MLS Coaching Carousel: Thordarson’s Reign Capped, De Los Cobos Fired

Two struggling MLS teams made coaching changes yesterday as Vancouver Whitecaps FC dismissed Teitur Thordarson and the Chicago Fire sacked Carlos de los Cobos.

Vancouver tied visiting New York 1-1 on Saturday, but has gone winless since a 4-2 opening-day victory over Toronto. The Caps’ 1-5-6 record was deemed unacceptable by team execs.

Thordarson, a former Iceland international, was hired in 2007, when Whitecaps FC were in the USL-1. He led Vancouver to the 2008 USL championship, to a runner-up finish in ’09, and a semifinal berth last season.

He will be replaced by Tom Soehn, Vancouver’s director of soccer operations. Soehn coached D.C. United for three seasons (2007-09), going 55-48-1 and winning the Supporters’ Shield in 2007.

De Los Cobos and Chicago battled back for a 2-2 draw versus San Jose this past weekend, but were laboring under a nine-game winless streak and stand second-to-last in the Eastern Conference—ahead of only Sporting Kansas City (1-6-2), which has played all nine of its games on the road.

The former Mexican international, who coached El Salvador’s national team for four years, came on board with Chicago last season, leading the team to a disappointing 9-12-9 record, which left the Fire out of the playoffs for just the second time in the franchise’s 13 seasons.

De los Cobos will be replaced on an interim basis by Chicago technical director Frank Klopas. Klopas, 44, played on the Fire’s 1998 MLS Cup–winning side, and was a member of the 1994 U.S. World Cup team.

Foxes Investigate FIFA Henhouse; Blatter Cleared, Bin Hammam and Warner Suspended

FIFA president Sepp Blatter was cleared of wrongdoing by an ethics panel Sunday, paving the way for him to run unopposed for a fourth term in Wednesday’s election.

Executive committee members Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago and Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar were both suspended indefinitely in the wake of accusations that they offered $40,000 apiece to roughly 24 federation officials from the Caribbean in exchange for their votes for bin Hammam as FIFA president.

(Bin Hammam withdrew from the election before the panel convened, and he accused Blatter of knowing about and not opposing the alleged payments, hence Blatter’s appearance before the panel.)

Neither bin Hammam nor Warner was found guilty in the investigation, but both are suspended from any involvement with soccer until a full judicial inquiry can be staged.

Namibian judge Petrus Damaseb, who oversaw the inquiry, said that the suspensions were necessary to “ensure that the investigation [pending; likely in July] is not compromised.”

No word on whether this statement was met by snickers, but plenty of comments at Blatter’s Monday press conference in Zurich were. A quick sampler, courtesy of The New York Times:

“I am the president of FIFA; you cannot question me.”

(Actual quote. No, really.)

“I believe that the decision which we took for World Cup 2022 was done exactly clean in the same pattern and again I say what I said at beginning of press conference there is no issue for the World Cup 2022.”

(This one prompted such a reaction from the assembled media that Blatter followed it up with: “We are not in a bazaar here, we are in FIFA House.”)

“Something has changed in FIFA and we will try to change more in future. I cannot change members of my government, it is not up to me.”

Blatter pleaded for respect over the reporter grumblings that followed that one, then abruptly pulled the plug on the press conference, walking offstage as journalists tried to lob more questions his way.

Good times.

Other Juicy Bits From the Fallout

• “Why should I be hanged now, and by whom? The American Chuck Blazer? His American lawyer, John Collins? Give me a break, guys. I will hold my head high to the very end. I am not guilty of a single iota of wrongdoing.”

—ExCo member and CONCACAF president Jack Warner, speaking in the Trinidad Parliament on the eve of the ethics panel.

Merriam Webster has announced they will replace their current definition of the word chutzpah with the above.

Also, apparently, the word “American” is an insult in Trinidad and Tobago.

• There were two cases before the panel on Sunday. One involved bribery surrounding Wednesday’s FIFA presidential election, the other concerned vote-selling for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids.

In the latter, two FIFA ExCo members were suspended and four were cleared, due to insufficient evidence.

Among the cleared, our favorite was Nicolás Léoz of Paraguay, who (allegedly) requested both an honorary knighthood and that the FA Cup be named after him in exchange for voting for England’s 2018 bid.

That is just fantastic, and we applaud the imagination involved.

But there are some logistical issues. How, for example, would both honors be explained? Oh, yeah, this Paraguayan bureaucrat has been integral to English football and culture since way, way back in the day. We need to get that guy knighted, or at the very least, rename our 140-year-old domestic competition in his honor—stat. The British people will instantly recognize both honors as long overdue.

