Reuters Soccer Blog
World Soccer views and news
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.
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.
With Montreal joining MLS next year and with Seattle and Portland down the coast from Vancouver both enjoying excellent levels of support, there are plenty of games with a local edge for the Whitecaps fans to enjoy and it will be interesting to see how they respond to the move from Empire Field to the redeveloped and much larger BC Place later in the season.
Another reminder that it is the on-field basics that count most came with Sporting KC’s victory at Chivas USA. All the talk around Sporting in the build-up to the game surrounded the impending trial they have offered to NFL wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, which may have generated plenty of local publicity for the team in KC but also rather added some ammunition to those who like to dismiss MLS as ‘minor league’. In contrast, there hadn’t been too much noise made about the club’s designated player signing in the off-season, Mexico international Omar Bravo. Bravo’s two goals in the 3-2 win at Chivas weren’t spectacular headline-grabbers but they showed him to be a clinical finisher and were the kind of goals that 20-a-season forwards score. It will be interesting to see how his pairing with young U.S forward Teal Bunbury develops, when the 21-year-old returns from injury. MLS will win over skeptical fans of other sports, such as the NFL, with quality players and quality games – not silly link-ups with wide-receivers.
So Real Madrid finally broke their last 16 jinx and made the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 2004 with a solid home performance against Olympique Lyon. Can’t imagine anyone left in the draw would like to face Jose Mourinho’s men when the last eight and semi-final draws are announced on Friday.
Which team would you want? Managerless Schalke 04? Real are divided on that given they would then face former striker Raul. Or Ukraine’s Shakhtar Donetsk? Tottenham Hotspur would appear to be another one of the weaker teams left but at this stage of the competition any side is a threat.
With the NFL entering a lockout due to a dispute between players and owners over a new collective contract, Cincinnati Bengals wide-receiver Chad Ochocinco is to join Major League Soccer’s Sporting Kansas City on a four day trial next week.
With that news in mind, here are five other NFL players who could have the attributes to switch codes and some light-hearted suggestions on where in MLS they might play:
MLS’s foreign imports have grabbed most of the headlines over the past few years, understandably given the name recognition of players such as David Beckham and Thierry Henry, but one of the most fascinating aspects of this season will be the progress of a new generation of American players on the fringe of the national team. Sporting KC striker Teal Bunbury and New York Red Bulls forward Juan Agudelo are fancied by many as a future pairing for Bob Bradley’s team but they will need to deliver week-in-week-out in MLS. Red Bulls defender Tim Ream had an excellent first year and will likely be scouted heavily by European clubs this season. Portland Timbers attacker Darlington Nagbe was born in Liberia but is seeking naturalization and there is a lot of buzz about his potential.
DIG THE NEW BREED
The Pacific North-West should provide plenty of lively derby action this year with the Seattle Sounders, the best-supported team in the league, joined by two new teams — local rivals Portland Timbers and Northern neighbours Vancouver Whitecaps. Both clubs are technically ‘expansion franchises’ but don’t confuse them with recent creations such as the Philadelphia Union and Real Salt Lake who started from scratch. Both the Timbers and the Whitecaps existed in the old NASL and continued in second tier soccer up until last season. Both have good fan-bases who expect an instant impact. Both were able to build upon their backroom and on-field staff from the second tier. In short – both are more like typical promoted teams in European leagues – they have to step up to a new level on the field and can expect some fresh impetus off the field. It should be fascinating to watch how they fare in their first season with the big boys. Who will make the bigger impact?
SHINY, HAPPY PEOPLE?
The Kansas City Wizards were not one of MLS’s big success stories having averaged crowds of around 10,000 for most of their existence – initially playing at the 80,000 capacity Arrowhead Stadium, home to the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs and then at a cozier but not-very soccer friendly minor-league baseball park. This season all that changes. The rather silly-sounding Wizards name has been dropped in favour of Sporting Kansas City – mocked by some as being a pretentious Euro-wannabe name (Sporting Club being a historic team in Lisbon, Portugal) but surely an upgrade on the Wizards? This season the team also move into their own, shiny new, purpose built 18,500 venue – Livestrong Sporting Park. The venue isn’t quite ready so the first eight games of the season for Sporting will be on the road but it will be interesting to see if the rebrand and the new home manage to attract more fans. That certainly helped New York Red Bulls last year – when they moved into Red Bull Arena their average home gate rose from 12,229 to 18,441.
Simon Evans here in Miami with an update on the most interesting stories out there on the web today:
Here in the States – Real Salt Lake turned in a very impressive display last night in the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-final, beating MLS rivals Columbus Crew 4-1. RSL are usually attractive to watch and you can catch some free goal highlights here. RSL become the first team from MLS to reach the last four in the CCL and they will play the winner of Thursday’s game between Costa Rica’s Saprissa and Olimpia of Honduras.
Former Arsenal, Barcelona and France striker Thierry Henry is loving life in the United States and wants to see New York Red Bulls develop identity as an attractive passing football team but he also hankers after an eventual return to Arsenal in some role in the future.
The following is the full transcript of interview by Simon Evans with Henry after pre-season training with the Red Bulls in Fort Lauderdale this weekend. Shortly before the interview began at the team’s hotel Henry was approached by an American guest who recognised him from a documentary film about racism in sport but who then asked the Frenchman for his name.
For all the progress made by Major League Soccer since it began in 1996, there is not one team in the league that can match the old New York Cosmos for name recognition – not globally and not in the United States.
But when the new owners of the Cosmos name announced in August that they planned to bring the team back to life and take them into MLS, there was a good deal of scepticism in the American soccer community. Now they have named former Manchester United great Eric Cantona as director of soccer.
Harry Redknapp does not need a right-sided midfield player and, with the depth of talent regularly available on his bench, he hardly needs to bolster his squad with a three-month loan signing.
Yet he, and several other Premier League managers, are trying to secure the services of 35-year-old David Beckham.
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.
Barcelona’s Thierry Henry is heading to New York Red Bulls in a widely expected move but don’t think the first big post-World Cup transfer means the window will suddenly be awash with deals.
An event before the World Cup is a major reason why Henry has decided to follow David Beckham’s lead and try out MLS. David Villa’s early move to Barca from Valencia meant there was no room for Henry at the Nou Camp and after France’s flop in South Africa there were few other interested parties.