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Fixture Congestion be Damned: Impact Shock Olimpia, USL on a Roll

2008-10-01T23:20:24.731-05:00

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photo from CDSOCCER.com

Roberto Brown was not good enough for Fernando Clavijo. But he’s been good enough for Montreal of the second flight, USL leading the Impact to the league semifinals and now more importantly scoring two goals to give the Impact a huge road three points in Honduras against Olimpia in the CONCACAF Champions League. This was the third game in a stretch which will see Montreal play six games in eleven days, all the matches being either Champions League or USL playoff games. This point is precisely why when MLS fans complain about fixture congestion I cannot help but laugh at them.

Throwing out the result of a dispirited and quite frankly completely overmatched DC United team who right now is the laughing stock of the Champions League, Matchday three was very good for MLS and USL sides. (DC did play much better tonight than they have in the previous two Champions League matches but I recall a time not so long ago where DC would automatically get a result at home in an international competition. Besides Cruz Azul was playing its second eleven) Houston became the first MLS team ever to get a result in a competitive match in Mexico City with a 4-4 draw at Pumas. Puerto Rico continued an unbeaten streak of 17 games with a hard fought 2-2 draw in Guatemala against Municipal, and as discussed above Montreal beat Olimpia on the road.

Back to Brown. For my money he was the Rapids most dangerous player early last season. I saw him in person at DSG Park and was amazed by his skill off the ball. But for whatever reason, after making a big deal about signing him, Clavijo let him go after about 10 matches. Rather than go back to Panama, he latched on in USL with Montreal (as by the way many quality foreign players who get waived in MLS have in the past) and he has made a remarkable impact, no pun intended on the Quebec based club.

As things stand now, three MLS/USL teams have a very good chance of advancing to the knock out stages of the event. That’s something we all can be proud of.

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USL Quarterfinal Wrap

2008-10-02T20:45:53.929-05:00

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DeRoux’s heroics were not enough for the Minnesota Thunder/photo by Paul Phillips

Darren Tilley was among the heroes of the 1999 US Open Cup final, the last major trophy won by a current USL side. Pat Onstad and Yuri Alnatt were also key figures that night at Crew Stadium for the Rochester Rhinos. Now nine years later after a near financial collapse Tilley has his team in the semifinal round of the USL playoffs after dispatching 2008 Open Cup finalist Charleston 2-1 on aggregate. The Rhinos now advance to face Regular Season champ, Puerto Rico in the semifinals. Will the fixture congestion of the CONCACAF Champions League finally catch up with the Islanders next weekend? Don’t count on it. Right now for my money Colin Clarke’s side would be the third best team in MLS (After Houston and Columbus) if they were in that league instead of USL. The Islanders are deep and talented besides being extremely well coached. The semifinals will feature two teams with British coaches playing a very British style of football, so those Anglosnobs who refuse to watch MLS because it seems unfamiliar to them ought to check out the Islanders versus the Rhinos.

Elsewhere Minnesota shelled Jay Nolly all evening long but fell a goal short of advancing past the Whitecaps who came into the second leg up two goals. The final tally was Vancouver 5 Minnesota 4 after two legs. Stephen deRoux had a great game in midfield for the Thunder. Vancouver now will face Montreal in a Canadian derby semifinal. The Impact came from a goal down in the first leg to beat Seattle in the second leg 3-1. The final goal scored in stoppage time was set up Joey Gjerstan and tallied by Antonio Ribeiro. The Impact now focus on the Champions League midweek before facing Vancouver in a two leg series this weekend.

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Will MLS 2.0 Work?

2008-10-02T20:47:14.358-05:00

The indispensable American Soccer News had a good story on Don Garber’s plans for MLS 2.0, which will be discussed later this year with the league’s board. While Commissioner Garber deserves lots of credit for steering MLS away from the troubled waters that threatened its existence a few years back, the arrogance and hubris of the league which we’ve recently editorialized on this site threatens its long term credibility in the football world. Some points from this story: Garber says ” In regards to the CONCACAF Champions League, our credibility is being attacked but we want our clubs to focus on MLS…In reality, we are a business developing and to reconfigure our business model is not in our best interest.” I’m not sure how he can spin this in MLS’ favor. The reality is it was Commissioner Garber whose comments were out of line when MLS teams failed in the forerunner tournament of this, including DC United against Pachuca this past Spring. It was the commissioner and league seemingly anxious to buy international credibility that emphasized these results. Now the Champions League performances are all the more embarrasing not because Mexican or Costa Rican teams are showing up MLS sides: those are clearly better and deeper leagues than MLS, but because the United States’ own second divsion, with which MLS broke off a relationship thus scuttling the American Club football pyramid has been so successful in this event. Sides from the United Soccer Leagues have actually defeated Mexican and Costa Rican sides in this tournament while MLS is winless in the event. I have for many years maintained that the soccer press in this country was ignorant of USL and discounted the quality in that league partly because of the obsession with representing MLS as something it is not. For years I have maintained that while MLS is on the whole stronger than USL the typical gap between a first and second division doesn’t exist in this country, thanks to the limited budgets and poor scouting of MLS teams. The league may not like it but it’s credibility is in the gutter based on its embarrasing performances in the Champions League. The bottom line is this: we live in a Global world where Football from all over is on TV: the best leagues in whatever region rise to the top in their regional club tournament, be it the Argentine teams in Copa Libertadoras or the English teams in the UEFA Champions League. The fact that USL teams are showing more than MLS teams in the champions league for CONCACAF speaks volumes about the overall quality of MLS. There will be no promotion or relegation unveiled at that time and the league would prefer another Midwest team such as St. Louis to provide more balance geographically. Interest in a Miami franchise has resurfaced and Garber reiterated the demand in the Pacific Northwest is strong as well. MLS expansion continues to dilute talent and the quality of the product on the pitch. No doubt exists in the my mind that MLS sides would have been more competitive in the CONCACAF Champions League had for example Chivas USA not lost Preston Burpo and Jason Hernandez in the expansion draft, and been forced to replace injured players with guys who are essentially being paid a semi-pro wage. I can say this from the Miami perspective. MLS can work in South Florida but only if the quality of the product improves rapidly. The same for a second team in New York. If MLS is going to continue to to put out a product where defending is shambolic in almost every match and the pace is like watching paint dry, bigger more sophisticated football markets are going to tune out the product. I’d put Miami, New York and even Boston at the very top of this list. Garber also expressed that the Superliga is a priority for the league based off of attendance and television ratings. This line speaks for itself and to the priorities of the league. SUM makes money that sustains the league and thus MLS puts a priority on all SUM related events even if it means promoting a[...]



