Digging Out, Catching Up, Looking Ahead

WCq-costa-rica-usa

 

Much like the pitch at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on March 22—the date of our last post, yikes—we have been snowed under the past few weeks. We picked up some more responsibility at the day job, and had a few extra freelance jobs come in. All of which is good for us, but not so good for the BP, which got shunted out of the picture.

We’re back, late on a Friday, having cleared the desk of about 317 tasks, to play a little catch-up. Here’s a 30-second rundown of some of what we missed while we were away:

• The U.S. got a massive and historic point on the road at Estadio Azteca, tying mighty Mexico 0-0, a result which, combined with the win at Dick’s, righted the Good Ship Klinsmann. For now.

• The U.S.-Mexico border war did not go so well where MLS was concerned: Seattle and Los Angeles both suffered home losses in their first-leg matches in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League.

• Seattle had its troubles in the league as well, suffering consecutive losses to undermanned San Jose and Real Salt Lake sides to stumble to an 0-3-1 record out of the gate, their worst start in franchise history. Then new striker Obafemi Martins left the team to seek treatment for a knee injury. Tough times in the Pacific Northwest, where expectations were running higher than the Space Needle this spring.

• The U.S. U-20s learned their draw for this summer’s U-20 World Cup in Turkey and it’s a killer: The young Yanks were grouped with France, Spain, and a yet-to-be-determined African nation. Good grief.

• Montreal got their fourth win to start the MLS campaign, edging New York 1-0 to become the surprise team of the young season before being blanked 2-0 by defending East champs Kansas City in a bit of a statement game on March 30. In the West, Dallas is the early leader, reeling off consecutive wins over Houston, Real Salt Lake, and New England.

That’s a start, and we’ll have more in the coming days, along with the latest BPFL recap later tonight. Next week, we’ll have some site news.

While We Were Away

The busiest week in the Premier League (and BPFL) schedule happened to coincide with the vacation-est week on the Backpost calendar.

We closed a big project at the day job, turned in this, this, this, and a couple of other pieces set to run on the MLS site in the next two weeks, then lit out for the territories for a few days of R n R. Good times.

Now we’re digging out and catching up. One BPFL Gameweek has come and gone (better-late-than-never writeup to follow), and we’re in the midst of another one; the January-camp call-ups for the USMNT are in; Clint Dempsey‘s hot streak continued; and David Beckham’s future … remained uncertain (though French politicians assumed it was a fait accompli and were starkly divided over the rumored million-dollars-a-month salary, with some saying it was obscene in these economic times and others welcoming the 50-percent tax rate Golden Balls would contribute to the French government coffers).

All right–let’s get back to it.

Your Colossal Early-2011 Backpost Roundup

 

Yeah, we’ve missed a few stories as the New Year has gotten off the ground. Today, we catch up (again) with links, clips, and roughly 1,200 words on the biggest BP talking points of the past seven or eight days.

Ready, set, go:

• The Beckham-to-Tottenham arrangement turned out to be a training stint only, and it has not—as yet, anyway—transformed into a loan deal.

• Remember this guy? He was red-carded for that heroin smuggling charge last year and now faces a 51- to 63-month suspension.

• The fallout continued to rain down from FIFA’s dubious decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, as Mohammed Bin Hamman, Qatar’s representative on the FIFA executive committee, bit the hand that feeds (or that Qatar fed?), criticizing Sepp Blatter’s regime while also rejecting proposals to move the tournament to January to escape Qatar’s unhealthy summer heat.

“I believe Qatar can stand alone and organize the competition by itself,” said Bin Hamman, “and I’m really not very impressed by these opinions to distribute the game over the Gulf or change the time from July to January.”

That was interesting, but then Bin Hamman went on to add, in a moment of irony so dense it caused the head of everyone within earshot to explode:

“I think we [FIFA] need to be more open to the people, more transparent. A lot of things could be done. Maybe the actual administration can do that, they have to commit themselves to doing that. The structure is not helpful or useful for our world.”

Can mere words adequately do the above justice? We’re not even going to try.

