MLS 20 Transfer Summary

With the Primary Transfer Window now closed, it presents the perfect opportunity for The Transfer List’s first dedicated review of the MLS. A total of 37 ‘significant’ transfers were completed during the window. For the MLS, significant transfers are classed as those in which a fee of £500k or higher was paid.

In total, these transfers totalled £90.18m with an overall positive variance of £0.42m. This reflects an average transfer variance of 0.46% across the MLS, meaning that the League’s dealings in the 2020 Primary Transfer Window are the most accurate that we have ever recorded. The most notable dealings will now be broken down below.

Most efficient player transfer

We start with the players and more specifically, the most efficient transfer of the window, which was calculated to be DC United’s purchase of Edison Flores from Morelia for £4.04m.

Despite the Peruvian’s impressive club form in Mexico, contributing seven goals and four assists in 21 appearances during the first half of the 2019/20 season, it is the player’s international experience that contributes the majority of his valuation. With 51 caps for the national team at just 24 years of age, Flores was a key member of the side reached the final of the Copa America in 2019. As Peru currently sit 21st in the FIFA World Rankings, The Incas are considered to be competing close to the highest level of international football and therefore Flores’ international caps provide a significant contribution to his £19.52m valuation, producing a positive variance of £15.48m for DC.

Most accurate player transfer

The most accurate transfer of the window was found to be Philadelphia Union’s purchase of Jamiro Monteiro.

For the 2019 MLS season, Monteiro was brought to Philadelphia to join the Union on loan where he immediately became a key part of the side that reached the Eastern Conference semi-finals before being knocked out by Atlanta United. Over the season, the midfielder made 29 appearances, scoring four goals and setting up a further eight. This was enough for Philadelphia to make the transfer permanent for the 2020 season.

Due to the low international standing of Cape Verde, little value is provided by Monteiro’s seven appearances for the national side. Therefore, the majority of the player’s valuation is contributed by his 29 MLS appearances last season. This provided a total value of £1.27m, just £0.35m lower than the £1.62m paid by Philadelphia for his services.

Least efficient player transfer

Finally, we assess the least efficient transfer on the window, which was found to be Kemar Lawrence’s departure from the New York Red Bulls.

The Jamaican was a regular throughout his time in New York, making 118 appearances in four seasons for the Club. In Lawrence’s final season with the Club, he made 24 appearances and scored one goal before moving to Europe with Anderlecht.

Similarly for the national team, since making his debut at 21 years of age, Lawrence has continued to be a regular feature for Jamaica. So far, the left-back has made 58 appearances for the Reggae Boyz.   

Thanks to the player’s considerable experience in the MLS and at international level, as well as still being at his peak at 27 years of age, the Jamaican is valued at £11.34m. Despite this valuation, the Red Bulls allowed Lawrence to leave for Anderlecht for just £1.15m. This contributed a negative variance of £10.19m and was identified as the least efficient transfer of the 2020 MLS Primary Transfer Window.

For a more detailed breakdown of the transfers above, as well as our findings on how each individual Club performed throughout the window, take a look at the original article here:

One on One with: Liam Ridgewell

To play the role of captain, you need to have confidence, determination and a natural ability to lead.  Liam Ridgewell has all three. He may have started his career back in England with Aston Villa, Birmingham and West Brom., but it’s in Portland, USA where he now leads by example. As captain of the Portland Timbers, Ridgewell has established himself as one of the most reliable defenders in the MLS and has fast become a vital cog in Portland’s machine, leading them to the MLS Cup. We caught up with him recently to find out how things are going in the Pacific North West, and how it all began.

BackOfTheNet: Liam, thank you for sitting down with us today.

BackOfTheNet: Not many people will know that you actually started your career at West Ham in their youth academy before leaving to join Aston Villa. As a Londoner, what was the reason behind that switch?

Liam Ridgewell: At the time their youth system was flooded with a lot of talent coming through already, e.g. Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, Joe Cole. So, my path to the first team would’ve been very tough and felt I needed to change as I had been there since the age of 8. Being a London boy, it was a very tough decision to leave. That’s when I went up to Aston Villa at the age of 15.

BOTN: How would you sum up your time at Aston Villa?

LR: I couldn’t have asked for much more, coming through the ranks at Aston Villa. It’s a place that is obviously very special to me, giving me the chance to fulfil my dream and I’ll always be thankful. My time spent their playing, I loved every minute of it, but by the end of it, not playing regularly as I had been under previous managers, I couldn’t sit back and watch, so felt I needed the move to keep my football career progressing. That’s when my move to Birmingham materialized.


