(Reuters) - Major League Soccer’s highly-skilled big-name players who command the top salaries are under pressure to deliver results in the upcoming 2016 season after failing to provide success for their teams last year.
LA Galaxy’s Steven Gerrard and New York City FC’s Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard were among the high-profile players who were supposed to lift their clubs to new levels but the big salaries did not bring in the silverware.
The Galaxy, who started last season having won three of the previous four MLS Cups, finished fifth in the 10-team Western Conference and exited the playoffs in the first round while NYFC’s debut campaign could not have gone much worse.
The Galaxy have retooled their roster ahead of the 2016 season, which starts on Sunday, in an effort to supplement former Liverpool and England midfielder Gerrard.
Former England full back Ashley Cole and Dutch midfielder Nigel De Jong bring in some veteran quality to the Galaxy side along with Belgian international defender Jelle Van Damme.
At NYCFC, former Barcelona and Spain striker David Villa was a big-money success but when Lampard and Italy midfielder Pirlo arrived midway through the season the team were unable to find their form and did not threaten to make the playoffs.
Highly-rated young American coach Jason Kreis paid the price for the disappointing season and has been replaced by French World Cup winner Patrick Vieira.
One well-known European player on record-breaking money who was a success last year was reigning MLS Most Valuable Player Sebastian Giovinco at Toronto FC.
But the team’s decision to invest heavily in a ‘Big Three’ with American internationals Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, wasn’t enough to get them past the first round of the playoffs and they face pressure to finally make a real postseason run.
Orlando City’s inaugural campaign didn’t carry much pressure and although they narrowly missed out on the playoffs, a season inspired by Brazilian former AC Milan and Real Madrid playmaker Kaka was considered a success.
Coached by ex-Everton favorite Adrian Heath and backed by big crowds, the Lions could be a team to watch out for in 2016.
The defending champion Portland Timbers and runners-up Columbus Crew both have well-balanced rosters and ambitious young American coaches that should ensure both teams are in the running again this year.
The New York Red Bulls had impressive run to the last four in 2015 after finishing first in the regular season and 26-year-old Argentine designated player Gustavo Veron is a player to keep an eye on.
The Seattle Sounders lost Nigerian striker Obafemi Martins to China’s Shanghai Shenhua but locally produced talent Jordan Morris will get a chance to create a partnership with experienced U.S. international Clint Dempsey.
FC Dallas’s mix of South and Central American players and homegrown Americans produced some of last season’s most exciting football and Oscar Pareja’s team will be a factor in the Western Conference again.
Reporting by Simon Evans in Miami; Editing by Frank Pingue