MLS Needs to Look Beyond Europe

2008-10-02T20:49:32.810-05:00

Jorge Rojas: MLS Super Signing I’ll be honest. Late in this season with European Football having kicked off, the US National Team’s qualifying in full swing, USL about to decide its playoff participants, and College Soccer having started up I’m having my difficult being motivated to watch MLS games. My disinterest cannot be blamed on the quality of play: I’m used to watching plenty of third rate football: USL and College Soccer would qualify in those categories, but both right now are more compelling for me to watch and track than MLS whose recent public relations among other things have turned me off, as we’ve discussed on this site. One very obvious thing emerges when comparing MLS and USL. Major League Soccer is becoming more latin flavored in its style of play, while USL is almost undoubtedly a reflection of how lower leagues in England appear in style of play. The two leagues though sharing the same geographical home now play a totally different brand of football: perhaps the direct, route one style of Northern Irish World Cup Veteran Colin Clarke is so atypical to CONCACAF that Puerto Rico Islanders are having success due to style of play more than quality on the pitch in the Champions League. The same can be surmised by Montreal’s solid play in CONCACAF and could have been assumed had Charleston not gotten a few unlucky bounces and beaten DC United in the US Open Cup final. This isn’t meant to minimize the accomplishments of USL sides in CONCACAF play which include defeating a Costa Rican side in a two leg tie, something never accomplished by an MLS side. Readers of this site and listeners to the show know I’m partisan in some regards towards USL but do realize much of the success of its teams when stepping out of what is essentially a second division and playing more talented sides be they in MLS or in Central America has been the style of play and the difficulty it causes for Latin oriented teams. At the same time Major League Soccer is becoming more and more latin flavored. The New York Red Bulls lost last night to Columbus but I took note of how they played even without Dave Van Den Bergh, who is one of the best players in the league. Juan Carlos Osorio’s side valued possession and knocked the ball around with a purpose in the first half featuring incredibly technical touches on the ball. Jorge Rojas, the captain of the Venezeluan National Team leads this new look team and when you have other quality players like Gabriel Cichero and Juan Pietravello who are technically gifted no question exists in my mind that the New York Red Bulls represents where MLS is headed. On the other side last night, Columbus without the incomparable Guille Barros Schelotto featured the lively, Olympic medalist Emmaunel Ekpo in midfield. Early in MLS’ history Sunil Gulati spent alot of effort in attracting African players to MLS. These included such notable names in World Football as Shaun Bartlett, Junior Agogo, Uche Okafor, Ben Iroha and Abdul Thompson Conteh among others. But as time went on and the original management team of the league was ushered out fewer and fewer African players with the league signing more players from European second divisions like Pascal Bedrosian and Terry Cooke to fill out squads. This trend thankfully seems to have been blunted. No point exists for MLS to continue to import large numbers of players from Europe. The league is more than welcome to cherry pick certain players like Darren Huckerby who want to be here, but the time of David Beckham, Lothar Matthaeus and Roberto Donadoni has come and gone. The future of MLS lies looking south towards Latin America and the Caribbean as well as across the the Atlantic with a southward tilt at Sub Saharan Africa. Changing the flavor of MLS will make the product more compelling and yes of a higher quality for the American football fan. [...]



Renkin to Arsenal? Some Thoughts

2008-10-02T20:51:14.601-05:00

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The recent press reports linking Arsenal and other Premier League clubs to 14 year old attacking midfielder Charles Renken whose sterling play for the US U-17 team in the Bradenton Invitational last year caught many eyes is terrifying from my perspective. Despite the success Arsenal has had in developing young footballers, Americans have had nothing but trouble when they go to England at a young age.

I get annoyed when I hear fans of the US Soccer program state that we need to put more young players in the English Premier League. Yes, we need to put more players in Europe, but no we do not have to put more young, developiong players in the Premier League. Take the list of players who have gone to Premier League clubs from the US at a young age: Jovan Kirovski, John Thorrington, Frank Simek, Zac Whitebread ,Kenny Cooper, Kyle Davies, Eric Licaj and Jonathan Spector and contrast that with the list of players who have gone to Holland or Germany at a young age: John O’Brien, Gregg Berhalter, DaMarcus Beasley, Cory Gibbs, Steve Cherundolo, Chad Deering, Robbie Rogers and Michael Bradley. It has been accurately pointed out to me in defense of English Football that some teen players who showed raw potential in Africa or Eastern Europe have dramatically improved once getting to England: That very well may be the case but for American players whose early training in the United States lacks the type of technical skill emphasis of other points on the globe, going to the continent seems to be a more reasonable long term bet for a player’s development than going to England. In England many pundits, including Martin Samuel of the Times indicate that English academies teaching of technique and ball skills is not up to the same standard as it is on the continent. (Samuel wrote a column after England’s 2-0 loss to Croatia in Zagreb during Euro 2008 Qualifying about this topic and was pillaged as you would expect by the Times online readers, but his point hit home with me based on the experiences of American players on both the continent and England.)

Frank Simek signed with Arsenal at 14, the same age and he now remains an outsider in the US player pool struggling for recognition on a second division side in his twenties. This pattern has played out with many of the other Americans I listed above who went to England as teens to develop their footballing skills. On the other hand the list of youngsters who went to continental clubs or academies is more impressive and dare I say has been much more impactful on the fortunes of the US National Team program.

Charles Renken is a special player. He has the potential to be a similar, even complimentary player to Freddy Adu a few years down the road in the US setup. Along with Stefan Jerome and Carlos Martinez he represents part of an attacking trio that could lead to US to glory in upcoming youth world cups. However, all of this is predicated on Renkin making the right move following his time at the US Soccer’s Academy in Bradenton and continuing his impressive growth as a young player.




Who Should the US Start Versus T&T

2008-09-09T23:26:35.502-05:00

Six points in the bag and little doubt the US will advance to the hexagonal. However the truth be told I think the United States finishes third in the hexagonal on current form and must improve its linkup play and general possession play in the final four matches of this qualifying stage. With this in mind this is the lineup I would like to see tomorrow assuming the bucket is being used by Bradley again.

