Aaand…We’re Back

We were on deadline last Friday night till 9:30 and then we spent the weekend and beyond packing up the Backpost home offices for relocation. Not an easy job: Our signed Rodney Marsh and Jeff Durgan jerseys require special packaging and extra transport fees.

We’re just about on the other side of it all, but in the process we missed posting on the MLS opener between Seattle and expansion Philadelphia, the first real game at Red Bull Arena, and the opening weekend league-wide, along with an eventful Premier League weekend and some good outings for Yanks Abroad in general.

Here are a few reactions on the MLS opening weekend, and we’ll get back at everything else once we’re fully relocated and reconnected to the InterWebs:

Sounders Bust Union 2-0

The atmosphere in Seattle was incredible–36,000-plus turned up in a driving rain and spent the entire game chanting and singing.

There were two mohawks on the field, as Seattle’s second-year man Steve Zakuani sported a subtle one and Union defender Danny Califf went full Travis Bickle with his.

Zakuani was the most dangerous player on the field for much of the night. Seattle midfielder Osvaldo Alonso—a Cuban defector—also had a great game.

Freddies Ljungberg and Montero weren’t quite clicking last Thursday, but they are poised to be one of the league’s more potent attacking combos

Philadelphia started a surprisingly young group—with two players, Michael Orozco and 18-year-old Danny Mwanga—playing out of position. They also continued the tendency for hotheadedness that they showed in preseason, as Califf was yellow-carded in the early going, and his partner in central defense, Toni Stahl, was red-carded in the 40th minute.

This Philly team was spirited, and will probably get better results at home (especially when PPL opens), but Seattle was head-and-shoulders better and seemed like a long-established franchise rather than last year’s expansion team.

Red Bulls Douse Fire 1-0

The atmosphere at Red Bull Arena was electric and loud (much as it was the previous week in the exhibition against Santos), the result was positive (ditto) and the opening goal was scored by new midfield signing Joel Lindpere (again).

The team was also noticeably sharper and more energized than previous years’ editions, and yet there were signs of the old MetroBull funk, struggling under the surface: In the first half, with the score still 0-0, Mike Petke—who had a great game—attempted a clearance  while running toward his own goal—and nearly put it over RB keeper Bouna Coundoul, prompting the guy in front of us to say, “Hey we already opened one arena with an own goal.” He was referring to Nicola Caricola‘s own goal that gave the New England Revolution a 1-0 win over the MetroStars in their inaugural home opener back in 1996—aka the Curse of Caricola

Fire forward Brian McBride came within two inches of scoring on a bicycle kick in the first half, his effort bouncing harmlessly off the post, and then Chicago spent the last ten minutes pressing heavily for an equalizer. It was an all-too-familiar scenario for old-school MetroBull fans, and yet … the Fire didn’t get it.

We might actually be in a new era with this team. The old Red Bulls/MetroStars would most definitely have given up a late equalizer—and may have coughed up two.

Javier Morales wins Player of the Week:

An excellent two-goal, one assist outing for the Real Salt Lake star, no doubt, and it’s a nice way for him to start the new season after having left last year’s MLS Cup in the early going with an injury. But this result may say as much about the woeful status of the Quakes as it does about Morales and RSL. They open at home with a 3-0 pasting? Could be another long year in San Jose. D.C. United also needs to get its house in order after absorbing a 4-0 drubbing at Kansas City, United coach Curt Onalfo‘s former team. Said veteran striker Jaime Moreno, “This [loss] is a slap in the face … and it is clear that this team has a long way to go to improve.”

In the other opening games, Guillermo Barros Schelotto set up the first goal and scored the second in Columbus’s 2-0 win over Toronto; FC Dallas and Houston split the points (1-1) in the Texas derby in front of a paltry crowd of 8,000-something at Pizza Hut Park—less than half the attendance for last year’s opener; and Edson Buddle scored a sixth-minute goal for Los Angeles that proved to be the winner over New England. Landon Donovan got the assist.

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Philly Redux

We got some excellent reader feedback after yesterday’s post on the expansion Philadelphia Union and soccer’s roots in Philly, so we’re posting again to address the comments:

Reader Dave L brought up the Philadelphia Fury, the NASL successor to the Atoms. We did not include them in our capsule history and they probably deserved a mention—not only for the fact that three of their primary investors were Peter Frampton, Rick Wakeman and Paul Simon (what, no Elton John, footie fan and singer of “Philadelphia Freedom?”).

