Passion building in intriguing 20th season of MLS

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Major League Soccer has been enjoying something of a rapid growth over the last few years especially after it stretched its borders to include Canadian clubs in 2007. That same year, the introduction of the Designated Player rule helped MLS clubs bring in top stars from foreign soils, and this was highlighted with LA Galaxy’s addition of David Beckham to their ranks. Beckham had reached superstar status during his stint in Europe with Manchester United and Real Madrid, and his signing certainly helped raise the attention focused on the MLS in other continents.

The Designated Player rule, incidentally, means that clubs only have a portion of their designated players’ salaries counted against the salary cap, allowing for the potential of a greater salary on offer for those players whose reputation, perhaps, may have previously put them out of the financial reach of MLS clubs.

Fast forward to the 2015 season which kicked off last month, and a plethora of stars have made the move to the nation in recent years to ply their trade in the States. Republic of Ireland’s all-time leading goalscorer Robbie Keane left Tottenham to move to LA Galaxy in 2011, and he won the MLS’ MVP award at the conclusion of the 2014 season.

Such an impact offers hope to Galaxy supporters that the 34-year-old can continue to contribute to the cause for some years to come – a hope that was given considerable weight when the player signed a new multi-year deal in 2014. Galaxy won their fifth MLS Cup title in 2014, and have had a strong if unremarkable start to the 2015 campaign.

Orlando City’s first officially designated player was announced in the summer of 2014 as former AC Milan and Real Madrid star – and Brazilian international legend – Kaka signed. He went on to score their first competitive goal in Orlando’s debut in MLS by tucking away a free kick against fellow new franchise New York City, a game that ended in a 1-1 tie.

Chelsea and England legend Frank Lampard departed his native Premier League to sign for New York City, and he joined as a designated player alongside Spain’s all-time leading goalscorer David Villa, who left Atletico Madrid to join what he called at the time “an irresistible project”. The Spaniard has started the 2015 campaign well, having scored once from his opening three games, but City fans will surely be hoping to see plenty more throughout the duration of the campaign.

Another player to highlight the newly free exchange of talent across the pond was Bradley Wright-Phillips, who moved to New York Red Bulls – the former American home of retired star Thierry Henry of France – and he earned himself a designated player contract in his third season, having helped Red Bulls to their first major honor in winning the MLS Supporters’ Shield in 2013. The former Southampton and Charlton star equaled the seasonal goalscoring record of 27 in 2014, helping him earn designated player status.

Wright-Phillips’ form has helped New York Red Bulls challenge DC United near the top of the Eastern Conference. Despite their shock 0-4 defeat against Colorado, the early pacesetters are FC Dallas in the Western Conference, though, who are giving Vancouver a run for its money.

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