Liam made the break though at Villa (Image from Liam Ridgewell Instagram)

BOTN: How do you feel now when you read about the financial difficulties they are having?

LR: Tough to read about their financial difficulties, obviously the relegations have been a big hit on the club, something you never want to see, especially for a club that gave you your chance. I hope they can figure out a way to get themselves right and back in the big time where they deserve to be.

BOTN: You are one of a few players to have moved from Villa to Birmingham. Did you have any hesitation in joining them due to the rivalry?

LR: Yes, I did have hesitation due to the big rivalry and I had to think about it very strongly, more for family reasons. But in needing to carry on with my progression in my career, Steve Bruce was a tough manager to turn down, given how good of a player he was in his playing career, and to spend time with him and learn, it helped me a lot. Once I had made the decision I was fully committed and loved my time there. My decision was not based on the rivalry but based on the progression of my career and being able to play week in and week out. I feel that helped with the fans and the rivalry because I think they understood why I made the switch.


Ridgewell during his Birmingham days (image from Liam Ridgewell Instagram)

BOTN: You had an interesting time at Birmingham with various ups (League Cup win, being named captain) and some downs (leg break, relegation). What are your underlining memories of those years? How did you cope with the highs and lows?

LR: Some unbelievable career highs with Birmingham was none other than winning the league cup against Arsenal. It’s a memory that will always stay with me as it was such a big achievement for us as players and us as a club. Being named captain at the age of 22 was a hugely proud moment for me as I never expected it at such a young age as we had some great senior players there. Coping with the pressure of that is something that I loved and took in my stride, and that is just the type of person that I am. Being the captain of a club is a big honour and responsibility.

Relegation was the biggest low in my career as we were such a good team and building a brilliant squad. I know everybody says it, but we were too good to go down and to this day I still think what kind of team we may have been if we had stayed up and managed to keep all the boys there. Breaking my leg was very tough but sometimes that’s what football brings and you have to stay mentally strong to make sure you come back from it stronger and better.

BOTN: Portland made you an offer when you became a free agent in the summer of 2014, but I’ve read you had a couple of other options on the table. What made you move to the US?

LR: Yes, I had other options to stay in the UK but after my time at West Brom. I felt I needed a change to revive my love for the game and found it when I came to the Timbers.


In training for Portland (Image from Liam Ridgewell Instagram )

BOTN: Are you disappointed that the MLS still has a somewhat negative, if naive, perception back home?

LR: I think a lot of people have not watched enough of the MLS to be able to give an opinion, so the more it’s televised the bigger it will become. There is definitely still a way to go for the MLS to capture some of the audience back home.

BOTN: I saw an interview you did recently where you talked about your life in Portland with the house on the lake, etc. Does Portland now feel like home, or do you still harbour desires to go back to England?

LR: Portland life is fantastic and I’ve really enjoyed living here. It’s made the move all the easier for me and my family, but I still have desires to come back home to play before I decide to hang up my boots.

BOTN: At several of the clubs you have played for, you have been named as captain. What qualities do you think you have that makes you a natural choice for leader? Do you think that a player’s position (i.e., centre half vs striker) should come into consideration when choosing a captain?

LR: No, if you have the qualities to be a captain it doesn’t matter where you play in the pitch. Personally, for me, a captain leads by example, helps people even if that person isn’t having a good game, and enjoys being the captain. And being heard 24/7 may have helped my case [laughing].


Captain Ridgewell (Image from Liam Ridgewell Instagram)

BOTN: Is centre half your most comfortable position? We have seen you play there, but also at left back, and as a holding midfielder throughout your career.

LR: Yes, that’s where I have played most throughout my career and feel comfortable, but my time spent at left back at the back end of my time at Birmingham and at West Brom. I really did enjoy as it allowed me to be more involved in the attacking side of the game, roaming forward from left back and getting myself a goal every now and again at the back stick.

BOTN: How important is it for a player to be adaptable?

LR: Adaptability is good, but for myself I prefer to be set at one position at a club as then I know my role and can perform to my best.

BOTN: Thinking back on your entire career, what do you think is your stand out moment – being capped for England at under 21 level? Winning the league cup for Birmingham? Or the MLS Cup as captain for Portland?

LR: My most stand out moment was being capped at under 21 level and captain for my country.

