We dream of football and the world is full of dreams

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Edu, Agudelo and the new MLS international carrousel

Maurice Edu joined Philadelphia Union in the latest transfer of established US internationals to Major League Soccer. At the same time, forward Juan Agudelo has joined Utrecht of the Eridivisie via a loan from Stoke City. This is a brave new world for MLS and the US national team.

While this sort of transfer business has been going on for a few years now, the sudden upswing in MLS acquisitions (Dempsey, Bradley, Edu) and continuing exits of youngsters (Cameron, Agudelo, Shea) has put the paradigm on overdrive. It's clear now that MLS is becoming a bona fide source of talent for the wealthier leagues in Europe as well as the Liga MX.

While some fans and commentators might find it a "downgrade" to transfer back to MLS after having established a good reputation in Europe, as Dempsey and Bradley did, it suffices to say that this new pattern is here to stay and the athletes are happy with where it puts them in their career, in the scope of the national team, as well as monetarily and in their personal lives.

Some of our younger prospects have made the jump over the Atlantic these past couple of seasons. Juan Agudelo, the once next-Altidore before slumping internationally, finally made a move to Europe and is looking to settle with Utrecht and break back into the forward pool for the national team. His biggest competition will likely be Eddie Johnson and Terrence Boyd, although the latter has yet to show his quality on the senior international level.

Also abroad at the moment and hoping to break back into the national team is Brek Shea (on loan to Barnsley). The midfielder had a rough time with injuries during 2013 and made few appearances for Stoke but his loan might bring his game up enough to re-enter national team contention. Another recent MLS transfer is Geoff Cameron, who has settled well in the Premiership as a bona fide defender/midfielder.

Potential MLS transfers abroad this season, especially with a good World Cup, is the central defense duo Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler. Graham Zusi might just be able to move to Europe as well.

Another player from the current US national team roster that could move to MLS is Jermaine Jones. His time at Schalke 04 is swiftly coming to an end and he has made it clear that he would like to play in the US.

All in all, this international player carrousel is good for the league and for national team players, especially as MLS gains in strength and quality. Our young players moving to Europe at a steady pace is also a credit to development in this country and shows no signs of waning.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Carlos Vela would make Mexico the strong team it should be

Photo credit: carlos-vela.livejournal.com

Once again we are hearing that the door isn't closed for Carlos Vela to join El Tri and claim his position as the best forward in the team. This is welcome news for a country and a squad in need of good results and preparation heading into the World Cup this summer. But will Miguel Herrera relent?

Herrera made it clear that it would be his way if he was to take over the national team. When he did so prior to the playoff match versus New Zealand he sent a clear message: Europe based players are not essential. He took all domestic-based players with a heavy tilt in favor of Club America.

You can argue that  indeed it wasn't necessary to have Andres Guardado and Chicharito Hernandez on the pitch to defeat lowly New Zealand. But we can hardly defend the fact that a domestic-heavy and perhaps América-heavy side might have trouble against the likes of Brazil, Croatia and Cameroon. 

But we can't seriously suggest that the all-knowing FMF could possibly allow for its megastars to get a snub come Brazil 2014. No, expect Europe to be well represented. But Carlos Vela is a special case. He has repeatedly shunned the national team for various reasons and on multiple occasions. So why is there still a chance for Vela?

Simply put. Mexico has no better chance. Not right now. They have a good team if they include Chicharito, dos Santos, Peralta, but none of them are in as good shape as Vela and in such a great place professionally. Vela has been lighting it up for Real Sociedad in the Spanish Primera and is considered by many to be the best attacker in Concacaf at this point. Can Mexico afford not to have him at the World Cup?

If we play out a scenario with Vela on board it simply makes Chicharito more honest, gives Peralta some haste and Jimenez something to strive for. For Dos Santos and Guardado it's an exhaust pipe for their pinpoint passes and darting runs. In short, Vela would make Mexico the attacking squad we liked so much in 2011 and 2012.

Miguel Herrera has some soul searching to do and not just with Vela. He is scheduled to be appraising his European legion this week. Let us hope that he at least acknowledges some of the talent El Tri has abroad, even if Vela is left out of 2014.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Canada World Cup 2026 is a great idea

Photo credit: bigsoccer.com

Last week we read that Canada is ready to make a bid for World Cup 2026. Even though twelve years away, for us in North America it's a welcome sign and the promise of a new start for the game and for FIFA once the curtains have closed over Qatar 2022.

