Major League Soccer’s 20th season also could be its biggest in a variety of ways.
When the reigning champion Los Angeles Galaxy kicks off against the Chicago Fire at 7 p.m. Friday, it will begin an MLS season with the most teams, a record broadcasting contract, and every indication of building on the record in-stadium attendance of a season ago.
Here are some of the things to look for between the first kick on Friday and the final whistle at MLS Cup in December:
Meanwhile, the plug has been pulled from the failed experiment that was Chivas USA. A new club is scheduled to join the Los Angeles market in 2017 along with expansion Atlanta.
The shifting seemed to make the traditionally stronger West only deeper and more dominant, while the swap of two established teams for two expansion teams would seem to make the East only weaker. However, New York and Orlando have each shown a kind of ambition that indicates they could be more than typical pay-your-dues-for-a-while newcomers.
The increase in teams also led the league to increase its playoff qualifiers. Now the top six teams in each conference — meaning 12 of the 20 MLS teams — advance into the postseason.
Included in the deal are national games on Fridays and Saturday, plus a 2 p.m.-4 p.m. two-network doubleheader each Sunday on ESPN and Fox.
The contract runs for eight seasons, with ESPN and Fox alternating coverage of MLS Cup.
Locally, the Sounders signed a new deal for its non-national games to be shown locally on Channel 13 and JOEtv, and regionally on Root.