We’re merely a month away from the 23rd season of Major League Soccer and there’s so much to look forward to in this increasingly popular, exciting league. With a new franchise set to debut as well as the continued increase in international players joining the league, the 2018 MLS season is poised to be the best yet. Read on for everything you need to know about the upcoming campaign.

When Does the 2018 MLS Season Start?

The regular season will kick off on Saturday, March 3. Over the course of nearly eight months, each team will play 34 regular season games (17 home, 17 away) before the regular season’s end on October 28.

For your favorite team’s entire schedule and tickets, make sure to check out the MLS page on SeatGeek.

What to Watch For

As a growing league, there are always so many exiting storylines to keep an eye on throughout the season. This year, the biggest immediate storyline involves the beginnings of a brand-new franchise.

The Debut of Los Angeles FC

Not to be outdone by the NFL or NBA, the MLS is adding a second Los Angeles-based franchise to go along with the long-time LA Galaxy. Los Angeles FC will be the newest member of the Western Conference, playing its home games out of Banc of California Stadium. Coached by former U.S. Men’s National Team coach Bob Bradley, LAFC’s focus is on a more European, grassroots attitude toward building up the club. With a stadium in the heart of downtown Los Angeles and a stellar youth academy, LAFC has branded itself as the soccer club for the city of LA. While that’s all well and good, it’ll be interesting to see if this new franchise can hold its own in the tough Western Conference.

MLS in Miami

While LAFC will be the lone club to debut this season, another club is on the horizon thanks to former soccer superstar David Beckham. After much work and negotiation, a deal has been signed to bring an MLS franchise to Miami, Florida. Not much else is known as of yet and, if the process is anything like it was for Los Angeles FC, we won’t see a Miami team on the field for two or three years. However, it’s an exciting time for soccer fans, especially those in Florida.

Zlatan to the U.S.?

As of this writing, nothing is set in stone about the future of Manchester United striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but it’s looking more and more likely that he’ll make the shift to the MLS and join the LA Galaxy. This would be a huge get for the Galaxy, who already have a former Premier Leaguer in Giovani dos Santos. Ibrahimovic had a tumultuous run with Man United, scoring 17 goals in 28 games a year ago, but has been goalless in five league appearances this season. A switch to the MLS could be just the shot in the arm that the 36-year-old needs.

Important Dates

Regular Season Begins – March 3
Los Angeles FC Home Debut – April 29
World Cup Break – June 14 – 22
D.C. United Audi Field Debut – July 14
MLS All-Star Game – August 1
Heineken Rivalry Week – August 22 – 26
Decision Day (11 final regular season matches) – October 28
MLS Cup Playoffs – October 31
MLS Cup Final – December 8

Who are the Favorites to Win the MLS Cup?

After an absolutely fantastic MLS Cup Final match against the Seattle Sounders last year, there’s no doubt that Toronto FC is the favorite to win another MLS Cup in 2018. With a stacked roster that features Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, and the newly acquired German defender Gregory van der Wiel, Toronto is poised for another title run. Expect the Sounders to have another wonderful season and don’t count out the Galaxy – especially if the Ibrahimovic signing happens – but if I were a betting man (I am), I’d put my money on Toronto to defend their championship.

Who Will Be This Season’s Player of the Year?

Last season, the honor of the Landon Donovan MVP Award went to Diego Valeri of the Portland Timbers. It was a well-earned award for the striker, who became just the second MLS player to record 20-plus goals and 10-plus assists in a single regular season. This season, Valeri will certainly have the chance to take home a second straight award, but you can’t count out some of the other finalists from last season.

Atlanta United’s Miguel Almiron was an absolute force in 2017. The Paraguayan midfielder recorded nine goals and 14 assists in 30 appearances for Atlanta and those numbers should only increase this season. At just 23, Almiron should further improve his game and give Atlanta a real shot at the Cup.

However, my money is on Toronto FC’s Sebastian Giovinco. A finalist for the award last year, he finished 2017 with 16 goals and six assists while also recording an assist in the MLS Cup Final. Giovinco is one of the league’s top forwards and is a huge part of Toronto’s success over the past couple of seasons. As long as he stays healthy, Giovinco will have every opportunity to prove that he’s the best in the MLS.