Beckham, City European Flavor MLS Needs in Ownership

Thanks to Manchester City, New York City FC will begin playing MLS football in 2015. Now, David Beckham is in Miami talking up the possibility of investing into a new franchise in South Florida, which has been without an association football team since 2001 when the league cut both the Miami Fusion and the Tampa Mutiny as part of the league restructuring.  While the general opinion of MLS fans seemed to be negative when it came to City’s venture into the MLS, there will likely be more acceptance to the man who more or less put the league on the football map becoming a partner in a possible 21st team in the league.

When Beckham signed for the LA Galaxy in 2007,  a clause was included in his contract that would allow him to create a new franchise at a discounted price of $25 million after his retirement. However, money won’t be an issue if his tour of SunLife Stadium and Florida International University’s American football stadium with billionaire Marcelo Claure, who attempted to bring a MLS team to Miami in the past, is any sign. With Beckham’s international prestige, the discounted price of a franchise, Miami’s political acceptance of a club in their city and a potential billionaire backer in Claure, it is highly probable that the sport at the highest level the United States has will finally be back in the southeastern part of the country.

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Is the United States Ready for a Gay Footballer?

In February, former US Men’s National Team winger Robbie Rogers stepped away from the game after announcing that he was gay. Now, Rogers is training with the Los Angeles Galaxy in what all signs point to as a comeback to the pitch. During the same week that NBA free agent Jason Collins announced he was gay and proclaimed the United States was ready for an active gay athlete, it begs the question is the United States really ready for a gay athlete?

I’d like to preface this by saying I largely respect Rogers and Collins for what they have done to stay true to themselves while I don’t agree that it is anyone’s business who or who they do not like to be involved romantically with. However, I think it is very easy for Collins to make such a proclamation when he is not contracted to a team. It is now a proclamation that Rogers will have to prove or disprove when he makes his eventual return to the MLS.

Robbie Rogers is training with the Los Angeles Galaxy, but is the American public ready for an active gay athlete?

Robbie Rogers is training with the Los Angeles Galaxy, but is the American public ready for an active gay athlete?

Rogers may not have the exposure playing the MLS that Collins would have had should he sign with an NBA team, but with the soft-press, gossip-driven media in the United States, Rogers will be catapulted to David Beckham-esque status. Just as the press put the NBA and its players under a microscope when Magic Johnson announced he had HIV, every altercation between Rogers and an opponent will be placed under a similar lens.

Mind you, this is less than a month after San Jose Earthquakes’ Alan Gordon was sent off against the Portland Timbers for using a homophobic slur. Gordon may be out to atone for what he did, but I assure you he isn’t the only one who uses such language, he’s just one of the ones who got caught.

All American football fans can remember the polarizing character that Tim Tebow has been since his days at Florida. While his actual skill may be questionable, his ability to bring out everyone who agree with him — even the crazies — as well as those who don’t — crazies on this side, as well — can not be doubted.

Whether he wants to be or not, Rogers will be a similarly polarizing figure. I’m just waiting for the Westboro Baptist Church to picket a MLS game that Rogers is playing in while a gay rights group pickets the picketers.

Let’s not forget Justin Fashanu who was charged for sexually assaulting a 17-year-old boy in Maryland,  not because the boy was underage but because in 1998 homosexual sex acts were illegal in Maryland. 1998 may sound like a long time ago, but the same type of people still remain in this country.

Regardless of how many goals Rogers scores, he will soon become the most followed footballer in the United States by both those supporting him and those who are against them.

Manchester City Owner in Negotiations for MLS Club

For months, I’ve come across articles linking the owner of Manchester City, Sheik Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan with Major League Soccer’s twentieth team which will play in the New York borough of Queens. I figured it was like many of the other rumors about Manchester City. If it’s about money, City has to be involved. Obviously, the Sheik is the only rich sports owner in the world. Not like the Glazers could fork over the $40 million that the Montreal Impact paid to join the MLS as an expansion team nor the $100 million the Sheik is reportedly paying as an expansion fee.

But I digress.

Sheik Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, center, whose private investment group owns Manchester City in the English Premier League is looking to expand to Major League Soccer.