Their ill-advised color scheme of mustard and raspberry, which they wore for their three years of existence (1978-80), and some of the stars on their roster—including ex-Atoms keeper Bob Rigby and former England international Alan Ball—were also noteworthy.

Ball was the youngest member of England’s 1966 World Cup–winning* squad. He had a huge game in the final against West Germany, and also played in the 1970 World Cup.

DL also hunted down the above photo of the Fury in action against the Houston Hurricane’s Kai Haaskivi. Note Houston’s colors—identical to the current Dynamo kit. No word on whether the Gulden family of products was a Fury investor.

Commenter The Fenestrator opened a window on the local flavor of that Atoms NASL team, mentioning Stan Startzell, an All-America at U Penn who was drafted by the Cosmos and played on the Atoms’ 1973 title team. Startzell was joined on that team by local boys Charlie Duccilli, Lew Meehl and Bobby Ludwig—all of whom starred in the Philly-area United Soccer League before signing with the Atoms. Startzell, according to the Fenestrator, still plays in regional over-50 (60?) tournaments these days.

And Old 27 wondered if Chris Bahr was the same guy who went on to a successful field-goal-kicking career in the NFL. It is the same guy, son of National Soccer Hall of Famer Walter Bahr; his brothers Casey and Matt also played pro soccer—and Matt joined Chris in the NFL as a placekicker.

So there you have it—more Philly Phodder; and their soccer-specific stadium, PPL Park—a $115-million, 18,500-seat venue—is scheduled to open on the Chester, Pa., waterfront on June 27.

Enjoy the game tonight.

*Victory not recognized in Germany.

Premier League Homestretch: Week 31 Wrap

U.S. keeper Marcus Hahnemann and Wolves traveled to Boleyn Ground on Tuesday and spanked West Ham and U.S. defender Jonathan Spector 3-1 in a critical relegation tilt. The victory lifted Wolverhampton seven points above the drop, while leaving the Hammers just three points clear of danger—with Hull City holding a game in hand beneath them. (Spector came on as a second-half sub and played 45 minutes.)

Kevin Doyle opened the scoring for Wolves in the 27th minute and Ronald Zubar and Matthew Jarvis added goals within three minutes of one another in the second half to secure the points for Mick McCarthy‘s men. Those three points were huge for Hahnemann and Wolverhampton, but the real story, as far as we’re concerned, was yet another spectacular  postgame quote from McCarthy, the Bard of the Byline. We’re starting to think the man has a writing staff. First there was “mullered” and “passengers” and then “great propaganda” and “right chew” and now this:

“We have not sewn anything up yet but we have gone a long way towards helping out….It was a vital win for us in terms of us concertinaed the league above us a little bit more and doing damage to West Ham.”

We know what you’re thinking: There’s a misprint up there. Mick McCarthy did not actually say the word ‘concertinaed.’ I don’t think that’s even a word, and if it is, McCarthy is obviously not using it in the proper form.

That’s the same thing we thought, and then we looked it up, and … well, we’re still a bit confused:

First, we thought he was talking concertina wires, as in “a coiled barbed wire used as an obstacle.” But in that case, wouldn’t Wolves have ‘concertinaed’ the teams below them in the table? As in, built a barrier between themselves and the drop zone.

Then we decided he was making reference to an accordion-like instrument (a concertina) and its verb form, which the OED lists as to “compress in folds like those of a concertina.” So, did he mean his men were drawing the teams above them towards Wolves, in accordion-like fashion? 

That might be it, but in the end, we’re probably meant to just let all of the layers of meaning wash over us—Mick McCarthy is the e.e. cummings, the Bob Dylan, of the 2009-2010 Premier League season: He trafficks in ambiguity and oblique meanings over explicit ones—and we salute him.

Week 31 action continued yesterday, with another American keeper scoring an impressive win as Tim Howard produced a clean sheet in Everton’s 2-0 clipping of Champions League aspirants Manchester City. Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta got the goals for the Toffees, who now stand only three points behind sixth-place Liverpool.

Brad Friedel and Aston Villa played to their second consecutive disappointing draw, 1-1 against Sunderland this time, and had to rely on John Carew for the equalizer again. It was the seventh tie in 10 games for Villa, and another blow to their Champions League hopes.

Chelsea demolished last-place Portsmouth, 5-0, with Didier Drogba and Florent Malouda each bagging two goals (Frank Lampard got the other). Drogba’s first goal came after Portsmouth keeper David James completely whiffed on an easy clearance attempt, leaving the ball and the wide open net behind him for Drogba.

