MLS Collecting Siblings of Real Madrid Stars: Red Bulls Land Kaka’s Brother Digão

Just weeks after the Columbus Crew signed Federico Higuain, older brother of Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain, the New York Red Bulls have inked Digão, younger brother of Los Blancos attacker Kaka.

Unlike the other three names, Digão, 26, is a defender. He signed with AC Milan at age 19, and has had stints with Italian side AC Rimini, Belgian club Standard Liege, and FC Penafiel of Portugal since then.

“Digão has impressed our coaching staff during his trial in the past week, and we want to continue evaluating him for the remainder of the season,” said Red Bulls General Manager Erik Soler. “He has earned a solid amount of experience for a number of European sides and we are glad to add him to our roster.”

The 6′ 4,” 183-pound Digão began his career in Sao Paolo’s youth system before moving on to Sampdoria of Italy and Milan.

Many observers have suggested that this is a first step toward bringing Kaka to New York. This summer, the Brazilian superstar’s agent told the New York Post that his client was interested in joining the Red Bulls after Brazil 2014.

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The Scottification of the Vancouver Whitecaps

 

 

 

 

The Vancouver Whitecaps set what seemed like a new standard last season as the most-attractive-to-watch yet least successful expansion franchise in Major League Soccer history.

They played a skillful, free-flowing style that created lots of chances—unfortunately, too many of those chances were in front of their own net. They conceded 55 goals and finished dead last in the Western Conference. But they were fun to watch.

During the offseason, center back Jay DeMerit returned to health, and the club acquired veteran South Korean wingback Y.P. Lee and Argentine center back Martin Bonjour, along with French attacker Sebastian Le Toux, who led Philadelphia in scoring last season.

With their defense shored up, and more skill in the attacking third, they got off to a great start this season.

But Whitecaps brass, which includes Scottish head coach Martin Rennie, were curiously unsatisfied, and have kept on tinkering with their roster.

Soon after the arrival of Scottish midfielder Barry Robson in mid-June (on a free transfer arranged in January), the team jettisoned Swiss playmaker Davide Chiumiento, arguably the most skillful player on the roster, Le Toux, and the big (but skillful) French striker Eric Hassli—all within one week.

Around the same time Vancouver brought in Scottish striker (and national team captain) Kenny Miller, Jamaican winger Dane Richards, and Irish defender Andy O’Brien.

O’Brien is not Scottish, but Ireland is close enough, ethnically and in their soccer, to Scotland to justify the following tweet from MLSSoccer.com’s Matt Doyle after a recent Vancouver loss:

“The Whitecaps may have lost, but I still think they’re favorites for the Scottish Premier League title this season.”

With Miller, Robson and O’Brien down the spine, the Whitecaps have become stodgier—and more physical: Their recent 2-0 loss to Dallas featured 41 fouls and nine yellow cards, six of them shown to Vancouver players.

Gone is the silky combination play between Chiumiento, Camilo, and Hassli that made them such an entertaining side.

Sure, Chiumiento was not exactly a defense-first kind of guy, and the team left itself too wide open last season, but the offseason acquisitions addressed that problem, to a T. Now, they’ve fallen off the other side of the horse.

And judging by the results, the problem is not limited to style: the Whitecaps are 2-5-2 in their last nine games.

“Still Passionate About Playing in America,” Beckham Re-signs with LA for Two More Years

The Beckham family’s tour of global hotspots, which had passed through Milan and appeared on the brink of heading to Paris, has been held over in Los Angeles, as the Galaxy announced yesterday that the iconic English midfielder had re-signed with the team for two more years.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Beckham’s annual salary with LA last season was roughly $6.5 million—or about half of what Paris St. Germain had reportedly offered him in December 2011. After turning that deal down in early January, and bypassing entreaties from Tottenham Hotspur, Beckham focused on hammering out a deal with the Galaxy.

“I’ve seen first hand how popular soccer is now in the States and I’m as committed as ever to growing the game here,” he said in a statement issued by the Galaxy. “My family and I are incredibly happy and settled in America and we look forward to spending many more years here.”

