Run-DMB Hits 100 with USMNT

Forget for a moment the fact that the US’s weak performance against Belgium in Cleveland yesterday does not bode well for their meeting with Germany on Sunday—not to mention their trio of pivotal World Cup qualifiers in early June (against Jamaica, Panama, and Honduras).

Let’s just ignore that for a few minutes, along with the increasing evidence that Jurgen Klinsmann is not a very good soccer coach.

Instead, let’s pause to celebrate DaMarcus Beasley, the 31-year-old Puebla midfielder who made his 100th appearance for the US last night.

Here is the wiry speedster, looking back:

Beasley, who won the Silver Ball at the 1999 U-17 World Cup, finishing right behind Golden Ball winner Landon Donovan in the voting, may have more to give to the USMNT. He told the MLS website yesterday that he’s still fighting for a spot in meaningful games: “I’m going to push the young guys to make them push me out of the lineup again.”

Some 20 friends and family members were on hand to cheer the Fort Wayne, Ind., native as he hit the century mark, becoming just the 13th player in US soccer history to reach the milestone.

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U.S. vs Costa Rica: Countdown to Kickoff

Go time is fast approaching in Commerce City, Colorado, where the U.S. national team will take on Costa Rica at 10:00 ET tonight (ESPN).

It’s the Americans’ biggest game since the Round of 16 match against Ghana at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and our sauve special correspondent Our Man at the Valley will be there, liveblogging the game for Backpost. Come back and join us for his on-site commentary and criticism (mostly of the concession-stand fare) during what should be a cracking game.

As you’re no doubt aware, there’s been some friction in the air at the U.S. camp.

How well the team deals with that, as well as with the multiple player absences, are the leading questions heading up to kickoff.

As for the controversy, coach Jurgen Klinsmann has handled the problem fairly well—he’s been unruffled and, in typical Klinsmann fashion, he found a silver lining during a press conference in Denver yesterday: “I think it’s a great sign, all the debate that is going on about soccer in this country. It shows you that people care.”

Responding to the specifics in Straus’s article, Klinsmann had this to say:

“Obviously I prefer that if you have a problem with me, come to me and talk to me about it. The so-called ‘anonymous quotes’ where we do don’t know who said it; is it a player, is it an agent, is it a fan or whoever? But it doesn’t distract us from what we’re here for or. Our focus is strictly Costa Rica…. It really doesn’t bother me that much. If it’s true, which obviously it’s still a rumor because if you say ‘anonymous sources’ then you gotta name it, then you’d rather prefer as a coach or as individual, no matter who you are, that people talk to you directly if they have something to complain about. It’s as simple as that.”

As for the player absences, there’s a lot of chatter this morning that DaMarcus Beasley could start at left back. Here’s a thought: No.

Beasley defends well from his left-mid spot, but he is not a defender. U.S. fans have found that out before, and now is not the time for them to re-learn it. But we’re all for Beasley getting a starting nod—in midfield, where he can provide much needed width and speed.

For all the stuff that’s been swirling around this week, the team seems relaxed and ready to perform. Take a look:

Bradley cracks a smile there over the ‘anonymous critics’ fallout, and Gomez points out that all the hullabaloo can be helpful in the long run, as a fallback experience for dealing with the pressure cooker of an actual World Cup game.

Whatever their mindset, they’ll need to be at their best to beat Costa Rica, a team they haven’t defeated since 2005. That’s right, the U.S. is 11-12-6 alltime against the Ticos, but have not beaten them in eight years. They’ll be hoping for a little magic of the kind Tab Ramos provided vs Costa Rica in this pivotal 1997 WC qualifier:

Enjoy the game, and be sure to tune in for Our Man’s bulletins from Commerce City.

Aston Villa’s Rough Season Hits Another Low As Fourth-Tier Bradford City Knocks them Out of the League Cup

Soccer - Capital One Cup - Semi Final - Second Leg - Aston Villa v Bradford City - Villa Park

With US goalkeeper Brad Guzan and Yank defender Eric Lichaj watching from the bench, Premier League strugglers Aston Villa could only muster a 2-1 win over fourth-tier side Bradford City in the second leg of their League Cup semifinal at Villa Park today.

The result was not enough for the Villans to overcome a 3-1 first-leg deficit and thus eliminated Villa from the tournament and made Bradford City the first fourth-division team to reach the League Cup final since 1962. They’ll play either Chelsea or Swansea City in the final on Feb. 24 at Wembley.

Villa owned 72% of possession in the first half today, and created three clear chances before Christian Benteke put them ahead 1-0 in the 24th minute. They couldn’t translate their dominance into more goals, though, and in the 55th minute, Bradford striker James Hanson (above left) headed in a Gary Jones corner kick to make it 1-1 and restore the lower-level side’s two-goal aggregate advantage.