The win puts Chelsea one point behind Manchester United with seven games to play. Arsenal is just two points back in third place.

Finally, MLS Alum Ryan Nelsen dressed but did not play in Blackburn’s 2-1 win over Birmingham City at Ewood Park. David Dunn scored both goals for Rovers.

2010 MLS Opener: The Philadelphia Story

After an offseason of labor strife and uncertainty, MLS Year No. 15 will kick off, on schedule, tomorrow night in front of a packed house at Qwest Field in Seattle. Last season’s expansion sensation, Sounders FC, will host this year’s new team—and the league’s 16th—Philadelphia Union.

Like Seattle, which had a team in the North American Soccer League (NASL) back in the day, Philadelphia enters the league with a solid soccer history behind it. In fact, soccer’s roots in Philly go just about as deep as they do anywhere in the U.S. Here’s a quick look:

Prehistoric Power

Arguably the first professional team in U.S. soccer history, and definitely one of the most successful, Bethlehem Steel FC was founded in 1907 in Bethlehem, PA, just 60 miles north of Philadelphia. The club was originally formed to boost morale among the steel company’s workers, but in 1914, the corporation’s owner, Charles Schwab, began using it as a marketing tool, pouring money into the club and luring top players from Britain.

The Steel went on to appear in five straight U.S. Challenge Cup finals (U.S. Open Cup precursor) from 1915 to ’19, winning four. In 1919, Bethlehem went on a tour of Scandinavia, losing just two of 14 games.

Schwab, however, would not have approved of the name of the current team from eastern Pennsylvania—he was known as a ruthless union-buster.

Read more about this overlooked chapter of U.S. soccer history in David Wangerin’s Soccer in a Football World, and pick up a Bethlehem Steel shirt right here.

Philadelphia Nationals

Formed in 1936 (as the Philadelphia Passon) the Nationals were a middling American Soccer League (ASL) team until the late 1940s, when their most famous player, Walter Bahr, returned from the 1948 Olympics and led the team to three straight ASL titles. Bahr was a member of the 1950 U.S. team that shocked England 1-0 in the World Cup.

Philadelphia Atoms

The Union team that debuts tomorrow night will hope to follow in the footsteps of their NASL ancestors the Atoms, who won the league in 1973, their very first year of existence. And they did it with a roster dominated by U.S.-born (and Philly-bred) players, in front of Veterans Stadium crowds as large as 20,000, when the league average was hovering around 5,000.

The Atoms’ keeper, local boy Bob Rigby, became the first soccer player to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and Walter Bahr’s son, Chris Bahr, joined the team in 1975, winning the Rookie of the Year award after scoring 11 goals.

Other notable Atoms players included defender Bobby Smith, who would later play with Pelé and the Cosmos, and future U.S. national team coach Manny Schellscheidt.

College, Youth Clubs

The region has a long tradition of quality college programs, from 1970s NCAA power Philadelphia Textile (now Philadelphia University) to Penn and Lehigh, and it’s home to famous youth club FC Delco as well as U.S. stars such as Ben Olsen, Chris Albright and Bobby Convey, among others.

Union!

Philadelphia Union will have that history behind it when it takes the field in 2010, along with a raucous supporters group, the Sons of Ben, which was formed in 2007 with the goal of bringing an MLS franchise to Philly, and currently boasts 5,200 members.

The team they’ll cheer on tomorrow night looks to be a defense-first outfit as coach Peter Nowak has built his squad from the back, bringing in experienced defenders Danny Califf, Shavar Thomas, Jordan Harvey and Michael Orozco to play in front of probable starting goalkeeper Chris Seitz. Costa Rican David Myrie will also figure in to the backline.

We like what Nowak did in the expansion draft, picking up former Seattle midfielder Sebastien LeToux, speedy winger Shea Salinas from San Jose, and holding midfielder Stefani Miglioranzi from the Galaxy. For offensive flair, Nowak will look to ex-D.C. United attacking midfielder Fred, the Mononymous One, whom the Union acquired in a draft-day trade.

Goals could also come from experienced striker Alejandro Moreno—a three-time MLS Cup winner, with L.A., Houston, and Columbus—and intriguing rookie prospect Danny Mwanga, the 18-year-old No. 1 overall draft pick.

They’ll take on a Seattle team fresh off a superb debut season in which it made the playoffs and won the U.S. Open Cup.

