Following a season that many around Major League Soccer considered one of, if not the, best in league history, there is growing pressure for the league to thrive in its 20th season.
During the offseason, a slew of high-profile players entered the league, which will begin a landmark television deal with ESPN and Fox Sports in 2015.
Also coming to the league will be the eventual introduction of a new collective bargaining agreement. No deal has been reached less than a week before the season is supposed to begin. But the final product could revamp the league in its own fashion.
As if that wasn't enough to get excited about, a new era of American superstars are about to break into the mainstream.
Now that most of the offseason business has concluded, it's time for the league to walk the walk. But will they be able to with all eyes on it?
The biggest headlines earned in regard to player acquisition this offseason came from Toronto, Los Angeles and New York City.
Just like it did last season, Toronto brought in a few stars from Europe in order to improve the quality of play on the field.
Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco are in, while Jermain Defoe and Gilberto have departed following an eventful 2014 north of the border.USA TODAY Sports
United States international Michael Bradley is still with the club, which is a big deal for fans of the United States men's national team. Bradley's partnership with Altidore in the Toronto starting 11 is expected to grow chemistry between the two USMNT stars for years to come. That quality could play a big role when major international competitions begin to roll around again.
Giovinco's arrival in Ontario has the potential to open a new frontier in player transfers if the Italian succeeds in his first season.USA TODAY Sports
If the former Juventus player finds his stride in MLS, he could pave the way for more European players to enter MLS in the prime of their careers, which would finally get rid of the retirement-league tag.
Elsewhere in the Eastern Conference, expansion side New York City FC found its way into the headlines for the poorly handled Frank Lampard scenario. To cut an extremely confusing story short, Lampard is expected to make his debut in MLS at some point during the summer. When he finally makes his first appearance for the club, the former Chelsea star will join David Villa as a marquee name on the pitch at Yankee Stadium.Craig Ruttle/Associated Press
Another summer arrival already creating an enormous amount of buzz is Steven Gerrard, who will leave Liverpool for the LA Galaxy. Gerrard will replace the retired Landon Donovan as the club's third designated player.
Also entering the league in 2015 are a group of international stars led by Kaka, who is the top player on the Orlando City squad. Scotland international Shaun Maloney will play in Chicago, while Mexico's Erick "Cubo" Torres will start in Houston this summer. Continuing with a recent trend, some clubs opted to splash their cash in South America on big names.Torres will join Houston after a six-month loan at Chivas de Guadalajara.USA TODAY Sports
Players like Pedro Morales, Diego Valeri, Federico Higuain and Javier Morales have all found success in MLS through the South American talent pipeline.
On paper, MLS has drastically improved the quality of its players. But the true judge of each acquisition will be the on-field contributions of the individuals.
While not every new signing will thrive this season, there is a strong chance many of them will. And they will bring more attention to the league in the process if all does go well.
How does MLS plan on exposing its brand-new shiny toys to the American audience?
Good thing you asked because the league is about to embark on a massive television deal with ESPN, Fox Sports and Univision.
The deal with the three networks is worth $90 million per year, per Philly.com's Jonathan Tannenwald. And it gives the league three consistent broadcast time slots. The latter part of that last sentence may be the most important aspect of the big contract.USA TODAY Sports
Three games each week are guaranteed to be played in the national windows on Friday and Sunday night. UniMas will broadcast the Friday night match, while ESPN and Fox will show back-to-back games on Sunday.
Gaining the Sunday window is a big step forward for MLS given the lack of sports on television for the majority of the league season.
This past Sunday, all American viewers had to choose from at 5 p.m. ET was the ending of a NASCAR race and a college basketball blowout.
After the NCAA tournament occupies the spotlight during the month of March, MLS will face very little competition until the NFL season starts up in September.Mike Stobe/Getty Images
If the quality of play remains as high as it was last year, some of the viewers might stick around for the Sunday broadcasts in the fall. It is unrealistic to think MLS will ever beat out the NFL in a ratings battle. But if the league can draw in new fans from March to August, it may be able to keep a large amount of them around for the playoff races in September and October.
The new wave of talent will also be exposed during the consistent time windows, which should attract fans of specific players like Kaka, Lampard, Gerrard and Giovinco to a few games.
On top of all the attention stateside, MLS also inked a deal with Sky Sports to broadcast two games a week overseas.
Sky Sports 📺 @SkySports
Sky Sports has won the rights to broadcast exclusively live @MLS for the first time: http://t.co/vqCwSeCuwQ http://t.co/0o2a2EGsyA
If a strong product is displayed to the fans in England with stars like Lampard, Gerrard and Robbie Keane on the field, the perception of the league abroad may change as well.
Lost in all of the shuffle surrounding the arrival of new foreign talent this offseason has been the emergence of a few bright American stars.
The LA Galaxy's Gyasi Zardes and D.C. United's Steve Birnbaum are just two names in the next wave of American players that are set to break into the mainstream in 2015.Zardes is expected to thrive in the Galaxy attack.USA TODAY Sports
A few other young Americans worth watching throughout the year are Columbus' Wil Trapp, Bill Hamid of D.C. United, Real Salt Lake's Luis Gil and Matt Hegdes of FC Dallas.
Beyond the young stars of the American game, some of the most recognizable names on the USMNT roster are now based in MLS.
Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones, Bradley and Altidore are all consistent members of the USMNT first team, and they also have plenty left in the tank regarding their respective careers.USA TODAY Sports
If the league continues to cash in on the momentum gained by signing these big names, some Americans may opt to stay in MLS for their entire careers.
However, if that is to be the case, the league must adapt to the times and give the players more freedom.
That is where the fear of a work stoppage enters into the conversation, as the players' union and owners have five days left to strike a new deal before the 2015 season begins. Many believe that the players carry the upper hand in the negotiations because of all the money flowing into the league through the lucrative television deals and massive expansion fees.
While the high-profile names like Dempsey, Kaka and Bradley will never have to worry about money as long as they play, the players that make the league tick should be concerned about it.Jamie Squire/Getty Images
The average MLS players should benefit from a wage increase over the next few years if all goes right, but the key issue is free agency. Most of the players in the league have been united on the issue, which would eliminate the numerous silly player-acquisition drafts in an ideal world. Whether full-blown free agency is earned, or a limited version based on league experience appears in 2015 remains to be seen.
If the league can take care of its core group of players, it would be able to lure more college prospects and American players abroad to the league.
The one thing the league can't afford to do is sit through a work stoppage. If the discussions delay the start of the season, it will hamper all the positive momentum MLS earned in the offseason.
The 20th season of play in MLS should be a landmark one on various levels. But in order for it to be truly successful, the league must shine on and off the pitch.
If some of the big acquisitions walk the walk and perform the way they should, the rapid growth of the league will continue further into the end of the decade.
While a lackluster season may not kill every single piece of momentum the league currently has, it would damage its reputation a bit.
With all that being said, the pressure is on MLS to thrive in its new era. Whether it is ready to take the next step toward becoming an elite league could be decided over the next nine months.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.
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