Digging Out, Catching Up, Looking Ahead

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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.

He’s Baaaack

Carlos Ruiz

Guatemalan striker Carlos Ruiz, who qualifies as one of the Top 5 villains in MLS history for his dive-y, cheap-shotting, continuously complaining style of play, is back in the league again for the first time since 2011.

DC United acquired the scrappy forward through the league’s allocation process—an acquisition mechanism for former MLSers who left for a transfer fee or U.S. internationals.

Apparently—and somewhat surprisingly given Ruiz’s MLS strike rate—multiple teams ahead of DC in the allocation order passed on the player.

Sure, Ruiz sometimes provokes opponents into rages in which they are prone to doing things like this*:

But he is a proven goalscorer who, at 33, probably has a good season or two left. It’s surprising that a bunch of teams would pass on him. In 2002, Ruiz scored 24 goals for LA and won the regular-season and MLS Cup MVP awards, leading the Galaxy to their first MLS championship. He is ninth all time on the MLS goalscoring list and during his last spell in the league, in 2011 with Philadelphia, he bagged six goals in 14 appearances before jumping to Mexican side Veracruz.

He also has an impressive 54 goals in 104 international appearances for Guatemala.

Should be interesting to see how he and his sometimes devious ways fit in with DC and their straight-shooting coach, Ben Olsen.

*We in no way condone Clark’s outrageous behavior in the above clip, but two thoughts on the incident: One, it’s the only time Clark has ever done something even remotely like that in his career, and we’d be willing to wager Ruiz did something fairly objectionable to provoke it. Two, notice how Ruiz grabs his head and starts rolling around in apparent agony—after the blow clearly struck him in the shoulder. El Pescadito, he’s a slippery one.

Sporting Kansas City and Livestrong Part Ways, with Both Sides Alleging Different Reasons, Neither of Which Is the One You’d Expect

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Both Sporting Kansas City and the Livestrong charitable foundation made separate announcements this week saying that they’ve terminated their naming-rights agreement for the MLS club’s stadium in Kansas City, Kansas, less than two years after the deal was struck.

According to Livestrong CFO Greg Lee, who spoke to Fox and ESPN, the decision was due to non-payment of funds by SKC, a detail he divulged while pretending not to divulge it:

“While we don’t talk about the specifics related to any of our partners, part of my role as the chief financial officer is to ensure compliance by our corporate partners. We strive to be great partners ourselves and expect the same from those we do business with. If a partner is struggling to meet the terms of our agreement, we do everything possible to reach a fair and reasonable compromise. If no compromise can be reached, as good stewards or our brand and mission, we have no choice but to bring that agreement to an end.”

On the other side of the dispute, Sporting Kansas City CEO Robb Heineman denied the club owed any money and expressed a disillusionment with the partnership:

“Our faith and trust in this partnership have been permanently damaged; therefore we are terminating our agreement with LIVESTRONG, effectively immediately. As a result of this decision, our stadium will now be referred to as Sporting Park. While we are ending this relationship, our support of the fight against cancer will endure. We look forward to introducing new initiatives to assist these efforts in Kansas City.”

In the entire exchange, there was only one, glancing reference to the yellow-shirted elephant in the room—the recent revelations about performance-enhancing drug use by Lance Armstrong, and the former cyclists’s own Oprah-administered confession. Here’s that reference, from Heineman:

“We are disappointed to learn Livestrong is deploying tactics designed to force us into an unacceptable arrangement, after months of good faith discussions in which we believed progress had been made. We were not expecting the foundation to treat a partner in this manner, especially given the tumultuous environment they have thrust us into over the past year—while we staunchly defended the mission of the foundation.”

That last “while we staunchly defended the mission of the foundation” has gotta hurt a little. But apparently, the timing is just coincidental. The dispute appears to be over money and the terms of the arrangement, and not the disgraced legacy of Armstrong.

But that can’t have helped, right?

Stuart Holden Is Back—“For Good this Time,” He Says

StuBoat!

Stuart Holden, the Sisyphus of U.S. Soccer, has rolled the boulder to the top of the mountain yet again.