Finally, there was the following sensational statement from Blatter in his column on Inside World Football:

“When a Swiss farmer’s neighbor has a cow while he has none, the less fortunate farmer will work twice as hard so that one day he can buy a cow as well. When another farmer, elsewhere, on an island, say, has no cow but his neighbor does, that farmer will kill the neighbor’s cow out of sheer malice.

“I’d rather be a Swiss farmer, like it or not.”

On an island, say, ….”  Sepp—very subtle. Jack Warner lives on an island, doesn’t he?

Well, the island farmer was talking tough after Sunday’s hearing, promising that a “tsunami” of bad news would be visited upon FIFA in the coming weeks.

In any event, it’s on to Wednesday’s “election,” over the objection of British sports minister Hugh Robertson, who, according to the Times, has called on FIFA to suspend the vote, saying, “I think the process is fast descending into farce.”

Los Angeles 1, Houston 0: Todd Dunivant Unveils “The Weapon”

Here’s the difference between New York and Los Angeles at the top of the MLS pecking order right now: Faced with a home game against a beatable team (banged-up Colorado for New York; rebuilding Houston for LA) while missing a designated player (Marquez for the Red Bulls; Beckham for the Galaxy), the Red Bulls barely mustered a draw while the Galaxy bagged three points comfortably.

Landon Donovan scored his eighth of the season, and Los Angeles could have had more, including one from Dunivant, if the aforementioned weapon hadn’t misfired. See here:

The Galaxy (7-2-5) travels to New England on Saturday night, while Houston (3-4-5) hosts FC Dallas in a good ol’ fashion Texas derby.

But they need to work on their trash talk in Dallas (seriously):

New York 2, Colorado 2: Highlights

If you stepped out for six minutes midway through the first half of last night’s Red Bulls–Rapids game, you missed all four goals in the wild 2-2 draw.

With Thierry Henry’s former Arsenal teammates Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie watching from the stands at Red Bull Arena, Colorado struck first, on Jeff Larentowicz’s put-back of his own penalty kick in the 27th minute.

New York answered just two minutes later, after a sweet buildup found Henry alone at the top of the box. The Frenchman made no mistake, bagging his team-leading sixth goal of the year.

Colorado went back in front three minutes later as the Red Bulls’ wall fell apart on a Larentowicz free kick from 30 yards. But Luke Rodgers brought New York level again just a minute later for the final scoreline.

We take back what we said about Rodgers two weeks ago. The guy is proving to be extremely valuable to New York. He works his tail off and he constantly pops up in goal-scoring positions.

Highlights here:

A couple of comments: For the second game in a row, an instance of awful set-piece defending by New York (on the second goal). Hans Backe needs to sort that out.

He also might want to look at his substitution policies. Why was Henry, who started grimacing in pain midway through the second half (he missed the previous game with knee swelling), kept in so long?

Juan Agudelo should have been brought on around the 70- or 75-minute mark—not the 87th, which was when he did appear, to little effect.

Next up for New York (4-2-5) is a quick turnaround—and a cross-continental trip—to play Vancouver on Saturday afternoon. (Dollars to doughnuts Henry does not travel for that one. )

Colorado (4-3-5) hosts Sporting Kansas City on Saturday night.

Only In FIFA: Presidential Candidate To Face Ethics Investigation Just Three Days Before Presidential Election

In light of allegations made yesterday by FIFA Executive Committee member Chuck Blazer (left, apparently relaxing in Margaritaville), soccer’s world governing body has called presidential candidate Mohamed Bin Hammam and Vice President Jack Warner to appear before its ethics panel on Sunday.

The FIFA presidential election, between Bin Hammam and incumbent Sepp Blatter, is scheduled for next Wednesday in Zurich.

Bin Hammam and Warner will face allegations of bribery linked to the June 1 election. The fact that the allegations come from Blazer—a fellow FIFA ExCo member and a colleague of Warner’s in CONCACAF (he’s general secretary; Warner is President)—make them unprecedented.

Warner and Bin Hammam both denied the allegations, with Bin Hammam calling them “little more than a tactic” from his opponent, Blatter.

For more on this, check here, here, and here—and of course, stay tuned. It should be an interesting next several days.

U.S. Back in the Mix? Qatar Could Be Stripped of 2022 Cup

Not so fast? FIFA says it will investigate the Sunday Times claims.