—————————–Howard———————————-

—-Hedjuk————-Onyweu————Bocanegra———–Pearce—-

———————-Clark————–Bradley———————–

Kljestan—————————————————Lewis——-

——————————Donovan——————————–

——————————Johnson——————————–

  • Sacha Kljestan is the right sided player that is most dangerous for the US. He needs to play out on that side.
  • Eddie Johnson gets a chance partly so he can be safely written off after this match.
  • Despite scoring a goal against Cuba, Clint Dempsey’s lack of creativity and bad giveaways should earn him a place on the bench.
  • DaMarcus Beasley right now could not start for most of the teams left in CONCACAF qualifying. We are allegedly better than these sides so why do we keep throwing him out there ahead of a steady, veteran Eddie Lewis who is better than any other left sided midfielder in the region?
  • Rico Clark starts in place of Mo Edu who was woeful on Saturday.
  • Frankie Hedjuk is now my right back until he cannot walk or is suspended. Steve Cherundolo’s lack of maturity demonstrated in the Guatemala game can be solved by watching Frankie perform since Hedjuk was equally immature at one time not so long ago.
Comment here



US Looks Shaky in Havana

2008-09-09T23:21:01.357-05:00

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Reuters Photo

Three points is three points I suppose. But tonight’s game unlike last months qualifier in Guatemala City has me very concerned about the state of play regarding the US Team. Against a side that in its own stadium last month gave up three relatively quick goals to Trinidad and Tobago, the US had to grind out a result again dependent on some clutch goalkeeping and quite frankly some mistakes by the Cuban team.

Right now the United States lacks the technical skill nor the clean finishing or awareness in counter attacking situations to ever put away the opposition. The bad giveaways by defensive midfielders continues to be a trademark of this team with its current lineup and the inability for the strikers to finish the chances created for them against respectable opposition is painful to watch. In the last twelve matches, the current set of US strikers, Brian Ching and Eddie Johnson have scored in only one match: the 8-0 rout of Barbados, while every US goal in the other matches has come from midfielders or defenders and typically off set pieces.

Today’s performance was substantially worse than the game many have criticized the US for in Guatemala City last month. Again thye most solid players were the keeper Tim Howard and the two center backs, Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu. The performances of DaMarcus Beasley and Mo Edu in particular were forgetable. Given Scotland’s loss today to FYR Macedonia in Skopke perhaps both players feature on one of the two big sides in the SPL because of the lack of Scottish talent, not because of their individual qualities. Beasley in particular is becoming less and less useful as a player as time goes on.

A word on the atmonsphere tonight: Give the Cuban players and supporters a lot of credit. Despite the political tensions which I am in particular familiar with because of where I live (South Florida) the event tonight was perfect except for the lighting, with a polite crowd, and some good sportsmanship among both sides. Football really can overcome the problems politicians and dictators cause.

Comment here




Petke Power

2008-09-09T23:19:51.742-05:00

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AP PHOTO

Throughout Mike Petke’s Metrostars career a sign draped the wall at Giants Stadium which read Petke Power. For my money no lasting image of MLS early years was more vivid and more poignant than that sign. Mike Petke in fact has been one of the better defenders in MLS during his entire career. But the thing that has made Petke stand out for me is his leadership and his ability to score critical goals in critical matches. Petke’s goals during his time at DC United all seemed to come at critical times, including one in stoppage time against Columbus in 2003 that has to be considered one of the most exciting goals given the circumstances in the history of the league.

Petke now 32 is Colorado’s captain when he’s healthy. But the Rapids have been skidding down the western conference table for week and are now led by a manager, Gary Smith who is actually an Arsenal employee on loan to the Rapids. After last week’s loss to RSL Petke was quoted as saying ” “There were a lot of fans that traveled to come here, and I’m embarrassed. It’s over now, and we have to look forward to Thursday, a big game in Dallas. But, it’s going to be a tough night tonight.”

Petke led by example today scoring a classic goal to sink FC Dallas and to bring the Rapids right back into the heat of the playoff race. This goal was typical of Petke: key situation where his team needs to score and needs to win. Once again Petke power has prevailed, and with the longevity and leadership shown by Petke, don’t count the Rapids out just yet.

Comment here




Islanders Conquer

2008-09-09T23:17:15.015-05:00

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The Islanders used two late goals to advance Wednesday Night

Tropical Storm Hanna has reaked havoc on Haiti and it also delayed the start of tonight’s CONCACAF Champions League match between Puerto Rico and Alajuelense. For the first time ever a Costa Rican club has been eliminated from a CONCACAF tournament by an American club with the USL-1 side doing the honors. The Islanders won despite playing four matches in the last eight days all over North and Central America thanks to the fixture congestion MLS and USL both seem to tolerate. The US Open Cup final between DC United and Charleston at RFK Stadium was a showcase of the best American club football has to offer. This game was absent of the bad giveaways and poor possession play that characterize MLS and are less prevalent but still numerous in USL-1.

I have to say I am somehwat offended that many of my collegues and friends in the soccer blogger community have seemingly chosen to ignore the success of USL sides in this competition while continuing to discuss MLS’ failures in a vacuum. Football writers in England and Germany do not ignore their second divisions entirely and do not simply make assumptions about a product’s quality without watching it or trying to understand it. The dismissiveness of many towards USL this year has been shocking: the assumption during the early rounds of the US Open Cup was that USL sides were essentially semi pro teams and that any loss by MLS teams was on them, not due to the quality of play from USL. As one who follows both leagues cloesly I can tell you while the most individually talented players are in MLS, USL-1 has a quality to it unknown to MLS, something which both Puerto Rico and Montreal demonstrated in their CONCACAF triumphs: valuable midfield and attacking possession play. USL sides I have noticed also in my trips to Tropical Park Stadium and on the FSC Friday night telecast don’t commit all of the cheap giveaways MLS teams do. Yet USL sides lack the flair and quality in the final third to be as dangerous as MLS sides.

So basically I would say at home in an international competition I’d take a random MLS side, while when I travel to Central America or the Caribbean I’d take a top USL-1 side. While this sounds like I am simply interpreting the results of the last eight days this is based much more in the style and substance of play than on the results which of course do bear out my thinking.