Edson Buddle left MLS for Bundesliga 2 side Ingolstadt, and these guys were not happy about it. We can hardly blame them; the German side, which is in second-to-last place in the German second-flight—in other words, on the brink of dropping to the third division—reportedly offered Buddle twice his MLS salary.

So long, Edson. Here’s another look at his half-brilliant, half-fluky goal vs Seattle in last year’s playoffs:

• Red Bulls striker Thierry Henry embarked on an offsesaon training stint with his old club, Arsenal, while his countryman defender Didier Domi signed a deal with the New England Revolution. Domi, 32, has played for PSG, Newcastle, Leeds, and Espanyol.

• In other Red Bulls news, the club confirmed the long-anticipated signings of Norwegian midfielder Jan Gunnar Solli, and speedy, feisty English forward Luke Rodgers. More intriguingly, to us anyway, New York also acquired 20-year-old Brazilian winger Marcos Paullo, formerly of Atletico Paranaense, the same club for which reigning MLS MVP David Ferreira used to play.

For video of the young Paullo, um, not scoring, click here (he does look skillful though).

New York is also in talks with homegrown product Matt Kassel, a midfielder who played at Maryland, about an MLS contract.

• Chivas USA striker Justin Braun and FC Dallas defender Ugo Ihemelu were released from Bob Bradley’s January US national team camp. Both players were struggling with injuries. The MLS-heavy US roster will meet Chile on Jan 22 at the Home Depot Center (TeleFutura, 10 p.m. EST).

DC United signed 24-year-old Uruguayan defender Rodrigo Brasesco, on loan from Uruguyan first-division side Racing Club.

• Promising 18-year-old Toronto FC academy product Nicholas Lindsay will miss the entire 2011 season with a knee injury.

• Following weeks of speculation that he would join the expansion side, former MLS and occasional U.S. national team striker Kenny Cooper officially signed with the Portland Timbers. Portland fans are excited about the prospect of Cooper and No. 2 draft pick Darlington Nagbe paired up top for their team.

• US defender Maurice (or “Morris,” as they call him in Scotland) Edu returned from a two-month injury layoff and did this for Rangers against SPL foes Hamilton:

Said Rangers boss Walter Smith as the team approached a busy patch of the schedule, trailing SPL leaders Celtic by five points: “We’ve got a lot of games coming up and Maurice Edu needs some game time.”

• The MLS SuperDraft and Supplemental Draft both concluded within the past seven days, giving us, among other players, a Mr. Irrelevant and a Mr. Utterly [?] Irrelevant, namely William and Mary’s Alan Koger—a striker picked last in the SuperDraft (by New England)—and South Florida defender Javed Mohammed, selected with the final choice of the Supplemental Draft, by Colorado.

Kidding aside, the MLS version of Mr. Irrelevant does not always live up to his name—see Parke, Jeff, class of 2004, the starting centerback for Seattle Sounders FC six years later.

Late-round Supplemental Draft picks are not always doomed to obscurity, either. The 2005 edition featured two final-round picks you may recognize: Jeff Larentowicz and Chris Wondolowski—both currently in training camp with the US national team.

• The Chicago Fire added two Designated Players last season, Swedish midfielder Freddie Ljungberg and Mexican attacker Nery Castillo—and both are gone now. Ljungberg signed with Glasgow Celtic a few weeks ago, and today, Chicago confirmed that Castillo will go on a five-month loan to Greek club Aris.

• There was an Oguchi Onyewu sighting yesterday—on the field, in a competitive game, that is. After months of bench warming at AC Milan, the hulking US center-back was loaned to Dutch league defending champs FC Twente on Jan 11. Yesterday Gooch debuted—at left back—in a 5-0 rout of Heracles Almelo. Great to hear that Gooch is back in action after 20 months out of club ball, but … not so sure about that new position.

• Other Americans on the move or reportedly on the move included midfielder Jermaine Jones, who left Schalke 04 to join EPL side Blackburn on loan, striker Robbie Findley, who signed with Nottingham Forest, and Borussia Moenchengladbach midfielder Michael Bradley, who was rumored to be the target of a transfer bid from Sunderland.