This slipped through the cracks last week, but … better late than never: FIFA’s golden summer in Qatar may be in jeopardy after the governing body’s President, Sepp Blatter, stated last Thursday that there could be a re-staging of the vote for the right to host the 2022 World Cup.

According to The Independent, Blatter “said that a FIFA inquiry into claims made by The Sunday Times that there was corruption in the vote could lead to the FIFA executive committee (ExCo) voting again.”

Blatter, who is seeking a fourth term as FIFA poobah in the June 1 election, is clearly shocked—shocked—to find that corruption may exist in his organization:

A rerun of the vote would of course be unprecedented. It’s possible that the 75-year-old native of Switzerland is engaging in some political posturing as he runs for re-election next month against the president of the Asian football confederation, Mohamed Bin Hammam, who hails from … wait for it… Qatar.

For more, check here, and here.

Oh, and there’s also this gem from Blatter today: He says he received a bribe upon his first election in 1998, but of course promptly turned over the cash—“I couldn’t refuse because he put it in my pocket”—to FIFA’s finance director, who made the bad guy reclaim it.

“Then it was specifically known,” says Blatter, “that please don’t try to give money to somebody who’s in FIFA.”

Yep. From that point forward, Sepp, it was specifically known….

Bradley Explains Choices, Omissions for Gold Cup Roster

In statements released by U.S. Soccer yesterday, coach Bob Bradley said that “winning the Gold Cup this year is a top priority” and that that objective was his main focus as he selected the team for the tournament, which runs from June 5 to June 25 in venues across the United States.

Bradley went on to address specific selections and omissions.

First up, Timothy Chandler, the Nurnberg defender/midfielder who looked so promising in U.S. friendlies against Argentina and Paraguay in March.

On his omission:

“We’ve had a number of different discussions with Timmy and with the club [Nurnberg] and when we added them all up at the end of the season, his first real season playing at this level, we felt that it didn’t make sense at this time for him. He’s carried a few little injuries of late. He has told us that physically and mentally this season has been a hard one.”

On whether Chandler, who was born in Germany to a U.S. serviceman father, is keeping his international options open:

“The simple matter is that in the way things work in soccer these days, until a player plays in an official match, you don’t know for sure. In all of our conversations with Timmy he’s always expressed how excited he is to have played for the U.S. and we feel that there’s been a very good level of discussion and follow-up with him and it’s all been with the idea that he’s going to continue to play a role for us.”

On selecting San Jose Earthquakes attacker Chris Wondolowski over Sporting Kansas City Striker Teal Bunbury:

“Teal is a young striker that we certainly see a lot of potential in. I think we’ve had a good opportunity to work with him in some camps. I spoke with him and just felt that this time…. I didn’t think it was the right time for him. I don’t think he’s been as sharp as we would like so far in the season. I think that’s a sign of him continuing to mature and grow. Quite honestly, another part of it is the fact that as we watched different games we felt strongly that Chris Wondolowski was in good form. He has scored some good goals, some very different goals and Chris seems to be a player that gets a couple of chances every game. There are always a lot of variables when putting a whole roster together but those are some of them that played into the situation with Teal.”

On Herculez Gomez, who got hot at the end of the Mexican season but was not selected:

Herculez did finish the season on a good note, scoring, I think, four goals in his last five or six games. We took note of that. Herculez, whenever you bring him in, works hard. He’s a mobile guy but in this particular case, different things added up in a way and we made the decisions that we did. It is important to make it clear that it never came down to Jozy [Altidore] versus Herculez.”

On Alejandro Bedoya, who recently scored his fourth goal of the young Swedish season and was not called in:

“He’s a player we’ve seen some good things from when he’s come on into games. He has energy and willingness to be involved in the game in a good way, but nonetheless we looked at some of the other players and now in some cases you have to make some tough decisions where certain guys are almost in the same category. In this particular case, some decisions went in the favor of some other players.”

On Brad Guzan, the presumed No. 2 goalkeeper who was not called in:

“Brad made a personal decision and his schedule didn’t allow him to be available for this Gold Cup.”

On Freddy Adu:

“We have followed Freddy since he transferred to Rizespor. We’ve watched him a number of different times on the computer. We’ve not managed to get there. We watched one of his playoff games this morning, but we still feel that there are good signs from him as a player that have shown us soccer qualities that we think help our team. It hasn’t always added up enough yet with the full national team but this seems like it’s a good opportunity to get him back in with us where we have a good month together and can challenge him. We hope that he has continued to grow and mature and can play a bigger role with the national team.”