Beckham produced a career-high 15 assists and two goals in 26 appearances last season, getting named to the MLS Best XI for the first time in his stateside tenure, and helping the Galaxy win the Supporters’ Shield, the MLS Cup, and a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, which begin on March 7.

Here’s a highlight reel from his MLS career so far:

The 2011 season effectively rescued Beckham’s five-year U.S. sojourn, which had been spotted by injuries and an apparent lack of commitment. He had engineered two loan deals to AC Milan—one of which caused him to miss the first half of the 2009 MLS season—and his attention seemed to be splintered between MLS and Europe (and another potential call-up to the English national team).

But he put it all together this past season, as did the Galaxy. Beckham was involved in the MLS Cup–winning play, flicking on a header to Robbie Keane, who found Landon Donovan in the box to bury the game’s only goal.

“I am thrilled that David has chosen to re-join the Galaxy,” said Galaxy general manager and head coach Bruce Arena. “I felt that he was one of the best players in all of MLS last season and we could not have achieved the success that we did without him. We look forward to trying to replicate that success this season with David once again in a Galaxy uniform.”

Beckham has now won championships in the Premier League, La Liga, the Champions League, and MLS. So what’s next for the man who’s accomplished just about everything? How about helping the Galaxy become the first MLS team ever to win the CONCACAF Champions League?

As Simon Borg says here, that’s the next frontier. Los Angeles meets Toronto FC in a first-leg quarterfinal on March 7.

MLS Roundup: Beckham Leaning Toward Staying; Pareja to Colorado?

Now that the Paris St. Germain deal is officially off, the path is clear for David Beckham to rejoin the MLS champion Los Angeles Galaxy, right?

You would think so, but a new MLS deal has yet to be announced. While saying he has every intention of getting it done, AEG President Tim Lieweke sounded some cautionary notes in an interview with the LA Times yesterday:

“The stories were all over the front page of every newspaper in Europe that he was going to Paris; I told everyone I would not pay a lot of attention to that. And now that the stories are that he is going to the Galaxy, I would repeat the same advice: Premature.”

Lieweke added that the situation is “heading in the direction” of a new deal for the 36-year-old Englishman, but emphasized that the contract is not done. Yahoo Sports reported that LA had offered a one-year $6.5 million deal that allows Beckham time off for the 2012 London Olympics. But Lieweke told the Times there was more to the deal than those elements:

“We have the added complication that David has the right to purchase a franchise in this league. There are a lot of issues we are going through. We are committed to David and he has always felt strongly about the Galaxy in LA, and it does not surprise me that his family would prefer to stay in LA. But we’re not done yet.”

It’s interesting to us to hear people talk about Beckham “leveraging” his LA situation with the PSG offer (and, reportedly, others).

Is he really concerned about squeezing another million out of AEG? With a net worth of around $220 million (up to $271 million, if you count his wife’s income), and the league (and club) accommodating his request for time off for the Olympics, and enabling him to purchase a franchise down the road, does he really care about the salary figure? He already turned down almost twice his 2011 salary from PSG.

We’re not experts on these issues, but we’d guess it’s more a question of dotting legal ‘i’s’ and crossing contractual ‘t’s’ than negotiating dollar amounts. Or we’d hope so, anyway.

•••

The Denver Post is reporting that the Colorado Rapids’ have finally settled on a replacement for ex-coach Gary Smith, who departed on acrimonious terms in November, just one year after winning the 2010 MLS Cup. Their new man: FC Dallas assistant and Academy Director Oscar Pareja.

Pareja, a former Colombian international who played eight seasons in MLS with New England and Dallas, beat out a short list of candidates including Denis Hamlett, Tom Soehn, and Richie Williams.

Neither FC Dallas nor Colorado would comment on the report, but Rapids President Tim Hinchey said the club would have an announcement this week.

There has also been widespread speculation that outgoing U.S. U-17 coach Wilmer Cabrera, also a former Colombian international, would join Pareja as an assistant coach in Colorado.

 

MLS Import-Export Season Under Way

Cue Art Vandelay: While the fate of Major League Soccer’s biggest out-of-contract player, David Beckham, is still undecided (though PSG seems to have the inside track), the 2011-2012 trading season has begun in earnest.

