5 Can't-Miss Storylines For The 2015 Major League Soccer Season
After tense collective bargaining negotiations threatened the start of the 2015, Major League Soccer kicked off with a bang this past weekend.
Out in La La Land, reigning league MVP Robbie Keane and the LA Galaxy picked up where they left off on the MLS Cup podium last December.
In Orlando, 62,000 fans packed the Citrus Bowl for the debut of Orlando City SC and New York City FC.
In Seattle, Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey showed why they form the best strike partnership in the league.
Overall, it was a great return for the league, now in its 20th season.
With two decades under its belt and a new television contract promising to put more eyes on the league than ever before, there's sure to be some interesting news to keep an eye out for this season.
Here are five of the best things to watch for this season:
With Landon Donovan and Thierry Henry hanging up their boots, Orlando City's Ricardo Kaká is the most likely candidate to fill the superstar void left by the league's two best players.
The 32-year-old is arguably a cut above those players, too.
Having won the World Cup with Brazil, the UEFA Champions League with AC Milan and a Ballon D'or Award, Kaká brings a unique triple crown of achievements even Ronaldo and Messi don't have.
Kaká speaks better English than you might assume and has spoken of a keenness to be an ambassador for both his expansion club and the league.
Those qualities are ideal for a player the MLS hopes will be a prominent figure on and off the field.
There is reason for concern, though.
Kaká hasn't played more than 30 league games in a single season since 2009 and the type of turf Orlando City will play on until their new stadium opens next season hasn't ever been kind to surgically-repaired knees.
The Lions will have to hope those factors don't jeopardize their star's Brazilian flair.
The New York Derby
In terms of establishing itself as the Big Apple's most prominent club, New York City FC has entered its inaugural season with significant momentum.
Across the river, the New York Red Bulls lost Henry to retirement. Meanwhile, the club's hierarchy agitated fans with its decision to fire Mike Petke, a club legend and the most successful coach in Red Bulls history.
In contrast, the NYCFC recruited World Cup winner David Villa and English Premier League great Frank Lampard to join their ranks.
Their next biggest signing, US international Mix Diskerud, made his first scoring debut on Sunday.
So far, more than 14,000 fans have signed up for season tickets to watch the club play at Yankee Stadium this year.
But the advantage of the prime NYC location, though, could turn into a disadvantage.
Since baseball season coincides with the MLS season, there are legitimate concerns about how sharing a stadium with the Yankees will affect the playing surface on the field.
If the result turns out to be an unkempt field, that matters. The role aesthetics play in making a club attractive cannot be understated.
Whatever the case, both NYCFC and the Red Bulls face a season-long battle for brand loyalty this year.
How that battle materializes on the pitch, when the two clubs meet for the first time on May 10, will be interesting.
The league already featured conference imbalance last year, but this season, the balance of quality has tilted toward the Western Conference even more dramatically.
As a result of adding Orlando City SC and New York City FC to the league, the Houston Dynamo and Sporting KC have been shifted to the West, all while the perpetually-dysfunctional Chivas USA became defunct and saw its way out of MLS for good.
For those keeping score at home, that's two completely new franchises added to the already inferior Eastern Conference, and two playoff games and playoff teams and former MLS Cup winners added to the already superior Western Conference, which lost one terrible club in the process.
It could be a recipe for serious, NBA-like imbalance between the league's two conferences.
Jozy Altidore, Mix Diskerud and Brek Shea led a sizable group of American national team players -- still at their athletic peaks -- back to the States.
This means one of two things, either their returns can be seen as an encouraging sign the MLS has become such a quality league its country's best products no longer have to look elsewhere for development, or their return could be a sign America's best players just can't meet the higher standards of soccer in Europe, and had little option but to return home.
How the returning players perform during the year should help everyone reach a conclusion.
The LA Galaxy have earned five stars on their jerseys -- becoming the first club to win a quintet of MLS Cups. But the 2014 champions are more than just a good team, they are the league's first transcendent club.
After all, LA sent shockwaves through the sports and pop culture sphere in signing the world's single most recognizable athlete: David Beckham.
Last year, it was LA who was home to the league's greatest product, Landon Donovan, and its reigning MVP, Robbie Keane.
And it's LA who'll welcome former England and Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard later this season.
It's also the Galaxy who made a huge gesture of inclusiveness, becoming the nation's very first major sports team to sign an openly gay player, Robbie Rogers.
With all of this and more, the club has asserted itself as a cultural icon for soccer in America.
Whether it's through developing players, making social statements, attracting star power, or simply by winning, LA has built itself into a club relevant for every MLS discussion.
This is the mark of a true giant and how they continue to march on as such, especially when Gerrard arrives in Hollywood this summer, is sure to be one of the more entertaining narratives of the season.