Hanson nearly scored again just minutes later and Bradford rattled Shay Given’s crossbar in the late stages before Villa’s Andreas Weimann bagged one in the 89th minute to set up a tense finish. But the heavy favorites could not find that crucial third goal, which would have sent the tie into extra time, and the visitors, who dispatched Arsenal in the previous round, were soon celebrating an historic win.

So which is more humiliating for Villa, this defeat to a League Two team, or December’s 8-0 thrashing by Chelsea? Tough call, but it’s probably this one.

The Villans return to Premier League action on Jan. 29, when they host Newcastle in a relegation battle. Villa is currently in 17th place, one point above the drop, while Newcastle is in 16th, two points clear.

Chivas USA and The Montreal Impact: North America’s Anti-North American Clubs

chelis_300Schallibaum

The Montreal Impact introduced their new coach, Marco Schallibaum (right), on Monday, and the club’s owner, Joey Saputo, had some interesting things to say following the announcement. Schallibaum replaces retired MLS player Jesse Marsch, who led Montreal to a not-bad 12-16-6 record in their first year of MLS existence (and his first as a head coach), keeping them in the playoff chase till the final third of the season.

Here’s the owner’s take on the change:

“Getting into MLS, we were told that the MLS [sic] was different. You need the American experience or people in your organization who understood the MLS [sic]. We moved away from what we really believed. Last year, when we looked for coaches, we didn’t look abroad. We looked at American coaches. We basically gave that coach carte blanche with the people on his coaching staff. We went away from our core values.”

Of course there’s a reason Saputo and his team received that advice. The track record of North American coaches, or coaches who’ve spent a lot of time on these shores, is pretty glittering, while the track record of foreign-reared coaches, with only a few exceptions, is the direct opposite of glittering.

There have been 17 MLS Cup trophies handed out in the league’s history. All but one have gone to coaches with substantial experience in US and/or Canadian soccer circles. The lone exception, Englishman Gary Smith, who won the 2010 championship with Colorado, is no longer in the league, having clashed with Rapids management and returned to England just one year after winning the MLS title.

That’s not to say that a foreign coach can’t or won’t soon find sustained success in MLS, it’s just to point out that the grain of history has so far run against that happening.

Yet Saputo and Montreal are undeterred. Here’s more from Saputo at the Schallibaum presser:

“We are a very European-type city. We like the European flavor. We’re different from Toronto. We’re different from the other North American cities. The culture is different. Our fans didn’t want to see the American players. They wanted to see the European players.”

And so, in 2013, Montreal fans will see more Europeans. Or at least one more: The Impact have signed Italian journeyman midfielder Andrea Pisanu, bringing him into the fold alongside the Serie A veterans they already have—center backs Alessandro Nesta and Matteo Ferrari, and striker Marco Di Vaio.

What Saputo’s comments mean for the nine Americans still on the Impact’s active roster of 22 remains to be seen.

Across the continent in Los Angeles, Chivas USA is undergoing a similar re-think (or, in their case, re- re-think; they started life in MLS saying they would only sign players of Mexican descent). The club has hired the fiery, enigmatic Jose Luis Sanchez Sola, formerly of Puebla, as its new head coach.

Here’s what Sola—more readily known by his nickname, Chelis—had to say about MLS before he was hired, in response to rumors that he might in fact be hired. He was speaking to the Mexican site MedioTiempo.com:

“I believe that in MLS almost all the teams play the same. The champion plays the same like all the teams. It’s not that you want to improvise, but I don’t have the sensibility to do what they do over there. It could be good as far as points and achievements, but I don’t think I have the profile to play that kind of soccer.”

That sounds for all the world like a man turning down a job prospect, yet, just days later, Chelis was announced as the Goats’ manager, their eighth in nine seasons as a franchise.

Like Saputo, he said the club’s problem lay in the nationality of its personnel:

“It doesn’t have a style and it has lost its Mexican base. In the last tournament they played without Mexicans and I imagine that giving the team a Mexican base, we can get to that style of soccer that I like to play. From there, people will come on board, we’ll achieve more, and from there you begin to please and give something different from the soccer in [MLS]. It’s possible to achieve it and reach many objectives.”

It probably is, Chelis, and we wish you the best of luck in reaching them. The league—and the game in this country—would only benefit from having two competitive teams in Los Angeles.

But both you and Saputo should keep in mind that not only have almost all of the MLS Cup–winning coaches been steeped in North American soccer culture, but most of the championship-winning players, too, have been American.