BOTN: Let’s talk swimwear and in particular your company Thomas Royall that you started with Sam Saunders and John Terry. How did that come about?

LR: Myself and Sam had been talking about ideas for after football to keep us busy and came up with many, but one day Sam came up with an idea, after visiting many pool parties one summer, of starting a swimwear range. I loved the idea and so we started brainstorming on looks and designs. We then brought in a team and with our head designer, Laura Moore, we haven’t looked back and formed what you now know as Thomas Royall. John became part of the Thomas Royall team after shopping for swim shorts online for his holiday and simply loving the brand and wanting to be a part of it. This year we released the new women’s and girl’s line and still have many more ideas pending for SS19.


Business venture with Saunders (m) and Terry (r) – Thomas Royall

BOTN: Finally, some quick-fire questions: Most complete player you played with?

LR: Gareth Barry, my time spent with him at Aston Villa.

BOTN: Hidden gem in the MLS?

LR: Darlington Nagbe who plays for Atlanta now.

BOTN: What will you do after retiring?

LR: After retiring I’m looking to go into management, but obviously with Thomas Royall going from strength to strength each year, that is something we set up for life after football.

Thanks again Liam! Good luck with the rest of the season and congratulations on the arrival of your baby girl!

For great swimwear options for this summer, check out Thomas Royall 

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One on One with: Landon Donovan

It’s not very often that you get the opportunity to sit down with a genuine legend of the game. With six MLS Cups, four Gold Cups, four U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year titles, and a World Cup Best Young Player Award to his name (just to name a few), Landon Donovan isn’t short of accolades to support that legend status. His career over the last twenty years has taken him from his native US to Germany and England, and now to Mexico, where he is playing for Club Leon in the Liga MX. His illustrious international career has seen him represent his country at three World Cups and score numerous important goals along the way. Through his achievements in the game, Landon has played a pinnacle role in the growth of soccer in the US over the past two decades. 

BackoftheNet: Landon, thank you for taking the time to sit down with us.

Landon Donovan: It’s my pleasure.

BOTN: Let’s start off by talking about your experiences in Germany in the Bundesliga where you had spells at Bayer Leverkusen and later at Bayern Munich under Jürgen Klinsmann. How important were those moves for you in terms of your development as a player? And what lessons did you take away from that time in Germany?

LD: My time in Germany was extremely valuable to me in many different ways.  On the field, I became a much better player because of the training and playing environment I encountered in Germany.  Off the field, having the ability to travel and experience a different culture is something that will help me the rest of my life.


(Image from Facebook – @landondonovan)

BOTN:  The majority of your career was spent in the MLS and as a pivotal player in the league you have been part of its rapid evolution. How far do you think the league has come over the past twenty years, and do you think there will ever be a time when soccer becomes the No.1 sport in America, ahead of the NFL, NBA and MLB?

LD: It’s only a matter of time until soccer becomes equal with all of the other major sports in America.  You have to remember that MLS has only been around for 20+ years while the other major leagues have been around for significantly longer.  I’m extremely proud of the progress we’ve made and I look forward to seeing it continue to grow.

BOTN: Let’s move on to the Men’s National team. You are widely considered to be the greatest American men’s soccer player of all time. Having been capped over 215 times for your country at various levels, including playing in three World Cups, you must have some special memories in that shirt. What were your defining games and goals for your country?

LD: My defining games were the games that I played in World Cups and the games where I won championships.  As a soccer player, the ultimate goals are to play in a World Cup and win trophies at every level.  I was fortunate to be a part of many teams that were successful and those were the most meaning accomplishments for me.


Donovan scores deep into injury time against Algeria during World Cup 2010 to helped the US win their group for the first time since 1930 (Image from Instagram – @landondonovan10)

BOTN: How far do you think the US is away from winning the World Cup?

LD: The US still has a way to go to win a World Cup but I believe we can absolutely achieve it if we focus our energies in the right way.

BOTN: You had two short spells on loan in England with Everton in 2010 and then again in 2012. It’s fair to say that despite your limited time there, you became somewhat of a cult figure. Did you ever have the opportunity to make that loan deal permanent? Where there other clubs who were interested? We hear that Fulham and Manchester United made enquiries at one stage.

LD: I absolutely loved my time at Everton and fell in love with the club.  Although I did have the opportunity to make the loan deal permanent, I wanted to keep my word to the Galaxy that I would return to the club after my time in England.