USL sides are much more tecnhical and composed on the ball: Charleston showed this again last night as well but they were facing in DC, a side much more refined and cultured than your average MLS side. First touches in USL tend to be less exaggerated than in MLS and while the best players in the nation play in MLS, their are also a number of development roster player who later in the season play significgant roles in MLS: The majority of these players would not make a USL-1 roster.

I’d urge my collegues in the soccer blogger community and media to pay more attention to USL-1. Sure the games aren’t played in the sexy venues and you don’t have a commissioner that likes to shoot off his mouth in selling the quality of his league, but the football itself is very revealing. It is no coincidence as we enter the group stages of the CONCACAF Champions League, the top club tournament in this region that USL has as many teams left in the event as MLS.




Impact Advances, MLS Falters

2008-09-09T23:18:23.370-05:00

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Longtime FC Dallas GK Matt Jordan kept a clean sheet as USL-1 side Montreal Impact advanced in the Champions League

Even after DC United beats the Charleston Battery in tonight’s US Open Cup Final, USL will have achieved something tangible that MLS failed at attempting, and failed badly at: to advance a team out of the qualifying round of the CONCACAF Champions League. Montreal got a draw on the road to Real Esteli and advance intyo the group stage of the competition while MLS sides New England and Chivas USA were eliminated on their home turf.

Chivas USA gave a game effort which is much much more than can be said for New England. But the bottom line is this. MLS is nowhere near as competitive or attractive a league as its proponents claim. This tournament was supposed to be different because unlike the CONCACAF Champions Cup, this event was being started right in the heart of the MLS season. But what we’ve discovered is that MLS lacks the depth not only on its squads, but among its squads to seriously compete in these sorts of events. For all those who state that MLS is the most competitive league in the world, the reality is that the same teams usually win the title and the same teams usually compete well when representing the league in CONCACAF competitions. So how good is MLS in reality? Not very good by any objective international standard. I firmly believe that MLS which constantly compares itself to the FMF isn’t even the second or maybe third best league within CONCACAF. But it is our league as is USL and we must embrace both to grow the game in the United States.




Bradley vs Arena: Different Styles

2008-09-02T11:02:00.771-05:00

Eddie Johnson and Brian Ching celebrate a goal against Barbados, the only game which a current US striker has scored a goal in the last 14 months for the national team. Bob Bradley’s tenure as United States National Team manager has gone about as well as can be expected: A CONCACAF Gold triumph, several victories in the “old world” and thus far a smooth run in qualifying including an elusive win over Guatemala. So with this in mind, clearly their will be no coaching change for the US in the next several years. But Coach Bradley unlike his predecessor Bruce Arena seems to be reluctant to use current club form as a guide to player selection. Arena, almost to a fault felt it necessary even during World Cup qualifying to call in any in-form American player to give him a look. Bradley seemed to take the Arena philosophy early in his tenure. Bradley’s first year and change on the job saw the call ups of about 70 players. However since the March friendly with Poland, Bradley’s selections have become less and less creative and more and more predictable. Thankfully some of this predictability has been the now routine call ups of Frankie Hejduk and Eddie Lewis both of whom spent a year without being called in after World Cup 2006 when younger players tried and ultimately failed to fill their positions. Unfortunetely this also means the continued routine call ups of Eddie Johnson, now playing his trade in England’s second division, Clint Dempsey who has scored one club goal in the last nine months, DaMarcus Beasley whose role should be filled by Lewis until the later retires, and Ricardo Clark who has looked completely out of his depth in his last four matches for the United States. The return of Clark to the national team for critical qualifiers is totally unjusitifed. Despite playing on MLS’ dominant team, Clark’s confidence is in the tank. He has been most unimpressive to me while playing for the Dynamo this year other than in a few glimmers. Eddie Johnson and Brian Ching the current US strikers have scored goals in only one match for the US in the last fourteen months: that match was an 8-0 thrashing of Barbados. Had Arena still been managing the national team, in form Kenny Cooper or Charlie Davies would have surely been called into this squad if for no other reason to judge them in camp. Clint Dempsey not only has played poorly for the US, but seeing him in person now in several US matches over the last 12 months I fear he has gone from having a monster killer instinct to disinterest in the national team. This probably comes from being overworked at Fulham and now confused about his role there, thanks to Manager Roy Hodgson’s tactics. DaMarcus Beasley is a player whose hustle wins him accolades from American coaches and whose Champions League experience gets him love in the press, but whose utility on the international level appears to be waning. Beasley’s first touch and creativity are completely devoid when he needs it the most and I personally am much more comfortable with a wily veteran like Eddie Lewis on the pitch than Beasley whose mistakes and poor positioning are more likely to cost you points than win you anything. Bradley’s call in of Marvell Wynne is long overdue. For some reason with Wynne available for matches against Mexico and Barbados earlier this year, Drew Moor was called in ahead of him as the first choice right back. Also the call up of Mexican-American fullback Michael Orozco who hopefully can earn his first full US Cap is a welcome sign. The omission of Kenny Cooper, and Freddy Adu the most creative player the US has are glaring. Arena most certainly would have called both players in to camp in a similar situation. Only time will tell if Bradley’s decisions are justified. Comment here[...]