Sounders FC will suit up Kasey Keller in goal, midfielders Steve Zakuani (a rookie of the year candidate in ’09) and Brad Evans (who earned thee caps for the U.S. in 2009) and dangerous strikers Fredy Montero and Freddie Ljunberg.

Enjoy the game—it’s on ESPN2 at 9:30, in hi-def so clear you will be able to distinguish Seattle’s green uniforms against the identical green of the Qwest Field pitch.


Spanning the Globe: Yanks Abroad Weekend Roundup

U.K.

The meeting of Mr. Clean–lookalike U.S. keepers Brad Friedel and Marcus Hahnemann at Villa Park ended in a 2-2 draw after Aston Villa’s John Carew scored an 82nd minute equalizer. Three points would have been huge for relegation-threatened Wolves, but they’ll certainly take the one.

Villa will too, even though they missed a chance to leapfrog Liverpool in the standings after the Reds lost to top-of-the-table Manchester United 2-1. Wayne Rooney scored his league-leading 26th goal in that one.

The Goodison Park matchup between keeper Tim Howard’s Everton and winger Stuart Holden’s Bolton went to the Toffees, 2-0, on late goals by Mikel Arteta and Steven Pienaar. Howard started and went the distance for the clean sheet, while Holden sat out with a leg fracture.

Forward Jozy Altidore missed Hull City’s damaging 3-2 loss to cellar dwellers Portsmouth. He picked up an injury in practice the day before the game. The Tigers have eight games to claw their way out of the drop zone, with new coach Iain Dowie at the helm.

Jonathan Spector started at left back and went the distance for West Ham in its 2-0 loss to Arsenal at the Emirates—a result that, combined with Chelsea’s surprise 1-1 draw at Blackburn, put the Gunners in second place, two points behind Manchester United. The Hammers remain three points above the relegation zone.

At Craven Cottage on Sunday, midfielder Clint Dempsey came on in the 52nd minute of Fulham’s 2-1 loss to Manchester City. Carlos Tevez got the winner for City, which sits two points behind Tottenham for the final Champions League berth, with one game in hand.

Week 31 of the Premiership continues today—when Spector and West Ham host Hahnemann and Wolves—and tomorrow, with four more games on the slate.

In the Championship, U.S. defender Jay DeMerit sat out with a back injury as Watford lost to Cardiff City 3-1 on Sunday; defender Frank Simek dressed but did not play in Sheffield Wednesday’s 0-0 draw with Derby County on Saturday; and striker Kenny Cooper—whose move out of MLS is not turning out as he’d hoped—did not dress for Plymouth Argyle’s 2-1 loss to Scunthorpe United on Saturday.

In Scotland, Glasgow Rangers defeated St. Mirren 1-0 to win the Scottish Cup on Sunday despite having two players red-carded. U.S. midfielder Maurice Edu was a halftime sub, playing 45 minutes. His compatriot, winger DaMarcus Beasley, dressed but did not play.

Germany

Two Americans saw yellow over the weekend as midfielder Michael Bradley was booked in Borussia Moenchengladbach’s 1-1 draw with Cologne on Friday, and defender Steve Cherundolo picked up a caution card in 45 minutes of action in Hannover’s 2-0 loss to Stuttgart on Saturday.

Midfielder Ricardo Clark dressed but did not get off the bench during Eintracht Frankfurt’s impressive 2-1 win over Bayern Munich on Saturday, and midfielder Jermaine Jones, still recovering from a leg injury, did not dress for Schalke 04’s 2-2 tie against Hamburg on Sunday.

Italy

Defender Oguchi Onyewu has rejoined the AC Milan camp after tearing his patellar tendon back in October, but he did not dress for the club’s 1-1 draw vs Napoli over the weekend.

France

Carlos Bocanegra started at left back and played 90 minutes as Rennes romped over Toulouse, 4-1, on Saturday.

Greece

Eddie Johnson started at forward, played 90, and poached this goal in Aris’s 1-1 tie with Panionios on Sunday:

Johnson’s American teammate, midfielder Freddy Adu, dressed but did not play.

Denmark

None of the Yanks in Denmark saw any time over the weekend, as midfielder Benny Feilhaber (Aarhus) and forward Marcus Tracy (Aalborg) are still recovering from injuries, and forward Chris Rolfe (Aalborg) and defender Michael Parkhurst (FC Nordsjaelland) did not play in their teams victories. Aalborg trounced Koge 3-0 while Nordsjaelland edged Esbjerg 1-0.

