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February 28, 2013

MLS starts '13 looking toward development

With no David Beckham or the buzz of a team expansion, the 2013 Major League Soccer season that begins this weekend might seem ho-hum because of its stability.

But this year begins a new chapter, focused on developing the quality of play and continuing to raise the profile of a league that officials hope will become among the planet’s elite within 10 years.

“There is no reason that in time Major League Soccer can’t be competitive with the world’s best,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said. “It’s going to take a lot of hard work and continued investment.”

The season begins Saturday with Philadelphia hosting Kansas City. That’ll be followed by a Canadian showdown with Vancouver hosting Toronto, Houston vs. DC United, FC Dallas vs. Colorado, Chivas USA vs. Columbus and Seattle vs. Montreal. Sunday, defending champion Los Angeles hosts Chicago, Portland welcomes New York and San Jose faces Real Salt Lake.

New England has a bye the first week of the season, while Seattle, Los Angeles and Houston have byes in Week 2 while participating in the CONCACAF Champions League.

For the first time since 2005, expansion is not a story line. After successful entries into Houston, Toronto, San Jose, Seattle, Philadelphia, Portland, Vancouver and Montreal, the league is standing firm at 19 teams. MLS wants its 20th team to be in New York, although there is an increased effort in Orlando that could eventually lead to the league filling a geographic hole in the Southeast.

“I think they remain a very good potential MLS ownership group and Orlando is an intriguing market,” Garber said.

Instead of expansion, the talk entering the season is investment. The league announced Wednesday its intensions to raise the quality of play and infrastructure to make MLS one of the world’s top leagues by the ambitious date of 2022. The goal was originally supposed to coincide with a successful World Cup bid. The U.S. won’t be hosting that tournament — Qatar will — but MLS is sticking with its plan.

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