This week the league dealt two 2011 foreign signings back to Mexico and Sweden, respectively, while bringing in a new Brazilian midfielder and generating the usual supply of rumors about other players headed stateside. Let’s take a look:

Bravo, But No Encore

Sporting Kansas City announced yesterday that Designated Player Omar Bravo will return to the Mexican Primera Division after just one season with the MLS club.

The 31-year-old attacker, who tied for the SKC lead in goals with nine, has signed with Cruz Azul, but he’s apparently leaving on good terms. Kansas City coach Peter Vermes called the Cruz Azul offer “very beneficial for him and us. I understand from the business perspective why the decision was made.”

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, per league policy, but Vermes also told the league website: “I think you are smart enough to figure out that obviously there were benefits on both sides that eventually got the deal done. That’s really it.”

For his part Bravo, left the door open, saying in his departing statement, “I do not want to rule out a return to Sporting KC and MLS.”

Bravo is an excellent player and he did well for Kansas City in 2011, but the club is still in good shape without him. Since the 2011 season ended, they’ve acquired left-sided player Bobby Convey—a former US international who’s still only 28, and as Vermes said, “has a lot to prove.” He could conceivably take Bravo’s place in the KC attack alongside Kei Kamara, Teal Bunbury, and 2011 Rookie of the Year CJ Sapong.

Kansas City also added central midfielder Paulo Nagamura of Brazil, and Bravo’s departure will free up the cash to shop for another marquee player.

If I Leave Here Tomorrow

He’s travelin’ on back to his native Sweden, but Seattle fans will still remember Eric Friberg.

The 25-year-old was a solid signing for the Pacific Northwest club, producing one goal and two assists, and providing depth and versatility to the Sounders’ midfield—he played in a central attacking role as well as on both flanks during the 2011 season.

Friberg is returning to Sweden for personal reasons: He and his wife are expecting their first child, and they want to be close to home and extended family.

Brazilian Pipeline

On the import side of the ledger, the LA Galaxy announced yesterday that they’ve signed 30-year-old Brazilian midfielder Marcelo Sarvas, a native of Sao Paulo who played for Costa Rican side Alajuelense in 2011.

The Galaxy faced Sarvas twice in the CONCACAF Champions League this past season, so they know what they’re getting. He could partner with his countryman Juninho next season if Juninho, who was on loan to LA from Sao Paulo FC, accepts the Galaxy’s contract offer.

Los Angeles could field three Brazilians next season if Juninho returns and defender Leonardo recovers from his knee injury (and extends his loan from Sao Paulo).

Stay Tuned

Still in the speculative stages are potential moves by the Red Bulls, who are shopping for both a central defender and an attacking midfielder, along with a possible return to the league by rugged Colombian centerback Wilman Conde, who reportedly wants out of Mexican side Atlas.

New York GM Erik Soler says the team is shopping for a third Designated Player from “one of the bigger leagues” in Europe. “We want someone with high quality on the ball who likes to move the ball around but has the ability to score on their own,” he told the league website.

Someone kind of like Dwayne De Rosario…? (Let’s just move on.)

Soler said that the first priority is to add a central defender, and he also said that German goalkeeper Frank Rost could be back after all, though not as a DP.

Real Salt Lake brass are also in the hunt for new talent. Head coach Jason Kreis traveled to South America and Europe in the past few weeks, and GM Garth Lagerwey is currently in Asia looking at players.

MLS Player Salaries: Bargains and Busts

Ream: still underpaid.

The MLS Players Union released the complete list of player earnings this week, and while competing in the league remains a labor of love for most players, there were some encouraging increases over last season.

The average salary is up 12 percent (to more than $154,000) and all but three teams increased their payrolls this season. The median MLS team, according to Jeremiah Oshan, is spending roughly $500,000 more on salaries than it was in 2010.

Yet despite these increases, the median salary went down this year, from $90,000 to $80,000. For more on that apparent contradiction, and lots of other number-crunching goodness, click here, and for the complete list of salaries, see here.

Let’s take a look at who’s earning their keep and who should pull an Oguchi Onyewu and play for free in 2012.

(All figures “guaranteed compensation” for 2011)

Busts:

Nery Castillo, Chicago Fire, $2,038,062: He turned up out of shape and made eight lackluster appearances last season (with zero goals) and is currently on loan to Greek side Aris FC. One of the alltime MLS busts.