Norway

Defenders Clarence Goodson and Hunter Freeman both started and played 90 minutes in IK Start’s 3-3 draw with Rosenborg yesterday, with Goodson picking up a 90th-minute yellow card.

Sweden

Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya and Orebro square off against Malmo today.

Mexico

Edgar Castillo went the distance at left back in Tigres’ 4-0 loss to Cruz Azul on Saturday, while striker Herculez Gomez played 45 minutes in Puebla’s 2-1 loss to Santos on Sunday. MLS Alum Carlos Ruiz got the goal for Puebla.

Midfielder Jose Torres came on as a second-half sub and played 33 minutes in Pachuca’s 2-2 tie against America on Sunday.

Red Bulls Open New Stadium in Style

Saturday night’s Grand Opening of Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., could hardly have gone better for the home side.

The good fortune started with the weather, which was a clear and mild 70 degrees—and no small detail when you consider the franchise’s history of bad luck in that department: It rained all day leading up to the Red Bulls’ very first home opener back in 2006, and last season’s finale, the last soccer game ever at Giants Stadium, was played in Nor’easter conditions.

But Saturday night, it was perfect. Good omen?

When the game started, all signs pointed to yes: The Red Bulls came out flying, knocking the ball around, pressuring Santos—the legendary former club of Pelé, and the current leaders in the Brazilian league—all over the field. Each player performed as if he was damned if he was going to be the one to mess up the historic opening of the team’s new stadium.

The collective energy was too much for Santos, and RBNY broke through 11 minutes in. Joel Lindpere’s free kick came back to him off the wall and he slammed it into the corner from 18 yards. The place exploded, with the noise-retaining roof over the seats doing its job, creating a completely electric atmosphere.

Just before halftime Red Bull midfielder Carl Robinson sent a corner kick to the far post, where it was headed back in front by rookie defender Tim Ream then turned into the net by Mike Petke. Petke, who’s in his second tour of duty in MetroBull colors, and who’s been waiting for this stadium longer than any current player, could not have been more pumped.

One minute later, midfielder Dane Richards, who has the speed but also the touch on the ball of a gazelle, suddenly turned into Hristo Stoichkov, taking a square pass from striker Macoumba Kandji, looking up once, and burying a shot into the top far corner from 22 yards.

Where did that come from? And who was this team?

These were the thoughts of longtime fans as the place erupted for a third time in the first 45 minutes. Sure, this was only an exhibition, and Santos may have been travel-weary, but it was hard to resist the idea that a new era had arrived for the franchise. The place was sold out, there was palpable energy in the stadium, and RBNY shirts and scarves were everywhere—three things that never happened in the old building.

Here’s something else that never, in 14 years, happened in the old venue: In the second half, the Red Bulls strung together passing sequences of 22 and 20 consecutive touches, as the crowd chanted “Olé” with each pass. We had to convince ourselves that this was the Red Bulls we were watching. They coasted to a 3-1 win.

As for the stadium—believe the hype. It’s great looking, and intimate, and yet it also looks bigger and more impressive than you might expect. Much ink has been spilled in praise of the venue, and it’s all accurate: we give it an A; go check it out.

There were some glitches, though, starting with the parking, or lack of it. Yes, the stadium currently has no parking. That’s obviously a problem. (We came by train, but we overheard some gripes about traffic as well.)

They also didn’t have all of the gates open on Saturday night for some reason, and this led to really long lines of people with tickets, just waiting to get in to the stadium. A Red Bull employee told us they would have this sorted out for next week’s MLS opener against Chicago, which is also sold out.

As for RBNY players, there was good news from back to front. Bouna Time was in full effect as keeper Bouna Coundoul made several acrobatic saves. In front of him, rookie Ream was unflappable on the ball, and made quality passes out of the back. Very solid performance from him. Lindpere was rugged and active in central midfield. His goal was well taken, and he showed some bite on defense.

Up top, Kandji, and Ghanian trialist Ibrahim Salou both troubled the Santos backline all night, though neither scored, and Salou should have done better with a good chance right after Lindpere’s opener. Seventeen-year-old Red Bull Academy product John Agudelo came on in the second half and looked good. He’s a big kid, and if the Bulls sign him and Salou, they’ll start the season with more depth at forward than they’ve ever had.

On the downside, Robinson and Richards both limped off early with injuries.

