2019 MLS Season Review: 8 Big Talking Points
The 24th MLS season concluded last Sunday as Seattle Sounders won its second ever MLS Cup. It’s been an exhilarating ride, with new franchises and plenty of goals. COPA90 decided to take a look back at eight big talking points.

Successful Seattle 

The post-season took an unexpected turn with the final being contested between Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC for the third time in four seasons. Both teams experienced a crazy run in the playoffs, from Toronto’s road wins against the Eastern Conference’s top seeds NYCFC and Atlanta United, to the Sounders taking down 2019 Supporters' Shield winners, LAFC. 

Despite their unorthodox journeys, it was another successful final in Centurylink Field, with a near record-breaking attendance of 69,274 fans. This wasn’t a surprise to many, given Sounders have one of the biggest fan bases in the league. 

“If I don’t stay, nobody will remember what MLS is.” 

It’s obvious Zlatan’s presence provided plenty of entertainment this season. The world’s most confident player made many headline after headline – and, as usual, they weren’t solely limited to his on-pitch antics. 

LA Galaxy is known for picking up big names – think like David Beckham and Steven Gerrard – so it’s no surprise that Zlatan was signed. The 38-year-old Swede scored 30 goals this season, bringing Galaxy back to the post-season after three years away. 

However, they failed to advance past hometown rival LAFC. Since then, Zlatan and the Galaxy have mutually agreed to part ways. Will he stay in MLS or go to another league? All we know is that wherever he goes, he will almost certainly entertain.

Carlos Vela’s Magic

Carlos Vela arrived in LAFC this season and transformed the franchise. He was named the Most Valuable Player of the season – a well deserved accomplishment – and led the league in scoring with 34 goals for the Supporters' Shield winners. 

Vela established a new reputation of his own in MLS after being heavily criticized for leaving Europe to play alongside supposed ‘lesser talent’. Almost overnight, LAFC became one of the best teams in the Western Conference, with Vela their main orchestrator. The Mexican has a bright future ahead of him with LAFC as they look to qualify for another post-season next year.

Single-Elimination Playoff System

For years, the MLS playoff system has come under heavy fire – namely from players, who have cited the lack of urgency in regular season games in a system that rewards teams for ‘getting by’. 

This year, though, MLS decided to shift its format to single-elimination. While this still has its flaws, you can’t deny the excitement it generated. We saw multiple games go to extra time in the first round and both conference winners made early exits. 

Some might argue that Seattle winning the league despite finishing third further highlights the flaws within MLS, however, the single-elimination format shows the league is at least willing to make adjustments in a bid to improve. 

NYCFC’s Outstanding Campaign

NYCFC was exceptional in 2019, turning its season around at the midway point to lose the least amount of games (six) in the conference. NYCFC finished first in the table, advancing to the Eastern Conference semi-finals. 

NYCFC’s key acquisition that helped them thrive through the season was Brazilian striker, Heber. He scored 15 goals, finishing as the top scorer on the team. He even scored in five consecutive games, marking an all-time NYCFC record in the process. 

Atlanta Keeps Breaking Records

Atlanta United had a rough start to the season after the departure of their coach, Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino. The whole set-up of the team wasn’t a good fit under new coach Frank de Boer, and losing Miguel Almiron to Newcastle clearly affected the team.

Despite all that, Atlanta kept winning and breaking records. The club went more than seven and a half hours without conceding a goal this season, keeping five consecutive clean sheets. 

The engine that runs Atlanta is, of course, 2018 MLS MVP Josef Martinez. Despite coming second to Vela in goals scored, Martinez still netted in 15 consecutive games – the most in MLS history. 

Rooney’s Departure

After two years at D.C. United, Wayne Rooney has decided to call time on his MLS career. His versatile skills and ability to play as both a striker and playmaker brought much excitement and competition to the league. 

Rooney joined D.C. United in 2018, scoring 48 goals and assisting a further 15. One of the most memorable was his 68-yard strike against Orlando FC – easily one of the season’s best goals. He now heads back to England, taking up a player-coach role at Derby County.

Franchise Growth

MLS has been growing slowly but steadily for years now, with new cities introducing teams this season and several more to come over the next few years. FC Cinicinnati became the 24th MLS franchise this season but, unfortunately, it didn’t have the best debut season.

Cinicinnati ended its first season bottom of the table with 31 points and a record of 6-6-22. The team lacked high-end talent from top to bottom, resulting in a -44 goal differential with its goalkeepers only able to keep five clean sheets all season.