Hubris II

2008-09-02T08:02:23.071-05:00

A day after amazing achievements for USL-1 sides in CONCACAF Champions League action Major League Soccer continued its pattern of showing that they don’t get it by rejecting New York’s $200,000 bid for Macoumba Kandji according to Ives Galarcep of Soccer by Ives. The apparent stumbling block: MLS does not believe any player in USL could possibly be worth $200,000. Even after seeing the Puerto Rico Islanders, a USL side accomplish a feat that no MLS team has been able to in eight tries (getting a result against one of the big two Costa Rican clubs in Central America) Major League Soccer will not allow one of its franchises to spend transfer money on a player from the second division in its own country. Can you imagine if the Premier League forbade its clubs from buying players from Championship clubs? Or how about Serie A not buying from Serie B? The policy would rightly be ripped and quite frankly the gap between USL-1 and MLS is much smaller than between the Premier League and Championship. It’s no small wonder why so many fans domestic and abroad view the MLS not only a poor footballing league but more importantly as a somewhat strange and shady business. The Hubris in MLS HQ is a subject I’ve been exploring the Superliga debacle. This incident however even surprises someone like me who tends to think the worst possible of the league. However, I must state I support MLS and hope they shape up rather than permanently lose a generation of football fans in this nation. The fact is back in the day USL-1 (then the A-League) and MLS used to have a working partnership. Now they compete. USL is obviously an inferior league but its not as wide a gap as typically you have between first and second divisions. MLS seems determined to kill USL, while at the same time not allowing its franchises to grow. I’ve actually spoken off the record to a few players who have been in both leagues and while they acknowledge MLS is the top league some prefer playing in USL and actually signing with a team and not being subject to the constant rearranging of the deck chairs that occurs in MLS since player contracts are owned by the league and not by certain clubs. What MLS needs to do is learn from USL’s success in certain markets and also understand why USL sides tend to perform well relative to their talent level in knock out competitions like the Open Cup and now the CONCACAF CL. USL-1 sides typically get players that are MLS rejects not because they weren’t good enough to play but because they fell in the salary range of 30k-50k where cap space becomes tight. Many USL-1 players are actually better than the low end MLS players. In other cases it is easier for foriegn players, particularly from the Caribbean and Africa to sign with USL-1 and USL-2 sides. Often times the foreign players that end up in USL have a better long term outlook than the overpayed and over the hill type foreign players MLS likes to sign. Mac Kandji is an example of this type of foreign player. For a league in the last year who has signed foreign players such a Franco Neil, Mathias Cordoba, Franco Carracio, Celestine Babyaro, Abel Xavier, Laurent Robert and others based on reputation not on their ability to excel in the unique footballing climate of the United States, the decision of MLS to reject a transfer fee for Kandji shows that once again MLS operates in a vacuum with regards to the world of football and deserves all of the scorn it has rightfully earned. Comment here[...]



USL Trumps MLS

2008-09-02T07:49:38.235-05:00

Today’s goalscorer for USL-1 side Puerto Rico Islanders Osei Telesford against England in May/Reuters Photo Can you believe that headline? After seeing MLS sides lose in all eight attempts to even get so much as a draw in a CONCACAF Champions Cup match on Costa Rican soil, tonight in the new CONCACAF Champions League USL-1 side Puerto Rico Islanders got a shock 1-1 draw at Alajuelense. Well USL-1 is a second division, no doubt but what does it say when your second division gets a result in its first time out to Costa Rica where MLS is 0-8 through the years in the champions cup? Fluke, or dumb luck I think the Islanders result tells us a heck of a lot about the character of USL-1 sides and why it has been unwise of many to write of the league as being inconsequential. Recall just this past week, I tipped Alajuelense as one of the my five favorites to win the competition. (Along with Saprissa and three Mexican sides) No MLS side had this tough an opening matchup, and yet neither MLS side that played Tuesday night got a result against much weaker opposition. The reality of the situation is this: MLS’ squad limits and single entity structure limit the ability of its teams to compete in major international settings. In addition the MLS salary cap allows many of the middle tier of American players to star in USL while the lower tier ends up filling out MLS squads. It’s simple salary cap math. So if you are an MLS Sporting Director, in order to sign a high profile player you usually have to jettison a middle salary player who instead of staying MLS ends up in USL. Puerto Rico has several such players who would still be good squad footballers if in MLS. Colin Clark whose tenure in Dallas ended badly with a first round exit from the 2006 MLS Cup Playoffs showed his tactical shrewdness in the match. The Islanders who have been playing very well in USL-1 used the clutch goalkeeping of former Columbus Crew stopper Bill Gaudette as well as some very gutsy midfield play to salvage the draw. The Islanders feature an eclectic mix of players: full internationals like Fabrice Noel and Osei Telesford who featured in last week’s CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers, as well as American journeymen players like Gaudette and Josh Hansen and Edson Elcock. The Islanders relishing the occasion and understanding tactical football on the road pulled a shock result, that MLS clubs in numerous opportunities have failed to deliver. No one in their right mind is going to claim USL-1 has the quality of MLS. But at the same time, I have long maintained that the gap between the two leagues could be the narrowest between first and second divisions in the world. The last two nights of Champions League action where two MLS sides have discredited their league while two USL-1 sides have achieved results speak volumes to that point. For some of us this is not unexpected. Just this evening my CSRN colleague Johnathan Starling told me that he believed Puerto Rico would make match of it tonight. I told him that as much as I believe USL sides will perform decently in this event, and show more heart than MLS teams, I just couldn’t see any team with American players going to Costa Rica and getting a result. I was wrong and essentially fell into the same trap I have editorialized against as recently as this morning: Overrating MLS and assuming American players like Bill Gaudette could not perform in hostile Ticos settings because so many MLS players have failed in the very same setting in the past.Comment here [...]



Hubris

2008-09-02T07:48:17.374-05:00

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Marco Etcheverry is the type of creative player MLS lacks today/MLSNET.com

The CONCACAF Champions league was built up as Major League Soccer’s opportunity to show how well it sides perform while in season. The complaint about the now retired Champions Cup was that it was played during the MLS preseason. However, despite a flattering scoreline the first match of the Champions League showed how outclassed outside the United States MLS sides often times are, even though New England is arguably the best MLS team around. While Chivas USA certainly played a better match down in Panama than New England did in Port of Spain the result was the same: MLS lost. Now based on these results, it is very likely both MLS teams will advance to the group stage due to having home legs upcoming. Yet the point cannot be lost: unlike Mexican or Costa Rican sides, MLS teams cannot get results or even dictate play away from home.

The laundry list of excuses are already being touted: That MLS squads don’t have depth because of the roster limits, that teams are suffering from fixture congestion and that the focus right now remains on the MLS season. These excuses are to me worthless since the league itself has made such a production of touting its improvement when compared with football in other parts of the region. I have said this before and will say this again: I believe MLS circa 1998 had more quality than MLS circa 2008. Sure the talent is more evenly distributed now throughout the league, but the top teams and in fact the top players in league were more impressive ten years ago than they are today. The results MLS teams achieved versus sides from abroad in those days even in friendlies were quite frankly more impressive than today.

All of this really doesn’t matter if it weren’t for MLS’ own arrogance in promoting its product. As the defeat of Toronto FC in the Canadian Championship at the hands of the then last place USL-1 side demonstrated, that despite an increase in exposure due to a surge in popularity for football in North America, MLS’ product continues to be inferior to just about any other league available on American television. David Beckham’s arrival stateside gave MLS the impetus to over promote its own virtues.