• Last, but definitely not least, you have to like the way the re-born New York Cosmos are conducting business so far.

They hope to become MLS’s 20th team, in 2013, and they’ve already established youth academies on both coasts of the United States, headed up by former MLS stars Ted Chronopoulos and Giovanni Savarese. These training centers have already started to bear fruit, placing players in the US U-17 residency program and with the US U-15s.

On Jan 10, the Cosmos hired former US national team midfielder Cobi Jones as assistant director of soccer, and yesterday they unveiled former Manchester United icon Eric Cantona as director of soccer.

Given Cantona’s track record, this last move may be more of a publicity splash than an actual executive addition, but it’s certainly interesting. As were Cantona’s quotes after his hiring was announced. We’re not sure if there was a translation problem, or what, but … well, take a look:

“The Cosmos are very strong, beautifully made, with a great past. It’s kind of a mix between football and art.”

Then again, that’s probably just the quote we should expect from Cantona, who flashed midfield brilliance, Gallic impetuousness, and a popped collar during his years at Manchester United.

The latter two are on display here:

All right folks, that’s it for this round. If we missed something here, we either covered it elsewhere on the site—or we’re just going to have to live with missing it. But feel free to let us know of any big omissions in the comments. Onward.

Top Ten Stories We Missed as 2010 turned to 2011

Timbers fans will be ready for their April 14 home opener. Count on it.

A lot went down while we were up North. Here are the top ten items we would have posted about had we not shuttered the BP for the past 12 days:

10. Philadelphia Signs Homegrown Player Zach Pfeffer

The 15-year-old Upper Dublin, Pa., resident became the fourth-youngest signing in league history. Pfeffer is the 23rd player signed as part of MLS’s recent ‘Homegrown Initiative.’

9. Stuart Holden Hurt in Chelsea Match, Misses Liverpool Tilt

The newly minted Best Player in the Premier League picked up a knock in Bolton’s 1-0 loss to the Blues on Dec 29, then missed the next game, versus Liverpool, on New Year’s Day. Not surprisingly, Bolton, which was also without defender Paul Robinson (suspension), lost, 2-1.

8. Brads Friedel and Guzan Enjoy Big Weeks

Friedel stood on his head to preserve a see-saw 3-3 tie for Aston Villa vs Chelsea on Jan 2, while his backup, Guzan, was loaned out to second-tier Hull City on Dec 30. He immediately stepped into the starting lineup and went 1-1 in his first two games with the Tigers.

7. Dwayne De Rosario Goes AWOL to Celtic

Toronto FC’s deadliest attacker hopped a plane to Celtic Park on Boxing Day (Dec 26) for a few kickabouts with the (original) Hoops. When asked about it, TFC first insisted the player had done no such thing, then said he did not have their permission. De Ro swore that he did have his employers’ OK. Upshot: Toronto worked out an arrangement with Celtic after the fact, and this story is developing.

6. Silly Season of (Aging) Foreign-Stars-to-MLS Rumors Kicks In

While rumors of Ronaldinho-to-LA Galaxy cooled (and he was chased by several Brazilian clubs, and Blackburn), they were replaced by reports that Nicolas Anelka, Adrian Mutu, and Guillermo Franco all had designs on eventual Stateside moves, along with Patrick Vieira, Roberto Carlos, and Marco Materazzi. These reports are always fun and to some extent flattering for the league, but, well, let’s just say that they—and the players’ fitness for MLS—should be taken on a case-by-case basis.

5. Portland Timbers Breach 10,000 Mark in Season Tickets Sold

Think they’re fired up for MLS in the Northwest? Hell and yes. The team surpassed 10,000 in 2011 season ticket sales on Jan 3, and says it will cap the sales at 12,000. The club’s newly renovated stadium, PGE Park, seats 20,000. According to this story, the Timbers’ Cascadia Cup rivals the Vancouver Whitecaps have accepted more than 13,000 season-ticket deposits for 2011, but haven’t said how many of those have been turned into season ticket sales.