On Robbie Rogers:

“Robbie is a player that everyone knows has ability to run at people, get behind people, and he’s capable of playing on both flanks. Thus far in MLS this year he started the season having missed the January camp because he had knee surgery following last year. I think his mobility and his energy in the team have been good. We felt it was a good time to get him back with us and build on some of the things that we’ve seen over the years. We all know that Robbie has a lot of talent and in different moments with the national team it has come out in a very good way and now we think this is a good time to see if we can push it a little further.”

As for Charlie Davies, Bradley said that while the goal-scoring component of Davies’ game is healthy, he believes Davies still needs to improve in other areas.

The U.S. opens the Gold Cup against Canada on June 7 at Ford Field in Detroit.

Adu, Rogers, Wondolowski Lead Surprising U.S. Gold Cup Selection

What, you'd given up on him?

Those three above, along with Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando, were the surprising inclusions to U.S. coach Bob Bradley’s Gold Cup team. The omissions that raised eyebrows were Nurnberg defender/midfielder Timothy Chandler, Sporting Kansas City striker Teal Bunbury and to some extent, Orebro midfielder Alejandro Bedoya.

Rimando is a surprise inclusion not because of his ability or form (both excellent) but because he’ll be backing up Tim Howard and it was not expected that Bradley would lift him from the RSL roster for six weeks just to be an understudy.

In any event, some puzzling choices, especially in the case of Wondolowski. He’s an excellent MLS striker, but he’s 28 and you’d think Bunbury has much more upside, ie., is a guy you’d want to start blooding for World Cup 2014 over a player who will be 32 when that tournament rolls around.

Also: Freddy’s back! We were thisclose to writing him off entirely.

The complete roster:

GOALKEEPERS (3): Marcus Hahnemann (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

DEFENDERS (8): Carlos Bocanegra (Saint-Etienne), Jonathan Bornstein (UANL Tigres), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover), Clarence Goodson (Brondby), Eric Lichaj (Leeds), Oguchi Onyewu (FC Twente), Tim Ream (New York Red Bulls), Jonathan Spector (West Ham United)

MIDFIELDERS (9): Freddy Adu (Rizespor), Michael Bradley (Aston Villa), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Benny Feilhaber (New England Revolution), Jermaine Jones (Blackburn Rovers), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht), Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew)

FORWARDS (3): Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls), Jozy Altidore (Bursaspor), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

What do you think of the choices? Let us know in the comments.

MLS Week 10 Grab-Bag: Donovan-to-Roma, Pires-to-MLS Rumors and Other, Truthier, Items

The MLS season is nearly two-thirds complete, and this week brings some interesting matchups that should help clarify the pecking orders in each conference.

• Leading the way is the LA derby match (or the SuperClasico, as the league bills the seven-year-old rivalry) between upstart Chivas USA and the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Chivas is fresh off a 3-2 stunner over East leaders New York, a win that lifted the Goats to .500 (3-3-3). Los Angeles (5-2-5) is coming off its best performance of the year, a 4-1 drubbing of Sporting Kansas City in which all three Galaxy designated players (Landon Donovan, Juan Pablo Angel, and David Beckham) found the back of the net.

Robin Fraser’s men say they’re for real; this is a chance to prove it.

• Second-place Real Salt Lake, still adjusting to life without midfield catalyst Javier Morales, takes on FC Dallas, the team that knocked RSL out of last year’s playoffs.

Dallas is also dealing with the loss of its most creative player, 2010 MVP David Ferreira, but has won its last two games, both by shutout.

• In the East, the Red Bulls travel to Houston looking to rebound from last week’s loss to Chivas, but may have to do it without star striker Thierry Henry, who has swelling in his knee and is questionable for the game. Houston is 3-3-4, two points behind the 4-2-3 Red Bulls.

• Second-place Philadelphia hosts Chicago tonight in what should be a good one. The Fire have only one win this season but are unbeaten in their last four, and, after tinkering all season long, may have found the right formula with Corben Bone in midfield.

• Columbus pays a visit to arguably the league’s toughest venue, Portland’ JELD-WEN Field, to take on the Timbers, who are unbeaten (4-0-0) at home this season. The Crew look to rebound from last week’s surprising 3-0 loss to San Jose.

And speaking of Portland …

Towels and Tissues

Before addressing the Columbus game, Portland coach John Spencer had a few things to get off his chest regarding the aftermath of the historic Timbers-Sounders tilt the week before.