Sheik Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, center, whose private investment group owns Manchester City in the English Premier League is looking to expand to Major League Soccer.

According to the New York Times, sources close to the negotiations have said they have entered into the final stages and an announcement is likely before Manchester City’s friendly with Chelsea in Yankee Stadium on May 25th.

Take a step back people who thought Financial Fair Play or the abrupt absence of the Sheik would end the beginning of the Premier League’s Evil Empire at the Etihad. This is a move that benefits Manchester City just as much as it benefits the MLS, the Sheik and the club we’ll refer to as New York City FC for now.

Stefan Szymanski, co-author of the book “Soccernomics” (a great read which I highly recommend), believes the New York franchise could be used to help develop Manchester City’s young players. In addition to the Etihad Campus, we could be looking at the start of one of the world’s best youth set-ups if this is indeed the idea behind the purchase.

It is also likely that this a direct move to get a handle on the ledger and fall in line with Financial Fair Play rules set forth by both UEFA and the Premier League. I’m not entirely sure how this would be viewed but I’m sure getting a star player from New York FC owned by Sheik Mansour would not cost Manchester City owned by Sheik Mansour an arm and a leg.

But fear not MLS fans, the salary cap will prevent the Sheik from dumping hundreds of millions of dollars into a New York franchise. I’m inclined to believe that we’ll see a similar situation to that of Udinese Calcio, Grenada CF and Watford FC, all owned by Giampaolo Pozzo. Watford has 9 players on loan from Udinese and Grenada. Grenada has 5 players on loan from Udinese.

Scott Sinclair not getting time at the Etihad, wait until February and send him to New York on loan. Sinclair clearly makes well over the salary cap but who knows how many ways there are to circumvent that with loans. I’m certainly no economist and no expert on the MLS salary cap.

As for the MLS, they get a team that can build a suitable youth set-up and that will get a following simply from being owned by the same man as Manchester City. I know that I’m willing to call myself a supporter of New York FC, three years before they are scheduled to play their first game.

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Freddy Adu: An American Cautionary Tale

He was a prodigy. An American football phenom who came to prominence in 2004 for becoming the youngest person to sign a professional sports contract in the United States since 1887. Freddy Adu was supposed to become America’s Messi at a time when the US was in need of a football legend. Ten years later, all we got was a kid who never reached the dizzying heights expected of him.

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From prodigy to pretender, Freddy Adu will always be remembered as the American football star that never was.

Adu joined the IMG Soccer Academy at the age of 12 and by 14, he was being drafted first overall by the D.C. United in 2004. Signing a 14-year-old to a professional contract sounded absurd then and it sounds absurd now — if you forget that time VVV-Venlo signed a toddler to a 10-year contract.

The American football scene was very different 10 years ago and I believe that had an impact of Adu’s growth as a player. The MLS was less relevant then and Adu’s signing made international news. Hell, the only reason the 13-year-old version of myself knew the MLS existed was because of Freddy Adu.

Therein lies the problem.

Adu should have never been rushed to the pitch. His talent at 14 may have been prodigal, but there’s a reason American leagues stopped signing players his age in 1887. His skills were unrefined and his personality hadn’t been given time to mature. Think Mario Balotelli. All the talent in the world, but sometimes needs a swift kick to the ass to get him going in the right direction.

Nine teams and seven countries later, Freddy Adu has become a joke, mentioned with some of the worst flops in American sports history. Adu is football’s version of football’s (the American one) Ki-Jana Carter except Carter can hang his staggering descent into obscurity to being injured in his third game.

Undoubtedly, there are more Freddy Adu-esque American prodigies out there. It’s inevitable. However, we can count our lucky stars that the game in the United States and the MLS has grown up in the last 10 years. The MLS doesn’t like to sign anyone who can’t collect social security these days.

Whether Freddy Adu will ever be half the player we expected him to be can be argued for days, but Adu’s career will always be the warning heeded by the next American phenoms offered a professional football contract when he is still bringing his lunch to school in a Power Rangers lunch box.

