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Major League Monday

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THE NEW AMERICAN HOPE?

MLS’s odd policy of playing through FIFA international dates meant that the league action was overshadowed by the big friendly in New Jersey, where nearly 80,000 fans watched Bob Bradley’s U.S. team battle to a 1-1 draw against a Lionel Messi inspired Argentina. The U.S team is dominated by players based in Europe but there was a big bright point for MLS when New York Red Bulls teenage striker Juan Agudelo came off the bench to score. Agudelo, who scored on his international debut against South Africa last year and bagged on the opening day of the MLS season last week, is the hottest young talent in MLS and has huge potential. For his sake though, it is hoped that he doesn’t have to endure the premature hype that surrounded the last great American hope in soccer – Freddy Adu. Adu was treated as the American Pele as a teenager but having failed to live up to such ludicrous expectations he has stumbled around Europe and at the age of 21 he has already slumped to the obscurity of the Turkish second division.  Agudelo would be well served by a couple of years gaining experience in MLS before he starts thinking about a big move abroad.

One of the interesting things about Agudelo is that he hasn’t come through the old-fashioned college system in the U.S. Born in Colombia, he moved to the States with his family as an eight year old and came through the Red Bulls academy. That surely is the future for soccer in North America – players who come through the college system might get a good all-round education but if they want to be an internationally marketable talent when they are at the key age of 20-21, they need to be playing professional soccer in their teens. The likes of Messi and Wayne Rooney wouldn’t be where they are now if they had been studying social sciences at 21 and playing three or four months out of the year.

GALAXY SIMPLY OUTCLASSED

David Beckham had the captain’s armband back on for L.A Galaxy for the first time in three years on Saturday but endured a miserable night as last year’s regular season champions were utterly outclassed by a sparkling Real Salt Lake. Beckham had a deflected free-kick hit the post but was badly at fault for Real’s third goal when he was caught dozing at a throw in and Javier Morales zipped away from him and blasted home a superb shot from 20 yards out to put the game beyond the Galaxy four minutes before the break.

The only bright spot for Beckham and Galaxy was a late consolation goal when Beckham whipped in a trademark cross which Colombian Juan Pablo Angel bungled home – but even that glimpse of the old Beckham was only made possible by some shambolic goalkeeping. Nonetheless, after a week where Beckham’s commitment to Galaxy was questioned in some quarters, the very fact that coach Bruce Arena entrusted him with the captaincy said something about that debate.  For the Galaxy, even though they were without Landon Donovan, on international duty with the U.S, the game was a real wake up call. Salt Lake were sharper and more intelligent and creative in every area of the field than the rather laborious L.A team.

Beckham bashers have got it wrong

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By Simon Evans in Miami

Television coverage of MLS’s opening game began with an attack on David Beckham from two television pundits and critics have continued to question whether the Englishman cares about the league or his club, LA Galaxy, Simon Evans says the Beckham bashing is off target.

The debate over David Beckham’s commitment to L.A Galaxy and Major League Soccer should have ended on November 22, 2009. On that rainy, cold day in Seattle, Beckham took a series of pain-killing injections, wrapped up his injured ankle in bandage and went out to face Real Salt Lake on the unforgiving artificial turf at Qwest Field.

Major League Monday

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WHITECAPS

The new Major League Soccer season got underway this weekend and Reuters Soccer Blog will have a regular Monday morning lookback at the main talking points from each weekend of action in the North American league from Simon Evans in Miami along with video goal highlights.