Spencer was not pleased with some of the comments coming out of the Seattle camp following the game. Here’s some of what he had to say to reporters after a Timbers training session this week:

“I’m disappointed with their assessment of the game. But then that’s their prerogative. I think if it is too wet up there for them to play soccer then they may want to move that franchise because it pisses down rain nearly every time I’ve been in Seattle. Obviously to say that the conditions suit us more than they suit them just blows me away. It seems to me they had 50 excuses before the game written down as to why they never beat us three- or four-nil at home.”

And a little more:

“The next time we go up there we’ll take plenty of towels for them so we can dry off the field before the game. Maybe take plenty of tissue paper so they can dry their eyes after the game.”

That is some Scottish ire right there. Click here and scroll down for video of the rant.

Pires to MLS? Non. And definitely not to Philadelphia.

So Robert Pires is out of contract at Aston Villa and he recently told reporters that his pal and former Arsenal teammate Thierry Henry had asked him to come play in MLS, for the Red Bulls.

To which Henry replied, in the New York Post:

“I’m glad you’re asking me that because I don’t know why he said that. Robert likes to talk, maybe because they’re not offering him another contract in Villa or whatever the problem is for him, but I didn’t speak to him about him coming. I would like you to put that CLEAR over there and I don’t know why.

“I spoke to him yesterday and said why did you have to mention my name? If you wanted to say something—I think he’s 37 soon, he should be able to talk as a grown man.”

(Bonus points to Dylan Butler for the Run-DMC clip in that link.)

Pires has been linked with MLS before, and you may recall it didn’t end well. Last spring, when rumors circulated that Philadelphia was interested in him, he told L’Equipe:

“It does not please me to (go to Philadelphia). I do not want to be difficult, but if I had to take my family away, I’d rather do it in a beautiful city. Otherwise, I will put an end to my career.”

We enjoyed that “I do not want to be difficult.” We get the idea that Pires can’t help but be difficult. He sounds like the Blanche DuBois of international midfielders.

Donovan to Roma?

One international midfielder not going anywhere anytime soon is Galaxy and U.S. attacker Landon Donovan, who became linked with a move to the storied Italian club when a source close to its new owner, Boston native Thomas DiBenedetto, told the Boston Globe that the club would set aside $14 million for a transfer bid for LD.

Donovan’s response to the report was succinct: “Don’t waste my time with that,” he told reporters. “Don’t waste my time, guys.”

Beckham to Old Trafford?

In a way, yes: Donovan’s Galaxy teammate David Beckham will return to his old stomping grounds next week to participate in a testimonial match for his former teammate and BFF, Gary Neville.

The only problem—he’ll miss LA’s game against Houston the following day as a result.

Guess that’s just David being David again.

Enjoy the games.

U.S. U-17s Learn World Cup Draw, Which Will Awesomely Include Uzbekistan

Marc Pelosi will lead the U.S. midfield.

The U.S. U-17 national team is going to the World Cup in Mexico next month, and yesterday they found out which teams they’ll face in the group stage.

First up, on June 19 (at 7:00 p.m. EST), the young Yanks take on the Czech Republic—most likely a tough game.

Three days later, they get Uzbekistan (4:00 p.m.) and … we have no idea.

Uzbekistan is one of the more obscure of the “ ’stan” countries in Central Asia, trailing only Kyrgyzstan, and possibly tied with Turkmenistan in that category.

We doubt Uzbeks bear any resemblance to their depiction in this vintage, possibly offensive and definitely hilarious clip from Second City TV:

But we couldn’t tell you much about them without consulting Google. We do know that they qualified for this tournament by finishing second in the 2010 U-16 Asian championships, which they hosted.

The Uzbeks defeated Australia 2-1 in the semifinals before falling to North Korea 2-0 in the final. All four semifinalists (Japan was the fourth) qualified for the U-17 World Cup.

The U.S.’s third game is at 6:00 p.m. on June 25 against New Zealand, which won the Oceania tournament, beating Tahiti 2-0 in overtime in the final.

Downing an island nation with a population of 175,000—and needing overtime to do it—might not seem like a landmark accomplishment. But before we go underestimating New Zealand, let’s remember the Kiwis’ full national team and its undefeated performance at the 2010 World Cup.

All in all, though, we’d say the U.S. should advance out of this group.

Here’s the entire draw (Groups B and F look like the toughest):

Group A
North Korea

Group B

Group C

Group D
Czech Republic
New Zealand

Group E
Burkina Faso

Group F
Ivory Coast