Three Reasons Why the CONCACAF Champions League is a Failure

Hands up, I was not aware CONCACAF’s Champions League was already in the quarterfinals stage. It pretty much just sprung up on me this morning while I was watching ESPN and they happened to mention that the Seattle Sounders became the first MLS club to beat a Mexican side in the competition. Kudos to the Sounders, but the novelty was quickly lost on me.

If you are not familiar with the CONCACAF Champions Leauge, here’s the rundown. It’s a 24-team tournament with 4 clubs coming from Mexico and the United States; 2 from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama; and 1 from Canada, Nicaragua and Belize. Three clubs qualify from the Caribbean Football Union Club Championship. The rest is pretty similar to UEFA’s Champion League.

The Seattle Sounders made history in the CONCACAF Champions League, but does anyone care?

The Seattle Sounders made history in the CONCACAF Champions League, but does anyone care?

That being said, here are five reasons I think the CONCACAF Champions League is a massive failure.

1. There aren’t enough premiere clubs.

Let’s be honest with ourselves here. Can anyone name 2 clubs from the countries which have two entrants in this competition without looking on Wikipedia or Google? I’m sure there are quality sides in those countries but there’s a reason that only Mexican clubs have won this tournament since it changed to the “Champions League” format in 2008. You’d be better served to cut the tournament down to 8 clubs and jump straight into knockout rounds.

2. The scheduling is poor.

I’m not sure why it is done the way it is, but the competition begins in August which coincides with the beginning of Liga MX’s apertura but comes right in the middle of the MLS’ season. The group stages run until October when there is a five-month break before the knockout rounds begin. It’s hard to keep up with things that are separated by five months. It doesn’t help that one of the two top leagues in the competition, the MLS, does not play for most of those five months.

3. No one cares enough to go to the games.

In the 2012-13 edition of the CONCACAF, there are four teams that have a respectable average attendance — UANL Tigres, Real Salt Lake, CF Monterrey and Houston Dynamo. It’s a crapshoot after that. Six of the clubs averaged fewer than 1,000 fans at their home fixtures. Watching a game in an empty stadium is not entertaining and I could imagine going to a game in an empty stadium isn’t that fun either. Maybe if they said all the games were played behind closed doors, it wouldn’t seem so bad.

When Will the MLS be a Major League Success?

This weekend was the first weekend of the MLS’ 2013 season and I have to say that I’m still left unimpressed by the product being put on the pitch by the United States and Canada’s top tier football league.

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MLS Commissioner Don Garber thinks his league will be one of the best in the world in 10 years.

The story of the North American Soccer League’s mercurial rise to fame and eventual flaming out is well-known, well-versed and has continued to cast a shadow over the MLS for much of its history but at some point you have to get a little more aggressive in building your brand. After all, MLS commissioner Don Garber reiterated his plan to have the league be considered one of the best in the world by 2022.

Hopefully it isn’t as ill-fated as the USSF’s “Project 2010,” the plan to make the US men’s national team good enough to be competitive in the 2010 World Cup.

Unfortunately, Garber doesn’t have David Beckham, who now plays for Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1, in his underwear on billboards to bring women to LA Galaxy games and the other European retirees in the MLS don’t have the star power to do what Becks did.

Promotion and Relegation

Currently, there is no promotion and relegation in Major League Soccer. Some people think that’s perfectly fine but I think that’s one of the major problems with the league and the entire USSF pyramid.

People will argue that teams in the NASL (2009), the USL Pro and Canadian Soccer League don’t have the financial backing to survive in a top level league but we’re talking about the MLS. The MLS where there are clubs that can’t fill their stadiums for semi-final playoff games.

Promotion and relegation will allow the pyramid to be built from the ground up instead of the top down as they seem so keen on doing. The lure of possibly playing at the top will bring in new, ambitious owners to the clubs at the bottom. Imagine a Mark Cuban or Jerry Jones-esque mogul coming in and taking over a club like the San Antonio Scorpions. They’d go from NASL club to MLS champion in a matter of months.

Of course, the MLS would also have to get rid of their single-entity model.

Salary Constraints

This comes directly from the downfall of the original NASL. The league grew quickly and the New York Cosmos had some of the best players in the world on their squad. However, the free spending also caused its eventual demise.