The rosters of every single one of the 17 MLS championship teams have been predominantly American.

As a famous American coach used to say, you could look it up.

But good luck with the new directions you’re pursuing. And you can take some solace in the fact that you’re not alone. The New York Red Bulls—a team without a trophy of any kind in 17 years of existence—are on the verge of hiring their second straight foreign-born-and-bred coach, as they’re reportedly close to a deal with Paulo Sousa of Portugal.

Rafa Marquez May Not Be the Worst Signing In MLS History, But He’s In the Running

Rmarquez

The New York Red Bulls officially cut ties with Mexican superstar Rafa Marquez today, ending the player’s stormy two-and-a-quarter seasons with the MLS club.

We wondered about Marquez’s apparent character issues when New York signed him back in August 2010, and sure enough, the ones we, and millions of U.S. fans, had witnessed were not an aberration. The guy has a raging chemical fire where his sense of judgment and perspective should be. We’ve seen it time and time again.

A brief review:

• 2002 World Cup: He head-butts and kicks Cobi Jones, leaving the U.S. midfielder flat on the ground and drawing a straight red.

• In a Feb 2009 World Cup qualifier in Columbus, Marquez went studs-up into U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard, drawing another red.

• Following New York’s 3-1 loss to Real Salt Lake in Sept 2011, Marquez—an eight-year veteran of Barcelona and the captain of Mexico’s national team—threw his less experienced teammates under the bus, saying he played as well as he could but, “I don’t have, unfortunately, [other] defenders on my level that can help me out.”

• He didn’t stop there, either. Asked about fellow center back Tim Ream, Marquez said, “Tim is still a young player with a lot to learn. He still has quite a lot to learn, and well, he has committed errors that are very infantile and cost us goals.” Coach Hans Backe suspended Marquez for one game for the outburst.

• Later that season, following a tense, 1-0 loss to Los Angeles in the first round of the MLS playoffs, Marquez chucked the game ball at Galaxy midfielder Landon Donovan, sparking a bench-clearing fracas and getting himself suspended for the crucial second leg. Which New York lost.

Here’s the clip:

• In an April 2012 game against San Jose, Marquez bear-hugged Earthquakes winger Shea Salinas on a corner kick and slammed him to the ground, breaking the midfielder’s clavicle and drawing a three-game suspension.

See it here:

• In the first leg of this season’s Eastern Conference semifinal against D.C., Marquez launched a halftime verbal assault on Backe after the coach replaced him with Roy Miller.

• The capper: In the second leg of that series, just minutes after New York gained a man advantage due to D.C. keeper Bill Hamid’s red card, Marquez gave it back, picking up his second yellow, for a reckless challenge on Chris Pontius. D.C. would go on to win the game 1-0 with an 88th-minute goal.

Marquez finished each of his last two MLS seasons with red cards.

Garber’s State of the League Address: Expansion, Beckham’s Buy-In Option, and Donovan’s Future

On Monday, five days before the 2012 MLS championship game, commissioner Don Garber gave his annual “state of the league” address, covering a wide range of topics in a 90-minute conference call with national media.

The Soccer Don discussed the imminent departure of David Beckham, and talked about how much different the league is now compared to when Golden Balls arrived in 2007. “We needed David Beckham in 2007 to help drive our credibility, to help grow our popularity,” the commish said. “We don’t need anything today to get us to the next level. It’s a wide variety of initiatives.”

When Beckham met the media under a cascade of glittery confetti at the Home Depot Center in July 2007, MLS had 13 teams, five soccer-specific stadiums and a threadbare TV deal.

Today, the league has 19 teams, 13 soccer-specific stadiums (with two more on the horizon) and broadcast agreements with ESPN, NBC, TSN and Univision. (Fox Soccer also televises CONCACAF Champions League games involving MLS sides).

The league set records for average attendance and number of sellouts this season, and surpassed the NHL and NBA in per-game attendance last season.

As for Garber’s “wide variety of initiatives,” some of the highlights:

On expansion, in New York:

“There’s a lot of work that needs to happen to finalize our agreement with New York City over our use of the land [in Queens] and our ability to lease that land to build a stadium. I do believe that we will resolve that shortly. I can’t put any timetable on that, but we are at the finish line.”

The league’s goal is to have a stadium and franchise in Queens ready to join the league by the 2016 season.

On expansion elsewhere:

We’ll continue to monitor what’s happening down there [with USL club Orlando City and its owner, Phil Rawlins] and I think at some point, if they’re able to finalize a stadium plan that makes sense, we’d be very interested in working with them on an MLS team.”

