5 things to watch as the 2024 MLS season kicks off!

Note: if you purchase something through one of our affiliate links, Schneps Media may earn a commission.
MLS, Soccer
Columbus Crew’s Steven Moreira, left, and Los Angeles FC’s Denis Bouanga, right chase after the ball in the first half of the MLS soccer championship match, Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Major League Soccer started its 2024 season Wednesday night! MLS is a huge league, with 29 teams fighting to be the best and make a playoff run to become champions! This year’s season runs from February to November with playoffs occurring in late November to early December. Before a ball is kicked in this weekend’s matches, here are some things fans new and old should keep an eye on. Here’s 5 things to watch for during the 2024 MLS season!

MLS, Soccer
Columbus Crew’s Steven Moreira, left, and Los Angeles FC’s Denis Bouanga, right chase after the ball in the first half of the MLS soccer championship match, Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

5 things to watch in MLS throughout 2024

1. A stacked Eastern Conference

The Eastern Conference is going to be a gauntlet in 2024. Of the 15 teams in the conference, 11 of them seem to be good enough to make the playoffs and make a run. Since MLS is unpredictable, the four other teams not in that group of 11 are probably due for a playoff run as well.

Columbus won MLS Cup last year, Cincinnati won the 2023 Supporters Shield, Miami has the GOAT; Philly, Orlando, NYCFC, New England, Red Bulls, Atlanta, and Nashville all have strong sides that have had success in recent years. Chicago revamped their entire team; so has Montreal and DC. Toronto and Charlotte don’t look particularly good, but they still believe they can compete. The east is stacked, so who will actually come out on top of it?

Thin margins can be expected in this conference in 2024. MLS is always a league with parity, the East is a showcase of that this year. Watch for the points separating the teams to be minimum. There is no out-and-out favorite in the East right now, but a tiered structure showing who’s for real, who isn’t, and who is in between. As of now, before a ball has been kicked, here’s what that looks like.

Contenders: Cincinnati | Columbus | Miami | Atlanta | Nashville | New England | NYCFC | Red Bulls | Orlando | Philadelphia

In between: Chicago | Montreal | DC

Pretenders: Charlotte | Toronto

Will we see any movement in these tiers, or will teams be floating from one to another this season? We’ll have to watch to see!

Union, MLS
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

2. Who is actually good out West?

MLS’s Western Conference is being viewed as less competitive this season, but that doesn’t mean that it will be predictable at all. We know there will be some teams at the top of the conference that we expect, but there will likely be other teams coming out of nowhere to make a top-4 run out West.

LAFC and Seattle seem to be the top two as we get to the start of the 2024 season. Houston, Kansas City, and St. Louis are all impressive but aren’t seen as the top teams in the West. Portland, Salt Lake, and Vancouver are the teams that round out the contender status but could easily fall out of it when the season gets underway. There are so many question-mark teams in the West; Dallas, Colorado, LA Galaxy, and Minnesota don’t fit in as contenders or pretenders at the minute. Whereas teams like Austin, and San Jose do not look great as the season is beginning.

We all know MLS cannot be predicted before games are played, but the roster builds and team chemistry from the Western Conference sides shows us where these teams sit, and who could be the best.

Contenders: LAFC | Seattle | Houston | Kansas City | St. Louis

In Between: Portland | Salt Lake | Vancouver | Dallas | Colorado | LA Galaxy | Minnesota

Pretenders: Austin | San Jose

There will undoubtedly be movement in these tiers throughout the 2024 MLS season. The question will be are more teams vying for contender or pretender status? Luckily the matches begin this week/weekend so we can start to figure this out!

AUSTIN, TX – AUGUST 26: Austin FC forward Sebastián Driussi (7) is grabbed by Los Angeles FC defender Jesús Murillo (3) during the MLS match between Austin FC and LAFC on August 26, 2022 at Q2 Stadium in Austin, TX. (Photo by David Buono/Icon Sportswire)

3. Messi’s Miami magic or malfunction?

Have you heard that Lionel Messi plays for Inter Miami in MLS? If you haven’t then you live under a rock because it’s all anyone has been talking about since last summer. Messi came to Miami and took the last-place team in the East on a Leagues Cup tournament run to glory. Then he and his Miami side missed the playoffs. This year, everyone is wondering what will a full season of Messi in Miami look like; will it be magic or malfunction?

Messi hasn’t come to Miami alone, he brought some of his Barcelona friends along with him; Busquets, Alba, and now Luis Suarez are at his side creating a fierce Miami team on paper. All of those players are “past their prime” but are still very good. Couple that with some bargain MLS players, and key free agent signings, and Miami seems to be a true contender ahead of the 2024 campaign. The question remains will they actually contend?

