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MLS: Three Talking Points Before First Kick

Armen Bedakian

Armen Bedakian is a soccer writer covering every aspect of the game in Major League Soccer and around the world. I love a crunching slide tackle, but can't stand a bad offside call. Follow me on Twitter - @ArmenBedakian

The 2015 MLS season right around the corner, with 20 teams set to kick off play on March 7. Before the start of the season, here are three talking points fans of soccer in the continent will be discussing up to the first kick:

The TV Deal with Sky Sports

Major League Soccer announced a new TV deal that will see the league broadcast in England under British sports broadcaster Sky Sports. It’s a ground-breaking new deal that will last four years and will see Sky Sports broadcast at least two MLS regular season games per week, along with the MLS All Star game, every MLS playoff match and the MLS Cup final.

The significance of this deal from a consumer standpoint is simply that fans of MLS can watch it on a major network in the United Kingdom but there’s an added benefit; MLS gains exposure among players in the Premier League or other British leagues. This has the potential to attract top talent to MLS, or at the very least educate players in the Premier League about MLS. The process for signing players from the EPL could become much easier when players are exposed to the league directly as opposed to passively.

And, it’s a sign of continued global growth for the league, one that has seen constant growth each and every year. With players like Frank Lampard, David Villa, Kaká, Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore, Benoit Cheyrou and Steven Gerrard joining this season, there are plenty of top players to watch out for this season, too.

New Captains Across the League

With two new teams joining Major League Soccer in 2015, there are some final details to wrap up in the squad building process for New York City FC and Orlando City SC. There are a number of suitable leaders in either team but the official announcements for both sides were made: Spanish international David Villa will captain New York while Brazilian icon Kaká will wear the band for Orlando.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, current LA Galaxy captain Robbie Keane will be welcoming a new teammate in an old friend, with Liverpool and England skipper Steven Gerrard joining the club in the summer. But, Keane has already quashed any inkling that the band would be changing arms, telling reporters in Dublin that Gerrard will not be his replacement as captain of the LA Galaxy.

Finally, Toronto FC’s new boss, Greg Vanney, started implementing some new changes of his own, giving the captain’s band to U.S. international Michael Bradley for the start of the 2015 season. While Bradley wore the band occasionally in 2014, that was the result of an injury to the club’s former captain, Steven Caldwell. The Scottish central defender was Ryan Nelsen’s captain at Toronto FC and while he remains an important figure in the team’s starting line up, Vanney and the rest of the team’s brass made the executive decision to give the role to Bradley instead.

Bradley represents the future of Toronto FC; at 27 years old, he is the long-term figure around which Toronto FC has built its team. Caldwell wasn’t a bad captain, though, but at 34, he’s entering the final years of his playing career. Marketing Bradley as the captain of the club was also probably a prominent factor in the decision and the two seem to be okay with the move and are looking to put the media dramatics behind them and kick off the 2015 season.

Collective Bargaining and Lock Out

The first game of the season is set to kick off next weekend…officially, anyway. The league and the MLS players’ union are deadlocked in the middle of a Collective Bargaining Agreement battle, with the MLSPU asking for a few major changes to the league’s structure: of course, a raise in the league minimum salary cap will be on the table but the big issue the players are dealing with right now is the issue of free agency.

In the current model, there is restrictions on players in MLS who are out of contract; should a player be released, there are a number of different ways a player can find another team: teams can trade for the rights of the player, like when Toronto FC traded Jeremy Hall to the New England Revolution. Then there is the Re-Entry Draft, which allows players of a certain qualification to go through a draft to pick up their rights and potentially join new teams.

But players want to be able to freely move around the league, in keeping with the standards of the rest of the world. Both sides are in negotiations and discussions but there is the possibility that the players might go on strike. We’ll have to see how this all plays out in the coming weeks.