The 27-year-old midfielder returned to action yesterday, playing for Bolton’s first team for the first time since March 2011, when he suffered a gruesome knee injury after sliding into a challenge with Manchester United defender Jonny Evans.

Holden came on for the final 16 minutes of Bolton’s 2-0 win over Premier League side Sunderland in a third-round FA Cup replay. The victory put Bolton in the FA Cup fourth round for the fourth consecutive season, but for Wanderers manager Dougie Freedman, the sweetest part of the evening was seeing Holden take the field in the 74th minute. Here he is talking to BBC Radio Manchester:

“He’s a battler and a winner. When he came on the field, I was so delighted. He’s got a long way to go, but he knows that this club are fully behind him.”

Having a long way to go is nothing new for Holden, who’s battled a series of injuries so ill-timed and so frustrating they’d have put a lesser player in a rubber room.

In March 2005, having recently signed with Sunderland out of Clemson University, Holden was attacked on the street by a Newcastle fan for the offense of being a Sunderland player in public. The sucker punch left him with a fractured eye socket and sidelined him for two months. When he returned to training, he promptly injured his ankle, missed the rest of the season, and left England, his Sunderland foray over after just six months.

Following an increasingly successful stint with the Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer, Holden returned to the Premier League in January 2010, signing with Bolton after a monthlong trial. He quickly won a starting spot on the team and started producing breakout performances.

He was called into the U.S. national team for a March 2010 friendly against the Netherlands, with an eye toward cracking the U.S. starting lineup for South Africa 2010. But a reckless challenge from Dutch midfielder Nigel de Jong in that game broke Holden’s leg and put him on the shelf for for six weeks. He worked his way back, and was named to the U.S. World Cup side, but without enough recovery time under his belt, he saw minimal playing time at the tournament.

No matter: Holden finished 2010 strong for Bolton, and was rated the best midfielder—scratch that, best player—of the first half of the Premier League season by Guardian readers.

The second half of the season was sailing along just as well, with Bolton in seventh place in the league (and in the FA Cup semifinals), when Holden collided with Evans, whose spikes left a gash in Holden’s knee that required 26 stitches to close. The blow also tore his anterior cruciate ligament and put Holden out of action for six months. Without him, Bolton finished the 2010-11 season in 14th place. He missed the final two months of the season, but Holden was still named Bolton’s Player of the Year.

He returned to action in September 2011, but after playing 90 minutes against Aston Villa in the League Cup (and being named Man of the Match), he was ordered to undergo an arthroscopic follow-up procedure that would sideline him for six weeks. When that procedure revealed cartilage damage, the club announced that Holden would need further surgery and would have to miss six more months. Bolton, meanwhile, was relegated following the 2011-12 season—their first time below the top flight in 11 years.

So yesterday’s appearance—his first in 16 months—was a big deal, for Holden, for Bolton, and for the U.S. national team, which begins the final round of qualifying for Brazil 2014 next month.

All of the above are hoping that Holden’s tweet this morning—that he’s “back for good this time”—holds true.

 

 

 

Aaaannnnnddd—We’re Back!

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Didja miss us? We had to put the Backpost on the backburner (actually, it was off the stove entirely) for a few weeks due to a combination of vacation, expanded day-job duties, and some other projects to be named later.

As you can see, we’ve tweaked a few things (and that’s still a work in progress, so please bear with us), and we’ve got a couple new elements in store for 2013. Please check back.

We’ve also got some stats from 2012: The BP was viewed about 73,000 times in 2012, by people from 176 countries. (That’s 27 fewer than than the total pool of nations that began qualification for Brazil 2014 two years ago, so we’ve got work to do.) We averaged roughly one post per business day in 2012, and the most popular posts in site history were those involving—you’ll never believe it—preposterously sexy Paraguayan superfan Larissa Riquelme.

You remember her, right?

No?

Allow us to refresh your memory:

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She’s a live wire, that one. Paraguay needs to step it up in WC qualifying (they’re currently dead last in COMNEBOL; this is an emergency) just so the world gets to see her again at Brazil 2014.

Runners-up in the popular-post category involved Wayne Rooney, Oguchi Onyewu’s wife, and David Beckham’s MLS sojourn.