Yes, FIFA should be listening to this and the world should be ready also. Canada boasts the kind of infrastructure required for an event like the World Cup. It also has the type of openness necessary to host a global tournament. Finally, if FIFA is truly looking to continue breaking new ground and exploring new frontiers then this surely is a top of the list.

Canadian soccer is a microcosm of US Soccer. Not the number one sport. No megastars. And a women's team that greatly surpasses the men's on the international stage.

Canada has limited soccer culture, perhaps only there thanks to the ill-fated NASL of Pelé. They are underdogs and underachievers, just as the United States in 1990. But unlike team USA, they had very little presence in international soccer before the 1980s. USA got to the semifinal in 1930 and had a historical win over England in 1950 before all went quiet for 40 years. Canada has been to one World Cup, 1986, although they came close in 1982 and 1994.

The landscape has been changing for the Canucks in recent years, however, with the addition of top soccer through MLS teams Toronto FC (2008), Vancouver Whitecaps (2011) and Montreal Impact (2012). Expansion has been talked about for Ottawa, who had a team with the classic NASL. In addition, Edmonton plays for the current NASL.

The club soccer scene has brought quality players to the country on a regular basis, from Camilo (Vancouver) to Frings (Toronto), Di Vaio (Montreal) and now Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe (both Toronto). In addition, they have nurtured their own players in Dwayne De Rosario and Julian De Guzman, with the former one just having re-singed with Toronto. Canada's players have also enjoyed development in other MLS teams: Will Johnson (Portland), Ante Jazic (Chivas USA) and Kyle Porter (DC).

With MLS on board, the soccer infrastructure has been established in the major cities and, along with soccer-specific venues for club teams, large stadiums belonging to Canadian Football are also available for a World Cup. Unlike Qatar, the summer tournament would benefit from great weather conditions throughout the country.

A World Cup for the Maple Leafs would also be great for the US. In fact, a case could be made for a joint tournament between the two nations. FIFA has always been clear about the importance of MLS and here is a perfect opportunity to continue this relationship. So bring it on, Canada 2026, North America deserves to have big soccer back.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Toronto FC as a superclub is good for MLS

Photo credit: Toronto FC

For several years now MLS has had two superclubs: New York Red Bulls and LA Galaxy. Toronto FC is making sure that this will no longer be the case.

The blockbuster deals for Jermain Defoe an Michael Bradley were the icing on the cake for a team that was rebuilding and recharging. And while Defoe coming to Toronto would sell tickets and deliver goals, it was Michael Bradley's move that meant the team was serious about competing by revamping itself up and down its spine.

We all know the Beckham story and how his transfer changed the league forever. The Galaxy got two championships, worldwide recognition and the ability to not only keep Donovan and Gonzalez, but also to acquire Robbie Keane. 

New York had a more difficult time in the post DP universe of MLS. Juan Pablo Angel was a scorer but never with the same cache. Enter Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez and all that went out the window. That they didn't win any trophies until last season is a matter of on field calculations and depth building. Mike Petke seems to have found the right formula and the DP strategy is finally paying off with Tim Cahil's arrival.

There is a case to be made for Seattle as another so-called super club, but Obefemi Martins is no household name and Osvaldo Alonso is more of a local hero. Dempsey is their figure but not enough, it seems, to reach the top yet.

But what to make of Toronto's foray into The superclub world? Sure, Frings was a recognizable name in those educated in football lore. But it's not the same as signing Defoe and Bradley, plus adding Gilberto and Dwayne DeRosario to stack the attacking front of the team. If TFC is able to get a steady defense going and build around a special player (as the Galaxy did with Gonzalez), then this team can be truly special.

Competition. That's what it comes down to. And while a blue-collar team like Sporting KC can still win tournaments, the pressure of playing against superstars makes every team that much better on the pitch. This is why relegation-threatened squads in other countries have quality players. MLS will have more options now for its squads, a chance to train better, to let players move abroad, to sign more superstars, and eventually to grow our own superstars. 

Toronto was a gleaming jewel in attendance when it first entered the league. It waned a bit with all the misfortunes an lack of playoffs. But the fans are as committed as ever and they deserve a great soccer team. Toronto can be what Chelsea is to Manchester United and Arsenal, an alternative quality club.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Michael Bradley to Toronto FC: too soon?