Inter Miami went on a preseason tour of the world and got smoked in almost all of their matches. While preseason form doesn’t dictate how a team will do in a regular season, this team is top-heavy. Their attack is world-class, and their defense is suspect. This was true last year, and it is true again this season. We’ll have to wait to see if Messi and Friend’s firepower will be enough to counter their inevitably leaky backline.

Whether or not we see vintage Messi we still get a full season of him in MLS. Appreciate the greatness, and watch to see if he can counteract the disproportionate team structure. If it’s a success, MLS and the landscape around soccer in America grows, if it’s a failure, then it will speak to how this league has grown and is becoming a top one globally. Miami’s 2-0 win over RSL in the opening match of the season has Messi-Mania off to a flying start.

Messi, Union, Soccer, mls
nter Miami forward Lionel Messi (10) makes a free kick to score a goal during the second half of a Leagues Cup soccer match against Cruz Azul, Friday, July 21, 2023, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Inter Miami defeated Cruz Azul 2-1. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

4. MLS’s role in the US Soccer landscape

Ahead of the 2024 MLS season, the league is in the middle of some controversy. MLS and their officiating partner, PRO Referees, could not agree on a new CBA causing a strike from the referees. MLS is moving forward with replacement refs until a deal can be reached. On top of that, Major League Soccer is in the middle of a standoff with US Soccer over the league’s participation in the US Open Cup.

When looking at this situation one can think of MLS being like the “we’re all trying to find the guy who did this” meme. Everyone knows MLS created this issue themselves and everyone else when they implemented Leagues Cup. Essentially, Major League Soccer doesn’t want their first teams to play in a maximum six-match historic tournament that is the US Open Cup, because of fixture congestion. This wouldn’t be a problem if the league wasn’t invested in Leagues Cup, which has far more money involved in it than the current state of US Soccer’s US Open Cup.

Therein lies the rub, MLS has teams playing close to 50+ games with their regular season, playoffs, Leagues Cup, and if they’re good enough Concacaf Champions Cup. They want to take the US Open Cup out of the equation because it’s the least lucrative competition. While that is true, it is the most historic competition in the United States, run by the governing body of soccer in the country, US Soccer. So where do the two go from here?

MLS and US Soccer are “working on a solution” It seems likely that US Soccer will be open to some, not all, MLS clubs participating in the tournament. This would be the governing body of soccer in this country bending to its top league. Unprecedented, and quite frustrating for fans of the game in this country. Keep an eye on just how MLS fits into the US Soccer landscape as this year progresses, and we move even closer to the 2026 Men’s World Cup.

FILE – Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber speaks during a ceremony honoring Inter Miami’s Lionel Messi’s Ballon d’Or trophy before Inter Miami’s club-friendly soccer match against New York City FC, Nov. 10, 2023, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Garber outlined the MLS’ successes in an interview last week with The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

5. Parity, upsets, young players, & general craziness

The season is upon us! That means we are in for the long haul. With that comes the parity of the teams, the upsets that we will see throughout the season, the young players bursting on the scene, and the overall general craziness that comes during an MLS season.

MLS is a league built on parity so you will see it throughout the 2024 season. Teams that were good last year will fall, and teams that were bad last year will rise. The competitiveness will be off the charts. It makes for some thrilling games and limits problems seen in other leagues around the world where there aren’t many teams able to climb the table or compete.

With that parity, you will see upsets. There will be preseason ranking of clubs, all based on last year’s form, and offseason additions. The teams ranked highly will likely lose a game or two to teams who are thought to be basement dwellers all year. It makes MLS unpredictable, making it difficult to know who will come out on top on any given game day.

With teams playing a whole lot of matches, and roster rules restricting teams from building a team with all superstars, you will see many young up-and-coming players play in MLS this season. The opportunity is one that many players, teams, and fans relish. It’s a chance to see the next best thing before it’s a hot commodity. Be sure to keep an eye out for young players you may have never heard of to get a chance to ball out.

Finally, you will see all sorts of chaos and craziness in MLS. The matches come fast and furious starting this weekend. There will be something unexpected that happens every week that gets us talking, whether it be something good, bad, or in between! It’s time to start the 2024 season, get ready every body!

Union, MLS
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Best MLS Bets

Be sure to return to Philly Sports Network for more Philadelphia Union and other soccer content!

Follow our Union team on Twitter:

Tim Lovenguth | Jimmy King | Paul Frenzel
Eric Frysinger | Liam Jenkins | Regina Ham
Steve Beavon | Justin Friedberg | Zach LoBasso

Doop on Union fans!

Mandatory Credit: AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, Philadelphia Union, David Buono/Icon Sportswire, & AP Photo/Lynne Sladky.