That’s all for now; we’ll be back shortly with a belated BP Fantasy League update, and then it’s onward with the semi-regularly scheduled programming.

Thanks for reading.

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

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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.

MLS Transfer and Silly Seasons Off with a Bang

Jamison OlaveSletoux

Less than 24 hours after Los Angeles defender Omar Gonzalez finished dancing naked in celebration of the Galaxy’s 2012 MLS Cup triumph, reports of impending blockbuster MLS trades started filtering in. Not long after that, the first big transactions were confirmed, as Real Salt Lake, Portland, and New York completed significant deals ahead of the 2013 season.

More on those shortly, but first, here’s a list of foreign-based players who could be, are rumored to be, should be, or some guy’s cousin’s sister’s bartender said would be, coming to our bustling shores in 2013 (along with their age, position, nationality, current or most recent club, and level).

Buckle up, and take ’em all with a grain of salt:

Yossi Benayoun, 32, attacking midfielder Israel, Chelsea—on loan to West Ham, Premier League

Dexter Blackstock, 26, striker, Antigua and Barbuda, Nottingham Forest, Football League Championship (English second flight)

Fernando Cavenaghi, 29, striker, Argentina, Villareal, La Liga

Christian Eichner, left back, Germany, FC Cologne, Bundesliga2

Rio Ferdinand, 34, center back, England, Manchester United, Premier League

Maynor Figueroa, 29, defender, Honduras, Wigan Athletic, Premier League

Robbie Findley, 27, striker, United States, Nottingham Forest, Football League Championship

Brad Friedel, 41, goalkeeper, United States, Tottenham Hotspur, Premier League

Manuel Freidrich, 33 , center back, Germany, Bayer Leverkusen, Bundesliga

Clarence Goodson, 30, defender, United States, Brøndby, Superligaen (Danish top flight)

Atiba Hutchinson, 29, midfielder/defender, Canada, PSV Eindhoven, Eredivisie (Dutch top flight)

Jared Jeffrey, 22, midfielder, United States, Mainz 05, Bundesliga

Kaka, 30, midfielder, Brazil, Real Madrid, La Liga

Kevin McKenna, 32, center back, Canada, FC Cologne, Bundesliga

David Mendes da Silva, 30, defender, Netherlands, Red Bull Salzburg, Austrian Bundesliga

Rubin Okotie, 25, striker, Austria, Sturm Graz, Austrian Bundesliga

Martin Petrov, 33, winger, Bulgaria, Bolton, Football League Championship

Claudio Pizarro, 34, striker, Peru, Bayern Munich, Bundesliga

Frank Simek, 28, defender, United States, Carlisle, Football League One (English third flight)

Whew! And look for that list to grow in the coming weeks.

As for the deals that have already gone down, Real Salt Lake offloaded center back Jamison Olave, striker Fabian Espindola, and midfielder Will Johnson in a bold sweep to free up allocation money that they’ll likely use to lure a marquee forward for 2013.

Olave and Espindola went to New York and Johnson to Portland. All three were dealt in exchange for cash. Why New York would swoop for the declining Olave is a topic for another post, but for now, suffice to say that the 2010 MLS Defender of the Year will be 32 early next season, and has seen his minutes decline due to injury from 2,413 in 2010 to 2,128 in ’11 and 1,734 last year. Good luck with that, NY.

RSL also sent striker Justin Braun to Toronto FC for defender Aaron Maund, and Portland—which has installed new coach Caleb Porter from Akron—traded defender Kosuke Kimura to the Red Bulls for allocation money and the rights to homegrown player (and Akron Zip) Bryan Gallego.

The Timbers also traded lanky center back Eric Brunner to Houston for allocation money, and sent cash to Sporting Kansas City in exchange for outside back Michael Harrington.

All of these moves took place on Monday, a day the Colorado Rapids capped by trading an international roster spot to Vancouver for striker Atiba Harris.

On Thursday, the Red Bulls traded attacker Sebastien Le Toux to Philadelphia—where he enjoyed a breakout season in 2010, producing 14 goals and 11 asssists—in exchange for allocation money and 22-year-old Costa Rican striker Josue Martinez.

Stay tuned, hot-stove season is only one week old.