Major League Soccer’s 27th season will kick off this weekend with a full slate of matches. The league will do so without much of the fanfare that accompanied its silver anniversary celebrations two years ago; hopefully it’ll do so without the pandemic disruption that swiftly followed.

MLS is in kind of a weird place on the field. The quality is indisputably higher, from top to bottom, than it was five years ago. But it has also lost some of the slapdash character and unintentional humor that made the league so fun to follow during its earlier stages.

Considering the watchability of any given team, then, is something of a matter of taste. Do you prefer the highest quality of play, the best atmospheres, or a dash of zaniness? I tried to weigh a little of all of these things to come up with the 2022 MLS Direct Kick rankings, named for the “every game” TV package that was eventually ported over, without that moniker, to ESPN+ in the U.S. and DAZN in Canada. 

Shout out to ESPN NBA writer Zach Lowe, by the way, from whom this concept is very much adapted. Like Lowe’s annual League Pass rankings, this is an attempt to inform casual followers of which teams are most worthy to check in on when you’re hopping around streaming services of any given night.

Again, this isn’t about which team is the best. I factored in four considerations:

• Is this a club that anybody cares about, or at the very least contributes to the wider conversation around the league?

• Who are the star players worth tuning in for on the off chance they do something breathtaking?

• Is their style of play interesting? (Which I would posit is even more of a consideration in soccer than in the modern NBA)

• And how are the aesthetics? Stadium designs, supporters sections, atmospheres, even jersey colors can impact the quality of the entertainment, or whether a match feels important.

MLS being the unpredictable league that it is, this list may require an update in a few months. That said, without further ado:

 

10. NYCFC

This is probably harsh on the defending champs. They’ve got a defined, proactive style of play and a great color scheme. They are, again, the reigning MLS Cup champions. What more do you want?

But Yankee Stadium is an absolute trainwreck, visually. The field is awkwardly wedged in between the pitchers’ mound and outfield walls, and the broadcast booth is so far away from the action that play can be hard to follow. NYCFC does have a passionate group of supporters, but it’s limited in scope, and not always loud enough to distract from the fact that soccer was not meant to be played in a half-empty baseball stadium.

As part of the City Football Group, they’re more explicitly a feeder team than almost any other in MLS — besides their crosstown rivals, at least. Which is fine, but this can feel like a team perpetually in transition and hard to establish an emotional connection to — either positively or negatively.