MLS does not need to be the most competitive or attractive league in the world. As I have said before the old MLS that focused on player development and increasing access to the game was a preferable model to today’s league. But as the league has advanced an agenda of becoming a super league in North America, its impact on the US National Team as discussed a few weeks back has been problematic as is the seeming desire of the league to promote its own tournament which it runs, Superliga as some sort of major international event. This is because MLS receives the profits from the event via its marketing arm, SUM and all the matches are played on American soil. What’s even worse is in order to tout its own importance and value in footballing circles the league continues to boast about its competitiveness and quality when almost all visible evidence refutes these claims.

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Should the Deuce Be Cut Loose?

2008-09-02T07:46:38.386-05:00

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The lone American goal scorer from World Cup 2006 now has consistently played so poorly for the national team if the opponent is not Barbados, that his presence seems to actually help stagnate the side. Dempsey’s last good performance for the National Team against a decent opponent was last October in Switzerland. At the time “the Deuce” was on a nice run for Fulham, his club side and was playing with lots of confidence.

A combination of a managerial change at Fulham (A switch from Lawrie Sanchez who had a lot of faith in Dempsey to the old school Roy Hodgson) the relegation fight the Cottagers found themselves in and the need to help carry the US woeful run of play attack seemed to be too much for Dempsey to handle. He has now looked tired and disinterested on consistent basis in the last several months.

Bruce Arena seemed to have a philosophy as national team manager that if you were playing well with your club you would at the very least be called into national team camp. Bob Bradley on the other hand has proven to value the continuity of his squad selection above all, essentially narrowing his player pool down to 25-28 players and picking about 20 for each match from that group. Is this a good philosophy and is it smart to continue to pick out of players like Dempsey and Eddie Johnson over players in form? Or is it wise to keep as many familiar faces on the team, given the limited training time the national team has together? One thing is for sure: Dempsey’s play would have earned him a benching by now under Arena. But Bradley seems to manage his players differently even if his tactics are somewhat similar.

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Bob Bradley's Tactics

2008-08-22T19:12:07.744-05:00

Under Bob Bradley the USMNT has become reliant on set pieces for scoring and quite possibly more dependent on its center backs than any top 50 national team/photo from US Soccer For all the criticisms of Bob Bradley’s tactics by commentators including myself, the continued success rate the United States enjoys on set pieces is remarkable. This is all the more remarkable when you consider the trouble the United States had scoring on set pieces in the 1999 to 2003 period after Eric Wynalda, Marcello Balboa and Alexi Lalas all outstanding in dead ball situations were off the national team. The resurgence of quality in these situations could not have come at a better time: It seems obvious that the United States does not have players with the on the ball skills or finishing ability to consistently score in the run of play. Or perhaps American managers do not know how to tactically put talented players like Landon Donovan in a position to succeed without relying on his dead ball skills. If you eliminate the two matches against a completely outclassed Barbados team, six of the eight goals scored by the United States this year have been scored from set pieces. Of these six goals, four have been scored by the Center Backs, Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra. In other words in matches againstcompetitive opposition, chances are the US will rely on set pieces to score and additionally the chances that a non striker or midfielder will be the difference maker is also high. This is because in Bob Bradley’s “bucket” system the idea is to absorb pressure and to selectively counter attack. The intent of counter attacking by the US since 2007 has been largely to create corner kicks or free kick opportunity rather than to actually place a shot on goal. Tactically it is extremely risky to rely on this sort of play. The inability of American strikers to finish and American midfielder to hold the ball or create chances may be why Bradley feels such a scheme is necessary. Very few national teams with the sort of perceived talent the United States has plays such a strange tactical scheme. At the very same time, very few international managers have two center backs like Bocanegra and Onyewu at their disposal. While it can be argued that one or maybe both are actually liabilities on the defensive end, both are deadly accurate when receiving service in dead ball situations. Watching as much international football as I do, I must state that I don’t know of two other center backs in the world who score as many goals with as few opportunities. John Terry, Rafa Marquez and Juan have all scored goals for their nations, but they do not I would venture to guess score as often in limited opportunities as do the two US backs. The reality of the situation is this: the United States may have superior or inferior talent to most of its opposition in CONCACAF. But in fact right now it does not matter because Bob Bradley feels he has found a formula that works: sit back for much of the match and then hit the opposition not with a classic counter attacking goal but on a corner kick or free kick which is often times inevitable in a match. Bringing up the two center backs who are both physical and athletic causes problems for CONCACAF sides with smaller and less athletic players. Until someone in CONCACAF can shut down Bocanegra or Onyewu in the area or prevent the US from getting a Landon Donovan, Eddie Lewis or DaMarcus Beasley set piece, Bradley is going to keep his tactics consistent. Comment here[...]



US Secure Massive Three Points; Mexico Escapes

2008-08-21T09:20:59.889-05:00

Photo from Reuters Mexico was fortunate to escape with a 2-1 win at Azteca tonight over a Honduran side filled with quality. Honduras played some quality football and was unfortunate not to secure at minimum a point as Mexico despite being out thought and flustered much of the night used two Pavel Pardo goals in a three minute span late in the match to escape. Controversy surrounded the winning goal as it appeared Cuauhtemoc Blanco appeared to be offsides and obstruct the goalkeeper. However the goal stood and Mexico triumphed. Despite the win Sven Gorn Eriksson’s side has lots of work to do to improve on what was a poor performance. Mexico’s two Premier League based attacking players, Gio Dos Santos and Carlos Vela were outclassed and over their head in such a big setting. Eriksson would be wise to recall Jared Borgetti for the next set of qualifiers. With Jamaica’s draw in Toronto against Canada, The reggae boys must be considered in the drivers seat to claim second spot and a ticket to the hexagonal from the CONCACAF Group of Death. Long time MLS midfielder Andy Williams, one of the true gentlemen of the league scored Jamaica’s lone goal to secure the 1-1 draw. Bob Bradley’s US side on the other hand played the perfect tactical match in a hostile road environment and escaped with three points. The Americans never really lost their shape and the two center backs, Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra were outstanding. Brian Ching validated his selection with a fine performance which also makes my questions about his recall from yesterday’s American Soccer Show look silly. Clint Dempsey as has become on the norm for the National Team was poor and appeared to be weary from the long travel after playing Saturday for Fulham. While I question some of the officiating which prior to Steve Cherundolo’s sending off seemed to favor the US at critical moments, nobody can doubt that Bradley and his team had a massive victory tonight. This win is perhaps the biggest by the United States since World Cup 2002. It is the first US victory in Central America since a 2001 win over Honduras. On the return trip to the US, Honduras defeated the US at RFK Stadium and came within an eyelash of qualifying for Korea/Japan 2002. Guatemala however lacks the quality and composure of that Honduras side. Led by master provocateur Carlos Ruiz, the Guatemalans were quick to the ground and quite unsporting for large portions of the match. As I stated last year, I believe Rico Clark was probably justified in lashing out Ruiz and that his suspension by MLS was unjust. In Ruiz and Blanco, MLS has attracted two of the most unsporting players in this region. Sadly as fans of the beautiful game in the United States we continue to be subjected to the childish and immature behavior of both superstars. Thankfully class footballers like Andy Williams and Eddie Lewis who also featured tonight in qualifying give MLS a good name. Lewis who was seriously injured by a rash Guatemalan challenge is a warrior whose spirit exemplifies the best hybrid of American and British football around. Trindiad and Tobago defeated Cuba behind the efforts of several current and former US based players. T&T now has a leg up on Guatemala to join the US in the hexagonal out of the group. Cornell Glen who played several years in MLS scored one of the Soca Warriors goals.Comment here Blogged with the Flock Browser[...]



