Clint Dempsey, captain of the United States Mens National Soccer Team, holds up a scarf as fans cheer after he was introduced as the newest member of the Sounders, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2013, prior to a match between the Sounders and FC Dallas in Seattle. Dempsey previously played for Tottenham Hotspur in the English Premier League. | ASSOCIATED PRESS
Life is short and there is no stoppage time.
With only a few precious hours in each day and so very many options when it comes to spending them, sports fans must choose carefully how to allot their time. Entering its 19th season, Major League Soccer is giving even causal fans of its sport more reasons to watch the stateside action than ever before. One of those reasons -- U.S. national team captain Clint Dempsey -- set up the dramatic late game-winning goal in MLS' 2014 season opener.
While the domestic iteration of the world's beautiful game doesn't include the work of preeminent football artists like Messi and Zlatan, MLS clubs are putting increasingly talented sides on the field in front of increasingly passionate supporters. Both groups can be worth the price of admission. Thanks to the return of Dempsey and Michael Bradley, MLS players will play an outsized role in determining the United States' success in the upcoming World Cup in Brazil. Founded in part because FIFA wanted the United States to have its own top-flight domestic soccer league in order to host the 1994 World Cup, MLS will be the home circuit for several key members of the 2014 team heading for Brazil in June.
From prepping for the upcoming World Cup to keeping up with societal change, here are 11 of the reasons you should be watching Major League Soccer in 2014:
The World Cup Is Coming
The World Cup is less than 100 days away and you need to get up to speed with the offside rules, footie terminology and key U.S. players. While the world's best players -- Messi, Ronaldo, Zlatan, Ribery -- won't be playing a regular-season game at a soccer-only stadium in the contiguous 48 any time soon, core members of the U.S. national team can be found in Major League Soccer.
Get To Know Your U.S. Soccer Stars
With Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley stateside in 2014, MLS will be the place to watch core members of the U.S. National team in the buildup to the World Cup. When U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann names the 23 players he'll be taking to Brazil for the World Cup, MLS players may end up composing more than half of the roster. While the World Cup draw didn't do the U.S. team any favors, the 2014 team is arguably the most formidable ever.
Every Minute Counts
The opening game of the MLS season showed that every minute -- and added minute -- counts. With the Seattle Sounders hosting Sporting Kansas City, the game went scoreless into second half-stoppage time. In the 94th minute, Seattle's Chad Barrett banged home the game-winning goal in the midst of a wild scramble in the Kansas City penalty after a header by Clint Dempsey hit the crossbar.
Thierry Henry Is Still Here
The former Arsenal star is still playing for the New York Red Bulls and is still capable of blowing your mind. The 36-year-old striker helped the Red Bulls bring the Supporters' Shield to New Jersey in 2013. Entering the last year of his contract, the Frenchman has his sights set on the MLS Cup.
Diego Fagundez Is Just Getting Started
MLS isn't just home to aging superstars who made their names elsewhere. It's also the place to see some exciting up-and-coming players. At age 19, Diego Fagundez headlines an exciting group of MLS youngsters poised to breakout in 2014. The New England Revolution midfielder scored 13 goals for the Revs in 2013 to establish a new record a teenager in MLS.
So Is Darlington Nagbe
The Portland Timbers' 23-year-old striker topped the MLS' "24 Under 24" list after a breakout 2013 campaign. This absurd golazo shows the sort of magic Nagbe is capable of conjuring at any given moment.
MLS Has A Heart
The Portland Timbers gave Atticus Lane-Dupre, an 8-year-old diagnosed with cancer in 2011, a dream afternoon last May. Working with Make-A-Wish, the Timbers played a game against Atticus' youth team at at Jeld-Wen Field in May 2013. From a special uniform to the pre-game rendition of the national anthem, no detail was overlooked in creating an authentic MLS experience for Atticus.
MLS is putting its money where it wants its future to be. Toronto FC made a major splash during the offseason by signing England striker Jermain Defoe from Tottenham and U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley from Roma. According to the Toronto Star, both players cost about $10 million in transfer fees. Coming after the Seattle Sounders' acquisition of Clint Dempsey, these deals show MLS teams are becoming more aggressive players in the international talent market.
"Today is why not," Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment CEO Tim Leiweke said at a press conference unveiling his team's signings, via The Canadiana Press. "Why can't we be great?"
MLS Is Leading By Example
Before Jason Collins signed with the Brooklyn Nets or Michael Sam arrived at the NFL Scouting Combine in 2014, Robbie Rogers took the field in 2013. The former U.S. national team midfielder returned to the U.S. after a stint aboard to become the first active openly gay MLS player. Rogers came out in February 2013 in a poignant blog post. He announced that he was stepping away from soccer in that time but stepped back onto the field for the L.A. Galaxy just months later.
The Supporters Groups Are Amazing
MLS may not have the nationwide following of the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB but that doesn't mean there is a shortage of die-hard fans. Each club has its zealous supporters groups and they give every MLS stadium its own songs and traditions. The seating sections belonging to these groups singing are one part Big House, one La Bombonera and all parts loud.