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The Pitch: Opening Week

MD1 Pitch Title

MLS is Back: Season 29 Kicks off in the 305

The 2024 Major League Soccer regular season kicks off on Wednesday, Feb. 21 when Inter Miami CF hosts Real Salt Lake (8 p.m. ET, MLS Season Pass) before heading into a full slate of weekend action highlighted by reigning MLS Cup presented by Audi champion Columbus Crew taking on Atlanta United on Saturday, Feb. 24 (2 p.m. ET, MLS Season Pass on Apple TV).

This season marks the first full MLS campaign for Lionel Messi in Miami, who, alongside generational forward Luis Suárez and decorated MLS head coach Tata Martino, will look to add to last year’s Leagues Cup victory with more trophies in 2024. Messi has missed out on league titles in back-to-back seasons just twice in his career, and the Argentine forward will not be inclined to make this the third instance.

Messi will face stiff competition from several game changers throughout the league, though, as reigning Landon Donovan MLS MVP Luciano ‘Lucho’ Acosta will be reenergized for another run at MLS Cup with FC Cincinnati while Cucho Hernández mounts his own MVP campaign while aiming to make the Crew the first back-to-back MLS Cup winners since the 2011-12 LA Galaxy.

Constructing a Title-Defending Crew in Columbus

Columbus Crew head coach Wilfried Nancy is not one for complacency, and there is no sign of that this offseason. Every year is a new story for Nancy, and he has challenged the likes of four-time MLS Cup winner Darlington Nagbe, 2023 MLS Cup MVP Cucho Hernández, and former MLS Golden Boot winner Diego Rossi to continue adding to their MLS stories.

The journey starts this weekend against Atlanta United, where the club’s MLS Cup title defense and the Crew’s quest to become the fourth club in MLS history to win consecutive titles begins. It’s been 12 years since the LA Galaxy went back-to-back in 2011 and 2012 and following in those footsteps would undoubtedly put this current crop of Crew players in the conversation of MLS dynasties.

Nagbe and Homegrown midfielder Aidan Morris are chasing individual glory as well, as they could become the first players in club history to win MLS Cup three times with the Crew. Nagbe, who played at the University of Akron prior to being drafted in 2010, and Morris, who came through the Crew Academy, have some of the deepest roots among the current roster and are two of the most fitting players in Crew history to potentially accomplish the feat.

For Nagbe, a fifth MLS Cup title would go another step further in cementing his place among the MLS greats and would leave him just one MLS Cup title short of Landon Donovan’s record of six titles won by an individual player.

Around the Grounds
U22 Initiative

Instituted in 2021, the U22 Initiative has proven to be a catalyst for identifying and providing opportunities to young players throughout MLS, and the impact was especially felt in 2023, as over 25% of all minutes played last season were attributed to players aged 23 and under. 

Álvaro Barreal emerged as the standout U22 Initiative player of 2023, providing FC Cincinnati with five goals and nine assists en route to securing the Supporters’ Shield while also earning his first MLS All-Star selection. Now, with seven new U22 Initiative players signing with MLS clubs during the offseason, the anticipation is through the roof waiting to see which youngster makes their mark in 2024.

Perhaps Agustín Ojeda will follow in his compatriot’s footsteps as New York City FC looks to the 19-year-old Argentinian to provide the finishing touch in front of net in 2024. LAFC also placed its bets on 17-year-old Venezuelan international David Martínez, who is not only taking the next step in his career by coming to MLS but also looking to play his way into Venezuela’s 2024 Copa América roster.

From the Spot - Atlanta United's Thiago Almada

Everything Thiago Almada has touched since joining Atlanta United in 2022 has turned to gold. 

He was the youngest member of Argentina's World Cup-winning team, he earned MLS Newcomer of the Year and MLS Young Player of the Year honors in consecutive years, and he captained Argentina through a seven-game tournament to qualify for the 2024 Summer Olympics. However, despite his individual and national team success, he is still searching for his first trophy with Atlanta.

Almada's two-year MLS career has seen him grow into the world-class player he showed promise to be in Argentina, and his league-leading 19 assists last season pushed him into the Landon Donovan MLS MVP conversation where he ultimately finished third in voting. However, it takes an MVP-caliber player to lift an MLS team to a Supporters' Shield or MLS Cup title.

In fact, four of the last six MVP winners have lifted one of those trophies, setting a standard that Almada will look to meet to add some silverware to Atlanta's trophy cabinet. Up against the likes of compatriots Lionel Messi and reigning MVP Luciano Acosta, goal-scoring phenoms Dénis Bouanga and Cucho Hernández, and the ever-reliable Hany Mukhtar, a special performance from Almada will go a long way to guide Atlanta to its first league title since 2018.

  • **WATCH**: Argentina National Team head coach Lionel Scaloni on Thiago Almada
  • **WATCH**: Game Changers - Thiago Almada (MLS Season Pass)
  • **WATCH**: Player Profiles - Thiago Almada (MLS Season Pass)
MLS Media Resources

To assist in your coverage of the 2024 MLS season, the MLS Communications staff has provided the following media resources, all of which are available on

  • 2024 MLS Season Preview | Link
  • 2024 MLS Statistics and Standings | Link
  • Club Game Notes | Link
  • Post-Match Quote Sheets | Link
  • Weekly Stat Packs | Link
  • MLS PR on Twitter/X | Link
  • MLS Logos | Link
  • MLS Communications and PRO Contacts | Link
  • Club Communications Contacts & Media Resource Websites | Link