MLS Deserving of Ridicule

2008-08-20T09:23:24.548-05:00

Stuart Holden will not be able to watch team mates Brian Ching and Dwayne DeRosario in qualifying tonight because he’s playing at the same time/photo from MLSNET Major League Soccer is one of the strangest football leagues in the world. While some European oriented fans ridicule MLS for the time of year it is played those of us who understand world football and weather patterns do not really understand how MLS can be played when these people’s beloved English Premier League is played. Nor do I subscribe to the single table argument, in a league where distances of 2,500 miles is common between stadiums. To me it makes more sense to play the clubs in your geographic area more often than clubs on the other side of the continent. Now that we’ve dismissed the most common Eurosnob arguments about MLS let me introduce why I believe the league on this day of deadly critical World Cup qualifiers in CONCACAF need not be taken seriously. MLS not only plays through international breaks but plays with its top teams at the very same time the United States national team plays. We’ve seen this happen time and time again throughout MLS history. I still recall my conflict in 1999 about whether to watch a US-Germany game on PPV (Confederations Cup) or a Miami Fusion-Metrostars game on ABC. In other words the less important match, the MLS one was more accessible than the more important and entertaining match. This is a situation that would be avoided at all costs in most footballing nations. The federation would insist on its domestic league not competiting with its national team for TV time. Even if tonight’s MLS matches end prior to the end of the US National Team qualifier, the two events are essentially in competition for viewers and for attention. We’ve seen this situation played out time and time again. We’ve seen websites like this focus on MLS news instead of national team news during qualifying and friendly matches. We’ve even seen Sportscenter air MLS highlights before US highlights as it did during last year’s Copa America when ESPN showed matches at the very same time as two US games on Univision and GOLTV. That’s why with qualifying starting I announced earlier this week that this blogsite will focus on the US Team, as the American Soccer Show has done whenever the US is in action be it for a qualifier, or a friendly. Maybe I am old fashioned but the national team should be the priority. Trust me, I really understand some of MLS’ scheduling issues which is why I am not beating the drum of changing the calender or going to a single table. However, if MLS must play through international breaks can they not at least attempt to schedule matches 24 hours before or after a US or Canadian game? (This courtesy should be extended to all CONCACAF nations quite frankly) I’m sorry to say this to those of you who support New England, Chivas USA, Houston or DC United but your matches tonight are totally meaningless in the big picture when the National Team faces its toughest qualifier of this group. The idea that the Soccer/Football community in our nation will have its attention split instead of cheering on our boys has made me sick to my stomach. At the same time as this is happening, MLS has attempted to oversell its product. Why the league does not focus on simply being a good domestic league that brings live football to the masses here in North America and develops American talent, as it once did is lost upon me. All of a sudden the league wants to be a player abroad and is starved for international attention. In the meantime MLS itself has probably the w[...]



RWO-TuS Koblenz

2008-08-19T17:13:55.083-05:00

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Matt Taylor's Great Goal.




Kenny Cooper: What is Bob Bradley Thinking

2008-08-19T15:09:54.683-05:00

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Drawing Fouls and Creating Set Pieces: Eddie Johnson’s usefulness?

For weeks, maybe months now all the buzz seems to be about Kenny Cooper’s non selection to the National Team by Bob Bradley. I understand most in the blogosphere share my view that Cooper’s selection for the national team should have been automatic by this point. But here are I believe some issues that have swirled through Bob Bradley’s head to explain why Cooper has not been selected since the March 2007 friendly against Guatemala.

Again I do not share these views but here is Bob Bradley possible, rational thinking on the situation:

  • Kenny Cooper has been repeatedly injured when Bradley could have called him in for pre qualifying friendlies or last year’s Copa America.
  • Eddie Johnson who continues to get called into the side despite an awful goal scoring record over the past two and a half years is lightning quick and often draws fouls in dangerous areas. Given Bradley’s dependence on set pieces to generate scoring for the US, isn’t it better to have someone proven to draw fouls on the international level?
  • Cooper’s tendency to push wide in a rigid tactical formation that depends on the team keeping its shape is a no no at such a high level.
  • Cooper’s clinical finish against Denmark last year was aberration: perhaps in that training camp as well as the Ecuador/Guatemala camp last March he just did not stand out.
  • Cooper has not been part of the setup for the US at any major youth competition. As has been the case before both Bradley and Arena have been reluctant to call into camp a player who they have not seen in the system at a lower level.
  • Bradley simply wants to use a friendly or the January camp to re-evaluate players like Cooper, Marvell Wynne and Edson Buddle who have gone long periods without being called up to the full national side.

It is possible however that Bradley is simply biased towards and against certain players and Cooper has done something previously to upset the manager. Whatever the case, this issue is not going away until Cooper either gets called in or the US starts scoring boatloads of goals against respectable competition.

