5 Storylines to Follow During the 2015 MLS Season
Now that Major League Soccer and the players' union have agreed in principle to a new collective bargaining agreement, it is time to fully focus on the 2015 season.
The 20th installment of MLS will feature two new clubs, Orlando City and New York City FC, as well as a new conference structure to accommodate the additions to the Eastern Conference.
While there are plenty of storylines worth following throughout the next nine months, we opted to select five key ones that fans should have their eyes on.
Here's a look at the five key storylines to follow in the 2015 MLS season.
Bradley Wright-Phillips' Production Without Thierry Henry
A year after winning the Golden Boot, Bradley Wright-Phillips will face a new challenge without Thierry Henry in the lineup.
The now-retired French legend contributed 10 goals and 14 assists in the Red Bulls attack, which helped keep the pressure off the shoulders of Wright-Phillips.
Now the 29-year-old forward will be relied on to produce the majority of goals for a Red Bulls side that is looking to get back to the Eastern Conference final.
Wright-Phillips does have a few talented attackers like Lloyd Sam, Dax McCarty and Peguy Luyindula to provide him with assists, but none of them have the talent and skills of Henry.
If Wright-Phillips puts the ball in the back of the net around 15 times this season, it will be considered a success. Although some may question his talent because of the 31 total goals he earned in 2014.
Can FC Dallas Crack the Top 3 in the Western Conference?
Potential is the word many would use to describe the players on the FC Dallas roster.
In manager Oscar Pareja's second season, the club will look to turn that potential into a long playoff run.
Young players like Matt Hedges, Fabian Castillo, Tesho Akindele and Mauro Diaz form the spine of the team, which also has a key veteran up top in Blas Perez.
In 2014, FC Dallas earned a postseason berth, but it was eliminated by the Seattle Sounders in the Western Conference semifinals.
Now that they have had a taste of the postseason, the Hoops players will look to crack the top three of the West in MLS' 20th season.
Even with Sporting Kansas City entering the West, Seattle, LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake are still considered to be the elite teams in the West.
Whether or not FC Dallas can break into the top echelon of the West remains to be seen, but the club does have the potential to do so.
Success of Both Expansion Clubs
Orlando City and New York City FC will have plenty of attention focused on them throughout their debut seasons in MLS.
The two expansion clubs will square off against each other in the season opener on March 8 at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. That game is expected to kick off a bit of rivalry between the pair of Eastern Conference clubs.
Both teams have world superstars on their rosters, but the true key to success in 2015 will be the play of the role players in the squad.
Orlando and NYCFC will also be searching to become the first expansion side since Seattle in 2009 to qualify for the playoffs.
The chances are high for the duo of expansion clubs to make the postseason since the Eastern Conference has been weakened by the departures of Sporting KC and Houston to the West through realignment.
Jermaine Jones' Impact on the New England Revolution
Jermaine Jones changed the course of the New England Revolution's 2014 season when he arrived in August.
Jones added an extra element to the Revolution squad, as he formed a tremendous partnership with Lee Nguyen in the middle of the park. The United States international also provided a security blanket to the back four from his defensive midfield position.
Thanks to the boost received from Jones, the Revolution were able to make it all the way to the MLS Cup final before losing to the LA Galaxy.
Now that he has had a full offseason with the club, Jones is expected to lead the Revolution to first place in the Eastern Conference and another spot in the MLS Cup final.
Jones' influence on the pitch will be tested by other clubs, who now have plenty of scouting reports on how he lines up in the Revolution formation.
If he has the same impact this season, New England should be the top club in the East for most of 2015.
Chicago's New Designated Players
The Chicago Fire has not had the best success with any of its designated players in the past.
Frank Yallop and Co. will hope that trend is stopped in 2015, as Shaun Maloney, David Accam and Kennedy Igboananike enter the fray as the latest designated players.
Accam and Igboananike will be tasked with scoring most of the side's goals, while Maloney will be asked to provide pace on the wing.
For the Fire to erase the bad memories of the 2014 season, the trio of big names will need to thrive in the final third. If they can not produce strong numbers, Fire fans will continue to be haunted by the poor performances of players like Sherjill MacDonald, Nery Castillo and Arevalo Rios.
The pressure will also be on Yallop to make sure the new additions fit in his system. If they end up being bad fits, Yallop could be on hot seat during his second season in charge.
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