VANCOUVER’S VICTORY
Last year’s MLS campaign ended in rather unimpressive fashion with the championship game in a cold and half-interested Toronto but on Saturday the new season got under way, also in Canada, and the scenes in Vancouver offered a much brighter picture for the league’s future.
The Vancouver Whitecaps’ debut in MLS, after years of treading water in the second tier leagues following the collapse of the old NASL, was always going to be a moment of celebration for the soccer-loving public in British Columbia but what made the event truly memorable was the game itself with the Whitecaps crushing their fellow Canadians Toronto 4-2 in a hugely entertaining and open game.
It was a reminder that for all the emphasis on stadiums, organization, marketing and image-management, important though they all are, it is the ‘product on the field’, the game itself, which is going to make the lasting difference and take the league to the next level. Questions could certainly be asked about Toronto’s defending but both teams moved the ball well with the Whitecaps swift breaks and intelligent angled passing particularly catching the eye. The Vancouver fans will also be delighted that their ‘designated player’, Frenchman Eric Hassli, hardly a ‘Beckham rule’ signing in terms of profile, turns out to be a smart striker with an eye for goal – claiming two on his debut.
But not surprisingly most of the attention this weekend was on the response of the fans to the return of top flight soccer to Vancouver – Cam Cole’s report in the Vancouver Sun captures the mood of excitement and fulfillment.

A bad way to crown champions

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SOCCER-MLS/So that was MLS Cup again.

Call me a typical English soccer-snob but I still find the very idea of the game to be just wrong and ultimately self-defeating for the North American league.

Most league’s internationally have the best team in the country crowned champions but the top team in MLS, the L.A Galaxy, weren’t even on show at MLS Cup. Neither were the second best team, Real Salt Lake or the third and fourth best teams New York Red Bulls and Columbus Crew.

from Shop Talk:

Major League Soccer turns to training clubs’ ticket sales staff

mls1With new teams on the way and attendance rising, Major League Soccer has turned to a league-funded program to train its clubs' new sales staffers to help drive ticket demand.

The new 45-day training program, dubbed the MLS National Sales Center, got its start last month with the graduation of 10 trainees to jobs with seven clubs. MLS calls it the first ticket sales school owned by a pro sports league.

The U.S. and soccer – that joke isn’t funny anymore

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SOCCER-USA/Even though the results of the United States team in international competition indicate the country has become a respectable force in the game, in the past 12 months beating European champions Spain and drawing with presumed World Cup contenders England for example, there remain many who doubt whether soccer can ever capture the imagination of the sporting public in the United States.

The main problem Europeans, in particular English fans, appear to have with the status of soccer in the U.S. is that it is not the number one sport in the country. Not even number two or three in fact. And the fact is that there is no-one in the soccer business in the U.S. who would pretend they are in a position to overtake, on a day-to-day basis, the NFL, the NBA or Major League Baseball.

10 things to watch out for in the new MLS season

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SOCCER/The 15th Major League Soccer season kicks off on Thursday as fans thankfully turn their thoughts from collective-bargaining agreements and guaranteed contracts, to action on the field, safe in the knowledge that the only strikers making the news this week will be those who score goals.

Others will make their judgments on the deal that avoided a strike — but what is certain is that the new five-year contract and modest salary structure ensures not only that MLS will start on Thursday (Seattle Sounders host the Philadelphia Union) but also that it will enter its 20th year in much the same status as it began its first – a league featuring a surprising number of good players, being paid a surprisingly low amount of money.

Twitter might not be harmless fun for players

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The days when the details of transfer negotiations were closely guarded secrets could be coming to an end with the advent of the ‘Twitter transfer’.

On Wednesday, U.S. national team striker Jozy Altidore all but announced a move to English Premier League Hull City on the micro-blogging site, keeping his fans updated while Hull remained silent.

Don Garber Q & A

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The following is the transcript of an interview with Don Garber, commissioner of Major League Soccer. Simon Evans talked to Garber as he marked his 10th year in charge of the league.

    Commissioner, are you where you expected to be after ten years in the job?

from Left field:

MLS looks to ‘eye candy’ to win over new fans

Working to break through the clutter in the crowded North American sports market, Major league Soccer has teamed up with CosmoGirl.com to show off its best-looking young players, or "eye candy" as the website dubs them.

Fifteen MLS players, or "playas," are on display at the website of Cosmopolitan's teen magazine. Ranging in age from 19 to 27, the players are shown in photos both in action and relaxing off the soccer pitch.

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