4. Purported Beckham Loan Deals Verge on Farcical

More than half a dozen Premier League teams, along with several sprinkled across Europe, were linked to loan deals involving MLS’s most famous player in the past couple of weeks. Most of them turned out to be nothing more than rumors, but this past week Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp said he and Spurs were serious about acquiring the 35-year-old winger. Why they would want to disrupt the excellent season they’re having by bringing in a player who is a sideshow in and of himself is an open question—as is why the aging and recently injured (Achilles tendon, last March) Beckham would want to do it, and why Los Angeles or MLS would allow it.

3. Generation adidas, MLS Combine Names Announced

Rising futbol factory the University of Akron provided five of the first nine 2011 Generation adidas players (a 10th player, UCSB defender Michael Tetteh, was added today), and five non-college foreign players were included in the MLS Combine list, a first for the league. Those five, led by Wayne Rooney’s brother John, will be available in the Jan 13 SuperDraft alongside the NCAA candidates. Combine rosters here, Generation adidas players here.

2. Toronto FC Hires Former Dutch International Aron Winter as Coach

The 43-year-old former Ajax midfielder, who will be unveiled tomorrow will also act as Technical Director, with a staff that will include former New England assistant Paul Mariner and Winter’s fellow Dutchman Bob de Klerk, though their roles are as yet unclarified. The trio will try to get an overhauled TFC to the playoffs for the first time in its five-year existence.

1. Robin Fraser Lands Chivas USA Coaching Job

When this announcement was made, some MLS fans tweeted that they’d never heard of Fraser—enhancing our belief that the former rock-solid centerback is one of the most underrated players in MLS and USMNT history. A key assistant coach at Real Salt Lake the past few seasons, Fraser was a five-time Best XI selection and two-time defender of the year as a player in MLS, and always performed well in a U.S. shirt (he had 27 caps). Like TFC, Chivas is in a severe rebuilding mode, so Fraser has his work cut out for him. He will reportedly hire former Galaxy and U.S. teammate Greg Vanney as an assistant.

All right, we are more or less caught up. Next: Clint Dempsey continues to tear it up for Fulham, and MLS Combine news.

Digging Out

Hi there. We’re back. Backpost World HQ went into an unannounced hibernation to close out 2010.

We cleared the decks at the day job, then headed out on our annual two-week expedition to the North Country (are you familiar with the term cryptozoology? No? Never mind).

But we’re back, and fired up for 2011. While we were traveling, we did manage to crank out this, and this. The latter features a bit of misunderstood (or poorly executed?) irony that caused some fur to fly in the comments. Check it out for that, and to get caught up on the busy MLS offseason.

In any event, Happy New Year, and please keep checking back: We will now resume our (semi) regularly scheduled posting, starting with a quick-hit look at what we missed while we were away. Coming up soon.

Good things Come in … Fives: Weekend Trackback

Yeah, we fell down a hole over the Thanksgiving Day weekend. A combination of Pinot noir and tryptophan made us a little groggy, and we never saw it.

But we’ve climbed out, and we’re ready to play catch-up.

For our take on the busy first week of the MLS offseason, including the Expansion Draft, the multiple trades, and the massive occasion coming up on Thursday, check out our column at the league website, right here.

(It was up on the site Monday morning as usual but, like we said, we were in a predicament like this the past few days.)

We’re happy to announce that we’ll continue writing over there through the offseason, so please keep checking it, maybe Facebook-liking it, etc., etc.

All right, let’s jump back in, starting with a side trip out of our jurisdiction: Barcelona’s 5-0 demolition of mighty Real Madrid yesterday.

It’s probably not a stretch to say that this was a display of historic proportions. Barcelona scored their first goal after stringing more than 30 consecutive passes together, and their second following a 21-pass sequence. Against Real Madrid, the most expensive team in the world—not Malaga or Getafe, or Seattle Sounders FC. (No offense to those three, but…you get the point.)

Here are the highlights, but isolated replays—like words—do not do this game justice. You had to see the way Barcelona knocked it around for those stunningly long stretches to really appreciate this one. The phrase The Beautiful Game was coined for displays like yesterday’s:

There was another five-goal outburst produced in the past few days, by a single player—Manchester United’s Dimitar Berbatov.