Finally, that penalty-kick event our associate was supposed to be involved in? Get ready for an anticlimax. Take it away, close friend of Backpost:

I’m an editor at a men’s mag that’s done some work with Red Bull in the past. Last week they invited me to appear in a “penalty-kick contest” involving “Red Bull athletes and very select media” at halftime of the Grand Opening of Red Bull Arena.

I said I’d like to do it, but would have my four-year-old son at the game with me, and hoped that wouldn’t be a problem. They said it wouldn’t be; I was in; and I picked out my corner right then and there (if it was going to be one shot only, I was going right side, upper 90!).

Red Bull kindly provided us seating in its VIP section, and we were told an RB rep would come meet us in our seats in the 35th minute to take us to the field. Around that time, the rep calls me on my cell. He says he’s on his way, and asks what we are wearing so he can spot us in the crowd. I tell him, and say we’ll go out into the aisle of our section so he can find us easily. So far so good.

My son and I head out into the aisle and wait, but there’s no sign of the guy. Several minutes go by. We walk up to the platform just above the VIP section. Still nothing.

My cell rings in the 41st minute. I pick up just as a tremendous roar explodes in the stadium, and I see Mike Petke charging toward the corner, having apparently just potted the Red Bulls’ second goal. The place is so loud I can’t hear a thing on the phone.

We hang up, and when the noise settles I call the Red Bull contact. He’s calling me as well. I pick him up off call-waiting but then there’s another explosion from the crowd. Dane Richards has just hammered in the Red Bulls’ third goal from outside the box on the right.

The place is going nuts, again. I can’t hear the Red Bull rep, again.

I do make out a couple of scraps: “Near the TV platform” and “I’m right by the cameras”….  There is a TV cameraman directly to my left, but no sign of a Red Bull employee in his blue blazer. Then I see him, about 15 yards down the platform aisle, just outside the section next to the one we were sitting in. We hustle over, and there’s an editor from GQ and his son there as well.

Our rep is joined by another, tenser, RB employee with a clipboard and a walkie-talkie and an attitude of ‘Let’s go! You’re late!” They start promenading us down to the field. We nearly walk smack into the Red Bull and Santos players as they’re coming off for halftime. Clipboard–walkie-talkie guy clotheslines us out of their way. Literally. Here they come: Ibrahim Salou is a big fella. Ditto John Agudelo. My son spots Juan Pablo Angel (knee injury) in a sweatshirt. I wouldn’t have seen him otherwise. A couple of the Santos players look like they are not old enough to drive.

They pass by and we are hustled on to the field. The excitement quotient in the kids immediately spikes. We have to herd them over to the side, where they’ll be contained (we hope) by the tardy RB rep.

Clipboard guy then shoves us—again, literally—in the direction of a female Red Bull employee who’s wearing a headset and standing in a tunnel entrance in front of a group that includes New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush, skateboarder Ryan Sheckler, Melrose Place (and MLS) Alum Andrew Shue, some attractive young ladies I don’t recognize, some X-games looking dudes, and legendary Dutch midfielder Edgar Davids. They are all wearing Red Bull shirts of one kind or another.

Headset lady looks at me and the GQ editor and signals to clipboard guy. It’s a cross between the swirling-finger of ‘wrap it up’ and the slitting-throat of ‘cut’. I’m not sure what she means by it, but it doesn’t seem good. Then she shakes her head: “We’re all full; it’s all set.”

Just like that, we are out! They usher us back over to the side of the field and we watch the event unfold from the right sideline.

So that’s how I missed not only a chance to shoot a penalty on the field at Red Bull Arena, but also two of the Red Bulls three goals in their Grand Opening exhibition against Santos FC.

Still, it was a great time, my son and I met Davids after the penalty-kick event (not a big fella), and that stadium is a special place.

Work Stoppage Averted as Players Union, MLS Agree on New CBA

Two days before the players’ strike deadline, and five days before the Major League Soccer season opener, MLS management and players agreed to a new, five-year Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The new pact comes after marathon negotiation sessions on Thursday and Friday, and was announced this afternoon.

Chief among the players’ issues was the lack of free agency in MLS, and though they weren’t granted that outright, there will now be a new ‘Re-Entry Draft’ for players out of contract at the end of a season.

Most details of the new agreement are still to come, but it was also reported that players would receive a marked increase in compensation, as well as a limited number of guaranteed contracts.

The 2010 season will begin on schedule, with next Thursday’s clash in Seattle between the expansion Philadelphia Union and Seattle Sounders FC (ESPN2, 9:30 EST).