Major League Soccer is a growing league, and in many ways, it's still in the awkward teenage stage of its development. This is neither good nor bad inherently; just an honest assessment of the league. One big example of this is our fascination with something that major sports in this country typically take for granted: television coverage. Sure, we follow stories on the rights fees and network battles for the NBA, NFL, college hoops and football, etc., but with the possible exception of the NHL, there is more angst in the soccer community over whether and how many games will be televised - locally and nationally - than there could be in any other big American league.
Thankfully, MLS might be starting to show some signs of growing out of the awkwardness:
All 323 matches will be televised live - 87 via national network partners ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, NBC, NBC Sports Network, Univision and UniMás in the United States. Nationally in Canada, at least 30 games featuring Canadian clubs will air on TSN/TSN2 in English and RDS/RDS2 in French. The TSN/TSN2 and RDS/RDS2 schedules will be announced in the coming weeks.
All non-national TV games will be broadcast locally and/or via subscription to Direct Kick and MLS Live, the digital streaming package for MLSsoccer.com, mobile devices and tablets.
Once playoff games are added to the mix, fans of the league will have a chance to watch something close to 100 MLS games live on national TV during 2013. That's not something that seemed close to happening - or even possible - three or four years ago.
It's a little bit awkward that the league felt the need to reassure us that every game would be available live somewhere - on a pay-per-view or paid streaming package, if not on regular TV in your market - but it's a worthwhile reassurance. D.C. United fans know that as well as anybody - during the second half of last year's resurgence for the Black-and-Red, we worried that Comcast Sports Net might not pick up the games that seemed to be falling through the TV coverage cracks. Ultimately, CSN came through, but it would bode well for the league not to have us worrying about those things at all.
Keeping the focus on D.C. United, the 2013 national TV schedule is pretty cool. Twelve United matches will air nationally, nine of them on English channels and three en Español. Two of the three MLS regular season games that will appear on NBC proper - the broadcast network, not the digital-tier cable sports channel - will feature our boys in black. The very first MLS national telecast of the year during First Kick will feature United's return to the concrete orange pit of hell (I say with all respect) that is BBVA Compass Stadium to play the Houston Dynamo. This year's Philly Invasion will be on NBC Sports Network, a chance to show the country (and the network suits) that travelling support wasn't invented in Seattle and really does exist on both coasts. And, of course, two of the three Atlantic Cup tilts against the Metros will be available nationwide.
As a fan of the league and a fan of my team, I'm finding a lot to like about the 2013 schedule. There's still some awkwardness in there - see: Qualifiers, World Cup and Cup, Gold - but there's a whole lot of improvement over recent years, too.