Julian de Guzman, Toronto FC, $1,910,746: He’s not a bad player, but the Canadian international has yet to live up to his billing (or salary), and the grace period is over. His countryman Dwayne De Rosario makes one-quarter that amount—and is twice the player.

Andres Mendoza, Columbus Crew, $595,000: Mendoza was upgraded to designated player status, and salary, during the offseason, and has been riding the Crew pine since April.

Nick Kounenakis, Sporting Kansas City, 120,004: He’s not breaking the bank but … who is Nick Kounenakis? [Googles Nick Kounenakis….] He’s a South African–born Greek centerback­—who was released from the team in February.

Brian Nielsen, New York Red Bulls, $120,000: Again, a player not necessarily taking home a Brink’s truck of cash, but also not seeing the field. Nielsen made two appearances in 2010, and a combination of injuries and the Red Bulls’ solid midfield have kept him sidelined so far in 2011.

Bargains:

Tim Ream, New York Red Bulls, $62,625: The 2010 Rookie of the Year candidate continues to anchor the New York backline, and has received a handful of U.S. national-team callups. He earned just $40,000 last year, so this is a bump up, but not enough of one.

Diego Chaves, Chicago Fire, $45,000: He leads the team in scoring with four goals. His strike partner Gaston Puerari also qualifies as a bargain at $50,000. He may not have Chaves’s numbers but he’s looked dangerous every time we’ve seen him.

Omar Cummings, Colorado, $89,188: He’s sputtered a bit coming out of the gate in 2011 (and he’s currently injured), but Cummings produced 14 goals and three assists in 28 starts last season, then impressed in a trial with Aston Villa of the Premier League (visa issues scotched a deal). MLS is lucky to have him, crazily so at this price.

Khalif Alhassan, Portland, $69,250: The 20-year-old Ghanian winger has sparked the Portland attack this year, picking up assists in each of the Timbers first three home games, all victories.

Fabian Espindola, Real Salt Lake, $75,000: He scored eight goals last season, and we won’t be a bit surprised if the hard-working Argentine tops that total in 2011.

Welcome Corrections:

Geoff Cameron, Houston Dynamo, $245,000: That’s more like it for the best player on the Dynamo roster—who earned $40,000 last season.

Chris Wondolowski, San Jose Earthquakes, $175,000: Last year, Wondo scored 18 goals to lead the league—while earning $48,000.

Carl Robinson, New York Red Bulls, $75,000: Our least favorite Red Bull pulled down $315,000 last season. He still outearns the far more valuable Ream, but at least they cut him down to size this year.

MLS Roundup: FCD Dallas, Portland Boost Colombian Influx; Red Bulls Ink Tainio

Three MLS teams announced significant acquisitions yesterday as FC Dallas and the Portland Timbers each landed a Colombian striker, and Red Bull New York confirmed the anticipated signing of Finnish midfielder/defender (and Name Hall of Fame candidate) Teemu Tainio.

FC Dallas signed 18-year-old forward Fabian Castillo, who made 17 appearances and scored three goals for Deportivo Cali last season. Castillo recently played in the South American U-20 championship, and was reportedly being courted by several European clubs.

The Timbers finally put striker Jorge Perlaza on their books after the 26-year-old striker had been with the team for most of training camp. In 2010, Perlaza scored 15 goals in 31 appearances for Colombian first-division side Deportes Tolima, helping lead the club to a first-place finish.

Castillo and Perlaza become the 14th and 15th Colombians to join MLS in the past few years, and Castillo is the fifth Deportivo Cali alum to migrate northward, following Fredy Montero, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (both Seattle), Jamison Olave (Real Salt Lake), and Jair Benitez, whom Castillo will join in Dallas. Dallas has two other Colombians in 2010 league MVP David Ferreira and striker Milton Rodriguez.

For more on Cafeteros in the U.S. circuit, see here.

Tainio, 31, officially signed with New York after joining the club in training camp on Feb 10. He’s expected to line up in midfield for tonight’s exhibition against Mexico’s Club Atlas—the Red Bulls’ final tuneup before their MLS opener on March 19.