Photo credit: ESPN FC

When Taylor Twellman announced on his twitter feed earlier this week that Michael Bradley was on the verge of signing with Toronto FC, many of us fans were in disbelief. Michael Bradley to MLS? Yes, it was true and the most talented American soccer player was leaving Europe after ten years of pure ascent. 

The final figure paid to AS Roma was close to $10 million. No bargain for the talented US international and a credit to Toronto and MLS. But how does this affect the national team and Bradley's future?

A year and a half ago the American invasion of top teams in Europe got started when Clint Dempsey signed with Tottenham at the end of the transfer window and Michael Bradley signed with the legendary AS Roma. American soccer had reached new heights. Could Altidore move to a Champions League team? Mix Diskerud? 

But last summer, after some soul searching, Dempsey made the move back to the United States to play for the Sounders on a $9 million transfer from the Spurs. Great catch for Seattle and the league for a man still in his prime at 30 years old. Bradley remained at Roma for the first half of the current season even though his playing time was cut down. Although there were signs he might move elsewhere for playing time, no one thought it would be to America. Certainly not in World Cup year.

But the allure of a higher paycheck and the chance to play each and every week and remain a superstar was too much for Bradley to refuse. He had been in Europe for ten years so it seemed logical that he would want to try something different. However, at 26 he is right in his prime with room to grow further. Can MLS provide that for him? Perhaps not at the same level. MLS is still a growing league and even its best teams would struggle against mid table European squads.

And what about the national team? In Europe, especially with Roma, Bradley had a chance to play against opponents of the highest level, the kind he will surely battle against at this summer's tournament in Brazil. And how does Klinsmann feel about all this? He loves MLS but he always wants players to push themselves. Let's remember that he wasn't all that thrilled with Dempsey's move stateside.

So let's say this. . . Bradley is the best player the United States has to offer at the moment, no doubt about that. He is a complete player. For him and for the national team, the best thing would have been to remain in Europe and continue developing. Now the US has zero players in Italy and Spain so exposure to more varied styles will be lacking with Team USA. 

Credit MLS. They are making a statement by making national team stars the designated players in their teams. Gonzalez, Donovan, Dempsey, Wondolowski are all here with high salaries. Also here are Besler, Zusi, Eddie Johnson, Clarence Goodson and Bocanegra. Jermaine Jones and Onyewu might be on their way. America has a chance to create a stronger league and more fun to watch.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Bob Bradley, an American Coach in Europe

Photo credit: Stabaek
To say that Bob Bradley is a visionary American soccer coach might anger some. And yet today, when it was announced that Bradley would become the head coach of Stabaek of the Norwegian Tippeligaen, there was communal applause in American soccer circles. Bradley had become the first American head coach in a top division European league.  

Bob Bradley pushed the boundaries of American coaches abroad when he became head coach of the Egyptian national team in 2011. After a successful couple of years and going undefeated in qualifiers, a date with Ghana brought back memories of 2010 when his Team America failed to get past the Ghanaians in the round of sixteen. The team lost 6-1 abroad and won only by 2-1 at home, eliminating them from the competition.

Bradley was criticized by many for his ultra-defensive stance, his at-times unyielding 4-4-2, and his ill-fated faith on Jonathan Bornstein and Ricardo Clark. And yet, in the end, he brought much success to the national team. From winning the Gold Cup against Mexico in 2007, to booking a place in South Africa, to their unprovable win versus Spain at the Confederations Cup, to his come-from-behind games in the World Cup that brought the team to the round of 16.

Certainly, although his methods seemed odd at times, he had brilliant strategies for facing top teams like Mexico, England and Spain. One of the biggest compliments came at the World Cup in South Africa when the manager for the Swiss national team coach credited him for Switzerland's victory over Spain in the opening game of their group.

So now Bradley embarks on another adventure as a coach in Europe. Sure, he and so many others would have hoped that he would land in England for a Premier League team or a Championship side. But Stabaek is a good fit for him. An up-and-coming squad with potential. Bradley did always coach the underdogs and it fits him well.

Bob Bradley's new appointment in Norway goes a long way in elevating the stature of American soccer. This next step in his career opens up opportunity for other up-and-coming coaches like Jason Kreis, Caleb Porter and Mike Petke, among others, who might one day make the jump overseas. America has its own style of football now and it's making waves abroad. That's why Bob Bradley is a trailblazer and a path to the future.