who just graduated from high school two weeks ago and just entered his fourth season as a member of the New England Revolution. Sadly enough, he is still technically not a US citizen…yet.

 

5)  There is parity, and possibly more so here than in any other relevant league in the world.

“The three factors above were weighted equally and assigned a standard deviation (either + or -) for each league and each metric. Add them up and MLS is indeed the most competitive league in this 15-league sample. Interestingly, Brazil was not far behind. Of course, there are multiple ways one can measure parity and competitiveness, and this is just one of many approaches.”  - Alex Olshansky

 

“This consistency, when combined with MLS’s overall lower variation, results in a lower proportion of the MLS’s points variation resulting from actual talent differences. The overall impact is that MLS table results are nearly a 50/50 split between talent and luck.” - Zach Slaton

Everyone hates the Yankees and yet wants to be them. It’s one of the greatest catch-22’s in sports. We all hate the winner---unless, of course, it’s us. MLS has developed a single entity program that just doesn’t lend itself to helping clubs that win, but it helps those that do not. In fact it’s worse to finish middle of the pack in the league than to finish at the back.

The league subsidies the salary cap of certain teams based on the order in which the teams finished. Teams towards the bottom get certain stipend (called allocation money) that assists in pay down contracts for cap purposes. Teams at the top also are awarded this money as a means of deepening the team for international competition in CONCACAF Champions League. This enables them to compete against the Mexican League teams that often tend to be superior in talent depth.

This all creates an environment on a yearly basis that creates volatility in casting predictions and makes the whole process rather difficult. A team can be good and have bad luck (see: LA Galaxy) or it can be mediocre with good luck (see: Real Salt Lake, according to Matthias), or it can have best of both worlds (see: Seattle Sounders). The beauty is that teams are never that far out of it, and never that far ahead.

The team that serve as the best example of this anything-can-happen league is DC United. Our readers had predicted prior to the season that they would miss the play-offs and would be generally sit near the bottom. In fact 15% thought they would end up dead last, opposed to the less than 1% that thought they would win the conference. Currently sitting nearly halfway through the season, they are in good position to fight for that very chance. And last year, this is the same club that nearly set all types of records for being anemic and generally pathetic in their overall performance.

There are few, if any, instances in which you can point to a club going from worst to best in a single season. The 1990 Atlanta Braves come to mind for me, but thinking abroad in the world of soccer, that seems improbable if not all together impossible. In MLS, it's a yearly event.

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These are just a few reasons on why you should turn your attention to Major League Soccer after the World Cup. I'm sure others could add to this list, and generally speaking I know I missed things that others would include. But in talking with so many people down here in the South, I felt compelled to at least try to provide a this motivation to get involved in a dynamic league right here in the United States.