The lanky Bulgarian joined Alan Shearer, Andy Cole, and Jermain Defoe as the only players ever to score five in a Premier League game, pulling off the feat in the Red Devils’s 7-1 romp over Blackburn on Saturday.

He struck his first just 72 seconds into the game, and found the net again in the 27th, 47th, 61st, and 69th minutes. He would’ve added a sixth if not for a great save by Blackburn keeper Paul Robinson.

The win put Man U in first place for the first time all season as Chelsea tied Newcastle 1-1 to fall off the pace, and continue a recent dip in form.

Arsenal thumped Brad Friedel and Aston Villa 4-2 to pull even with the Blues, two points behind Man U.

Back in MLS, DC United stripped the ‘interim’ tag from Ben Olsen’s job title, and made him the youngest head coach in league history at 33. The former Black and Red midfielder hopes to turn around the team with the worst record in the league in 2010.

Finally, former President Bill Clinton, the Honorary Chairman for the U.S. 2022 World Cup bid, lays out the case for bringing the tournament back to the States. Click here to read.

The 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosting duties will be awarded on Thursday morning (Fox Soccer Channel, 9:30, EST).

While We Were Out

 

Backpost World Headquarters and most satellite offices went dark there for a few days—we were off securing Massachusetts beaches after the recent shark sightings, among other distractions.

But we’re back now, and ready to play catch-up: Here’s a look at the Top 10 Stories We Missed in the past five days:

10. Michael Bradley Scores in ‘Gladbach Opener

There were rumors that the 23-year-old U.S. midlfielder and son of national-team coach Bob Bradley would move to a bigger club in the offseason, but that didn’t happen, and it appears to suit both club and player just fine. Bradley opened the 2010-11 scoring account for his Bundesliga club, Borussia Moenchengladbach, hitting the net 38 minutes into their first-round German Cup game against Erzebirge Aue. Click here for the hightlights.

9. Bob Bradley Not to Villa, After All?

It seems that way, despite recent “reports” suggesting the U.S. coach would join fellow yanks Brad Friedel, Brad Guzan and Eric Lichaj at Villa Park. Bradley’s agent, Ron Waxman, shot down the rumors last week. Stay tuned.

8. D.C. United is Toast

This didn’t necessarily happen in the past week, but now, at 3-14-3, the Red and Black—the original MLS dynasty—is all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs—for just the second time in the 15-year history of Major League Soccer.

7. MLS Youth Academy Signings

The league’s escalating designated-player arms race has gotten plenty of attention recently, and deservedly so, but there have been some notable acquisitions at the other end of the talent-pool spectrum in the past week, as the MLS youth academies are starting to bear fruit.

D.C. United, which already had academy products midfielder Andy Najar and keeper Bill Hamid on its first-team roster, added midfielder Conor Shanosky.

The Colorado Rapids signed striker Davy Armstrong while Chicago inked midfielder Victor Pineda.

These youngsters—all of them 17 or 18 years old—join Red Bulls striker Juan Agudelo, LA Galaxy forward Tristan Bowen, and FC Dallas’s four homegrown signeesBryan LeyvaMoises HernándezRubén Luna and Víctor Ulloa—in the ranks of MLS academy players to sign professional contracts with the league.

These homegrown signings are arguably just as important to the future of the league as the DP blockbusters.

6. Real Salt Lake Blanks Columbus 2-0

The Red Bulls–LA Galaxy game (more on that later) hogged the headlines, but this matchup between Columbus, the top team in the East, and Real Salt Lake, the defending champs and the team currently nipping at the Galaxy’s heels in the West, is just as likely to be an MLS Cup preview as the glamour matchup in New York.

RSL midfielder Javier Morales stole the show with two excellent goals, good enough to win Player of the Week honors. Highlights here.

5. Geovanni Signs with San Jose—MLS’s 14th Designated Player

An attacking midfielder, Geovanni, 30, has one cap with Brazilian national team, and experience with Barcelona, Benfica, Cruzeiro, Manchester City and, most recently, Hull City.

He had a strong season at Hull in 2008-09, but fell out of favor during the Tigers’ relegation disaster last season. Will he help the young San Jose squad in its playoff quest this year?