Garber also said MLS suitors Atlanta and Arthur Blank, owner of the NFL’s Falcons, would be taken seriously if they could sort out stadium possibilities, and the commish mentioned that a return to Miami would “make sense” at some point.

On Beckham’s franchise buy-in option:

“Anything’s a possibility other than his right to exercise that option in New York. So there is a possibility for him to work with the league office to find ways to transfer that option into an opportunity in LA. It’s way too premature to talk about that or even speculate about what that would look like. But that opportunity does exist if it meets the approval of the league. …David holds the option and the LA Galaxy would have to be part of that discussion.”

Beckham has a contractual option to buy an MLS franchise for a reported $25 million. The Montreal Impact joined the league in 2010 for $40 million.

On youth development:

“[The league] will continue to invest massive amounts of money” in player development, and “we’re working on ways to have a more comprehensive reserve league. Part of it could be a closer relationship with the second division [the NASL] and giving those players opportunities to get minutes. Part of it could be incentivizing our teams to provide playing opportunities for those players on their first team.”

MLS currently spends $20 million a year on player development, and the reserve league stages 10 games per season.

On Landon Donovan and his uncertain future:

“I hope to spend a little time with Landon. I don’t think anybody who loves this game and is connected to U.S. Soccer or Major League Soccer doesn’t fully appreciate what contributions Landon has made to our sport in this country. He’s arguably the best player in U.S. soccer history.

“He started as a teenager and has spent his entire life committed to the sport. I sympathize with what he is experiencing in trying to soul search and figure out what his future might hold, on and off the field.

“… He not only had to be a great player, but he also had to carry a lot of the promotional burden of growing the sport for a decade or more on his shoulders. He played during the day and had to promote it at night and that’s tiring.

“I hope he can continue to help grow the league and the sport here and I want to do everything I can personally to help him figure out a right way to be able to do that.”

In that same passage, Garber likened LD to Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, and Lionel Messi. He understands how important Donovan, the poster boy for U.S. Soccer, is to MLS.

All in all, though, it’s a fairly rosy picture for the league. Apart from TV ratings (which need to be goosed), and problems with Chivas USA (stagnant team, overshadowed by the Galaxy), Toronto (no continuity and no postseason play in six years as a franchise), New England (need a proper stadium) and D.C. (ditto), the news is all good.

Beckham Announces MLS Cup 2012 Will Be His Last Game for Los Angeles

As you’re undoubtedly aware by now, LA Galaxy midfielder and global icon David Beckham has announced that next Saturday’s MLS Cup final at the Home Depot Center will be his last game with Los Angeles and in Major League Soccer.

He has not yet revealed what his next move will be, but he did say that he is not retiring from the game, and that he would like to take on “one last challenge” before hanging up his boots for good. The speculation as to where that challenge will be has begun in earnest.

So his MLS career will end on Dec 1, 2012, in the exact same place that it began on July 13, 2007. Nice symmetry there.

The rest of his time in MLS wasn’t quite so balanced, but on the whole he provided most of what he came to the league to provide. He got off to a rocky start, with injuries, apparent disinterest, more injuries, some hostilities with the public, and some squabbles with Landon Donovan in the midst of a struggling Galaxy side. But once Bruce Arena got the team in order, and results started to improve, the Beckham Era started to take on some shine.

The team made it to the 2009 MLS Cup final, losing on penalties to a rising Real Salt Lake side (Beckham made his penalty; Donovan missed his); they won the Supporters’ Shield the following season as the team with the best regular-season record, and they won the championship in 2011, clipping Houston 1-0 in the final, with Beckham and Donovan hooking up on the winning goal. And of course they’ve made it back to the 2012 MLS Cup final, where they’ll meet Houston again. That’s four conference finals, three championship games, and a shot at two titles in six seasons. Not bad at all.

(Click here for some more stats on the Beckham Era.)

He also did this:

And this, which was fun:

Success arrived off the field, too: Beckham boosted attendance wherever he went, his name sold gazillions of dollars in merchandise (that’s the official league figure), and he boosted the profile and credibility of MLS worldwide, opening the door for players like Tim Cahill and Thierry Henry to follow him here. That’s all to the long-term good of the league.

Over all, the Beckham Era was a pretty resounding success, early friction aside. And the timing of his decision was a perfect piece of PR/showmanship: It gives the league a great hook to market the MLS Cup with, as well as a potential exclamation point on the end of Beckham’s MLS career, if LA win the title again. As Houston coach Dominic Kinnear said, the league owes him a big thank-you.

He may be gone soon, but he won’t be soon forgotten.

And he won’t be gone long: Beckham said he intends to return as an MLS owner in the near future.