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Mo Edu on the Move

2008-08-19T08:43:24.707-05:00

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Edu with the USMNT/SI.com

Mo Edu’s sale to Glasgow Rangers is more good news for US Soccer as we begin the 2010 World Cup qualifying cycle. While Edu was fortunate that in playing for Toronto FC he was led by one of the few outstanding MLS managers in John Carver, playing on the fieldturf of BMO Field as well as the general disjointed-ness of MLS would have stagnated his growth as a player.

Edu is a remarkable story: completely off the radar of US Soccer as teenager, he is one of the few players in recent US History to actually be capped for the full National Team before he ever got a youth national team run out. That first national team match against Switzerland was the thing of legends, as Edu helped anchor a midfield which gave the home standing Swiss very little space to operate. It was one of the best debuts in recent US National Team history.

Now Edu goes to play for Walter Smith and a club desperate for an SPL title. How do our readers feel about Edu’s move to Rangers and what are his prospects long term for the National Team?

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Americans in Germany: The weekend that was

2008-08-18T20:50:32.832-05:00

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Preston Zimmerman still can’t get a game at Hamburg

Every week during the Bundesliga season we’ll be keeping track of how our Yanks are doing in the German leagues. Here is the recap of weekend one.

Grover Gibson

Scored a goal in RW Ahlen’s 2-1 win over FSV Frankfurt

Steve Cherdundolo

Played 90 minutes in Hanover’s 3-0 defeat to Schalke 04.

Matt Taylor

Scored a goal from outside the area in TuS Koblenz’s 3-0 victory over RW Oberhausen

David Yelldell

Kept a clean sheet in TuS Koblenz’s 3-0 victory over RW Oberhausen

Bryan Arguez, Sal Zizzo, Gregg Berhalter, Luis Robles and Preston Zimmerman did not play for their clubs.


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Who Should Bob Bradley Start Against Guatemala?

2008-08-18T20:48:14.081-05:00

We’re days away from the most important match of the Bob Bradley era and perhaps the most difficult. The trip to Guatemala is never easy, but making it even more difficult is that several American regulars are not in form by any stretch of the imagination. With the exception of Landon Donovan it’s difficult to see how the US will generate any offense in this match.

Assuming Bradley sticks with the bucket here’s the team I would field.

——————————-Howard—————————————-

—-Cherdundolo———–Onyweu————Bocanegra—————Pearce——

————————-Mastroeni———Edu———————————

—-Bradley——————————————————–Lewis——–

————————-Donovan———-Ching——————————-

Player selection is really hamstrung by Bradley’s decision not to call in players like Kenny Cooper among others. With this in mind I’m giving a conservative lineup with the exception of benching Clint Dempsey whose recent play for the US has been worse than below average. If Michael Bradley cannot play out wide move him back to defensive midfield and play Sacha Kljestan out wide on the right side. I’d prefer to see Mo Edu play at center back and Carlos Bocanegra on the bench (actually off the team) but I know that Bocanegra has a permanent place as long as Bradley manages the side so I won’t even suggest it in my lineup.

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Sven's Decision to Recall Blanco: Pros and Cons

2008-08-17T12:44:06.944-05:00

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Sven Goran Eriksson proved once again on Friday that he isn’t going to manage in a traditional fashion when he recalled Cuauhtemoc Blanco of the Chicago Fire to the National Team ahead of Wednesday’s massive qualifier at Estadio Azteca versus a very good Honduran side. This matchup between arguably the two most talented teams in CONCACAF will go a long way towards determining a place in the final round of CONCACAF qualifing, the Hexagonal.

Here are how I see the pros and cons of Blanco’s recall:

PROS

  • Blanco’s work rate and technical skill remain very sharp even at 35.
  • Blanco can hold the ball even with his back to goal against a strong Honduran midfield
  • Blanco remains a fan favorite in Mexico and his inclusion builds some credibility for Sven’s young regime.

CONS

  •      Blanco’s volitile personality could clash with the young starlets of the side like Gio Dos Santos and Carlos Vela
  •      Blanco has typically had a hard time working with Omar Bravo in the midfield
  •      With all the young talent around, how much longer will Blanco and Jared Borgetti continue to start for Mexico? Do you really want to transition away from these two right around the 2010 World Cup?
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Arena the Right Choice for the Galaxy

2008-08-17T12:42:24.486-05:00

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I’ve read with some amusement the last few days the opinions of people I respect questioning the apparent decision by the LA Galaxy to hire Bruce Arena. From my vantage point after drifting along as simply a marketing entity and not a serious footballing side since the death of Doug Hamilton, no move can equal the potential hiring of Arena in signaling that the Galaxy are serious about competiting again in MLS. The Galaxy have become irrelevant from a footballing standpoint in MLS. No amount of David Beckham hype, ticket sales, or hubris from AEG can change that reality.

Bruce Arena understands MLS and the American player as well as anybody around. His tenures with Virginia, DC United and the US National Team speak for themselves. The weakness Arena had in his time leading US was his lack of interest in player development and the youth academy setup, but seeing that MLS has become a league less committed to developing its own talent and more interested in getting second tier players from abroad and recycling older American players, Arena’s unique understanding of the American game will make him the ideal choice. Whether it’s acquiring players within MLS, a weakness of former GM Alexi Lalas or motivating the current group of Galaxy players, Arena knows what he’s doing: He’s done it better than anyone in the history of football in the US. Arena has a better sense for American talent: who will pan out and who won’t than any manager in the history of the game here in the US. This is directly the opposite of Alexi Lalas who had some strange ideas as to the quality of certain players and seemed to be more of a marketing man despite his remarkable success as a player for the US National Team.

Arena’s time at Red Bull New York has many questioning his pedigree: They ought not to. In Los Angeles, unlike in New York Arena will find a back office staff and a management team who understand MLS and football not simply the marketing of energy drinks, and he will have the resources of AEG to back his vision for the club. Arena’s hiring will also signal that after allowing the Beckham/Lalas circus to run roughshod over footballing considerations for almost two years AEG and the Galaxy are getting back to basics.

The choice of Bruce Arena should be a no brainer for AEG. The hiring of a manager of Bruce Arena’s quality can also prevent a mass exodus of players from the Galaxy in the near future. Arena’s tactics are simple but will suit both David Beckham and Landon Donovan’s quality as well as being stronger at the back then what we have seen from the Galaxy recently. The quicker AEG closes the deal the sooner the Galaxy can return to the heights they enjoyed in the first decade of MLS’ existence.

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