4. Landon Donovan Stays Put

The MLS transfer window has slammed shut, and Donovan is still running the attack for the LA Galaxy.

This is huge for the league, as Commissioner Don Garber said a month ago, and we think it’s safe to say that Garber priced Donovan out of any transfer move: No team was going to shell out $15 million (or thereabouts) for a 28-year-old attacking midfielder.

So Donovan will finish out the season here, and if Garber’s dreams come true, that season will end with LD and a recovered David Beckham squaring off against Thierry Henry, Rafael Marquez, and Juan Pablo Angel in MLS Cup 2011 on ABC.

3. Toronto FC Whups Cruz Azul in CONCACAF Champions League

Fresh off a 4-1 trouncing of Pachuca, Mexican side Cruz Azul—“the Real Madrid of CONCACAF” with five CCL titles—may have been a bit overconfident heading into its 2010-11 group-stage meeting with Toronto. The visitors were surprised by goals from Martin Saric and Mista and a determined Reds side, which held on for a 2-1 victory. Big win for MLS.

2. LA Galaxy 1, Red Bulls 0

In arguably the most star-studded and atmospheric game in MLS history, with Kobe Bryant, Tony Parker and Eva Longoria joining a sellout crowd in the stands, and Thierry Henry, Rafael Marquez, Juan Pablo Angel and Landon Donovan on the field (and David Beckham on the LA bench), the visiting Galaxy took advantage of a turnover by Marquez to score the game’s only goal.

New York was more effective in the second half, as Henry and Angel started to percolate, but they couldn’t find an equalizer. Afterward, Donovan had this to say:

“We’ve heard a lot of talk about the New York Red Bulls over the last month, and we wanted to reiterate to people who the best team in the league is.”

Henry:

“They have been playing together for a while, and you could see that today. When this team is ready, we’re going to be able to compete with them. But we couldn’t compete with them today.”

Highlights here. The teams meet again on September 24 at the Home Depot Center.

1. Premier League Season Kicks Off

Week 1 of the 2010-11 Premier League season is in the books, and while it was a fairly sluggish opening round—when we’re in charge, we’ll push the season opener back to September, to give players a real offseason—there were some notable moments.

Chelsea—and Didier Drogbapicked up where they left off, with a rout for the Blues and a hat-trick for Drogba; Man U rolled over Premier League returnees Newcastle, 3-0; Stuart Holden hit the post for Bolton against Clint Dempsey‘s Fulham; Tim Howard uncharacteristically fumbled away Everton’s opener against Blackburn; Mario Balotelli signed with Man City; and promotion side Blackpool debuted spectacularly, routing Wigan 4-0 in front of manager Ian Holloway, who is sure to challenge Wolverhampton manager Mick McCarthy for top quote in the top flight this year.

Holloway produced the following, after an “ugly” win against Chesterfield a few years back:

“To put it in gentleman’s terms if you’ve been out for a night and you’re looking for a young lady and you pull one, some weeks they’re good looking and some weeks they’re not the best. Our performance today would have been not the best looking bird but at least we got her in the taxi. She wasn’t the best looking lady we ended up taking home but she was very pleasant and very nice, so thanks very much, let’s have a coffee.”

Click here for some of Holloway’s vintage work. Should be a good battle with McCarthy this season.

Also notable:

• John Rooney, brother of um, uh—Wayne; right, that’s it—is on trial with the Portland Timbers, a USSF D-2 team that will make the leap to MLS next season. Rooney is 19, and hoping to establish his career outside his big brother’s big shadow.

The Vancouver Whitecaps are stockpiling talent in advance of their entry into MLS next year.

Gonzalo Segares, for our money one of the best left backs in MLS history, rejoined the Chicago Fire

• Philadelphia’s first-year striker Danny Mwanga continued to build his case for Rookie of the Year honors, bagging his seventh goal of the year in a 1-1 tie with Colorado.

All right, that should get us back up to speed. If we missed anything, let us know in the comments.

CONCACAF Champions League, Yanks Abroad, and MLS goodness to follow.