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MLS Preps for 20th Kickoff

Major League Soccer — armed with new national TV contracts, dedicated match windows and a pair of new clubs, and bookended by last summer’s World Cup from Brazil and the upcoming women’s tourney in Canada in June — has momentum on its side as prepares for its 20th anniversary season.

The milestone season is being threatened, though, by labor issues as the players association seeks higher salaries and some form of free agency from MLS’s single-entity structure.

Should the parties come to terms, UniMas and Univision Deportes Network will simulcast the March 6 opener with the Los Angeles Galaxy hosting the Chicago Fire at 10 p.m., marking the first time Spanish-language services kick off a major U.S. sports league’s campaign.

As part of new eight-year deals worth a reported $90 million annually, the Univision-owned services will be the Friday-night place for MLS action.

ESPN2 has the 5 p.m. window on Sundays — the worldwide leader has been with the league since its inception — while Fox Sports 1 will follow with matches at 7 p.m. ESPN Deportes and Fox Deportes are also televising those contests.

The other matches will play on Saturdays, with local/regional sports outlets carrying the matches. The new clubs — Orlando City FC and New York City FC — square off in their league bow on ESPN2 on March 8.

“The ability to drive viewers to the respective time slots is going to be huge for the networks and the league,” ESPN senior vice president of programming Scott Guglielmino said. Last season, matches were held on seven different days with 28 different starting times.

Stateside, production levels will be heightened. Each partner will originate telecasts from the stadium, with talent on-site at the various stadia.

Univision will offer an English-language SAP option for all its telecasts, with former U.S. national team player Paul Caligiuri providing the commentary. Univision’s Saturday coverage of Liga MX, the most-watched soccer circuit in North America, will provide live look-ins of MLS action and goals.