The MLS keeps a lid on their clubs spending in an effort to prevent the same thing from happening to their league but when those same clubs go to compete in the CONCACAF Champions League, they have a fraction of the financial power that the teams they are competing with have.

Compare Liga MX’s ability to keep Mexican-born players in Mexico to the MLS’s inability to keep American starlets in the United States — a problem which probably also stems from the single-entity model. Guadalajara in Mexico is a huge club and the parent club of Chivas USA in the MLS, but Guadalajara isn’t able to feed their club in the MLS with the funds necessary to become of the top sides in Major League Soccer.

A little financial flexibility and our players wouldn’t be running to the Premier League, the Bundesliga or the Tippeligaen.

Playoffs

Yes, the playoffs is what makes the MLS American. Americans love to see teams go head-to-head and settle things on the field. We love to see upsets and all that good stuff but I think that’s a problem.

Playoffs create the chance for clubs that have not performed well to get hot at the right time and win the championship. I love that in the NFL but keep it out of my association football. Leagues in Europe may not have actual playoff systems to determine their champions but those clubs still settle it on the pitch.

What do you call it when every team plays every other team twice home and away? A round-robin tournament, that’s what.

People would be downright outraged if Liverpool was crowned Premier League champions — obviously Liverpool supporters wouldn’t be — at the end of this season because they snuck into a playoff and happened to hit form at the right time.

Obviously, there are good things about the MLS and of course there are more negatives, but to think the MLS will be a world class league by 2022 is bending the meaning of world class a little too much.

Defining American Football Glory

Yesterday, Norwich City completed an impressive comeback due in part to goals from loanee Kei Kamara and the ageless Grant Holt. The Canaries picked up Kamara in the January transfer window from Major League Soccer side Sporting KC with an option to bring him on permanently at the end of the season.

However, that’s not what I’m going to discuss. If you were to look at ESPN FC’s front page following yesterday’s round of football you would have seen the headline: Sporting KC’s Kei Kamara powers Norwich City to comeback win over Everton or something to that effect.

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AZ Alkmaar forward Jozy Altidore has burst onto the scene in the Eredivisie but hasn’t enjoyed the same success with the US National Team.

As a disclaimer, I must say that I love when American players go overseas and do well. (Kamara is from Sierra Leone but his family immigrated to the United States when he was 16.) Though not often spoken of, I enjoy knowing that Jozy Altidore is one of the top scorers in the Eredivisie with AZ Alkmaar. I like that Jermaine Jones is a key cog for Schalke 04 in the Bundesliga. I can’t wait for Brek Shea to get his chance with Stoke City.

All that said, a win for American players overseas should not be celebrated like a World Cup win for the country nor a victory for Major League Soccer.

Rarely in the United States do we see Tottenham’s scores scroll across the screen on ESPN, but when Clint Dempsey plays they talk about it whether he scored or not. Kamara was referred to as Sporting KC’s player instead of Norwich City’s. The fact that the aforementioned Shea was left out of FC Dallas’ side on more than a few occasions for bust ups with manager Schellas Hyndman was forgotten when he became another American making his way across the pond.

We as Americans need to realize we are behind the curb in the footballing world. That fact is made painfully obvious when we celebrate Dempsey being subbed on in the 75th minute in some League Cup tie.

Major League Soccer is the current retirement home for European footballers. Nigel Reo-Coker, 28, is one of the youngest European players to sign on with an MLS side in some time. While Americans are busying watching Dempsey and Landon Donovan’s every move, Europeans are busying laughing at the MLS for signing players who should have hung it up three years ago. Yes I’m talking about you, Montreal Impact. Signing every over-the-hill Italian player won’t make you good.

Meanwhile, our national team flounders under bad manager after bad manager. Jurgen Klinsmann was the sexy pick, but the sexy pick hasn’t come with concrete results. How do you not call up a player who has scored 18 goals in 17 games? Altidore is the best American striker, Klinsmann. Put him on the pitch.

At some point, we need to separate the MLS from American players overseas. They may have gotten their start in the American league but their talent is not eternally tethered to it. Clint Dempsey is Clint Dempsey because of Fulham not the New England Revolution and Donovan wouldn’t be half the player he is without Bayer Leverkeusen, Bayern Munich, and Everton.