Donovan had two spells at Everton and loved his time on Merseyside (Image from Twitter – @landondonovan)

BOTN: Recently you came out of retirement again for the second time to sign for Liga MX side Club Leon. What was the motivation behind that decision – was it simply a burning desire to get back onto the pitch or was the opportunity too good to refuse?

LD: There were a few reasons I wanted to return:  Leon made a great pitch to me and my family and really made me feel wanted, I’ve always wanted to play in Liga MX, and this was a life experience for my family that I simply couldn’t pass up.

BOTN: In the past you have talked openly about how you suffered from depression throughout your life and career. Do you think enough is being done to help players who suffer from mental health issues, including depression, both at the club level and by the governing bodies? In your opinion, do you think players feel like they can talk about it openly to their colleagues?

LD: I don’t feel there is enough being done for the population in general about mental health, not just within sports. Society as a whole suffers greatly from mental health issues and I think our world would become a much happier and safer place if we put more emphasis on helping those in need. My hope is that the stigma is slowly waning and people will feel comfortable and safe to speak up about their feelings. Additionally, on a sporting level, I do believe clubs and organizations can do much more to help athletes speak openly about their emotional/mental issues just like they do with physical issues.

BOTN: When you eventually do hang up your boots, will we see the evolution of Landon Donovan the player to Landon Donovan the manager? Do you see yourself as US men’s national manager one day?

LD: I do have some desire to become a manager one day but I have a lot of learning to do before that may become a reality one day.

Donovan with former US national teammate Stuart Holden commenting on USA vs Trinidad (Image from Twitter - @landondonovan)

Donovan with former US national teammate Stuart Holden commenting on USA vs Trinidad (Image from Twitter – @landondonovan)

BOTN: Recently you became a dad for the second time – congratulations on that! How has fatherhood changed your perspective on life and your plans for the future?

LD: The main way fatherhood has changed my life is that I have become ultimately selfless.  Life is now about my children and trying to give them the tools to become healthy and happy human beings.

BOTN: Finally, your former teammate David Beckham revealed that one of his sons did not want to become a professional footballer because the pressure of following David and the legacy he left in the game would be too much to cope with. Will you be encouraging your sons to follow in your footsteps or do you believe that the expectations may be too much as well, given all that you have achieved in the game?

LD: My sons can do whatever they want in life, whether that includes soccer or not.  Most of all, I just want them to be happy and have meaning in life.

BOTN: Landon, thank you again for talking with us, and good luck for the rest of the season!

Landon supports the work of a local San Diego Charity called TravelingStories which empowers kids to outsmart poverty by providing the literacy and money management skills they need to become productive members of society.

Follow Landon on Twitter: @landondonovan, Facebook: @landondonovan and Instagram: landondonovan10

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Major League Soccer -Season So Far

With the 2016 season in full swing and things starting to heat up with the race to get into the later stages of the MLS cup, today i am going to give a review on how i think the season has shaped up so far.

Team of the season – FC Dallas

Standout performers across both conferences sitting top of the standings with 41 points. With no real top quality designated players in their roster they have exceeded expectation. Mauro Diaz sitting 2nd in the assist charts only behind Sacha Kljestan of the New York Red Bulls is an achievement in itself and will be key to the team staying where they are for the rest of the season.


Mauro Diaz has been in sensational form (Image from Tumblr)

Bottom of the pile  – Seattle Sounders

12 defeats and only 6 wins all season speaks for itself.This club should be doing much better than they are, with players like Mears,Alonso,Ivanschitz , Valdez and Dempsey in the roster this was not expected at the start of the season.  Things have went from bad to worse for the Sounders recently with the club parting ways with head coach Sigi Schmid after a 8 year spell at the club and their only manager in the clubs MLS history.  A permanent manager needs to brought in soon to turn things round at the club before it gets any worse.

Most Improved – New York City FC

After a mixed first MlS season NYCFC have started to find their feet in the division. With a change of coach before the start of the season with Jason Kreis making way for Manchester City reserve coach Patrick Viera coming into to manage the team things have started to pick up. Viera has got the team playing his way and the results have followed. Sitting top of the Eastern Conference with 33 points, David Villa top of the scoring charts and Lampard and Pirlo running the show in midfield after shaky debut seasons , everything is looking good at the Yankee Stadium. Will be interesting to see how the rest of the season plays out.


Frank Lampard is finally starting to come good at NYCFC (Image from Tumblr)

Player of the season – David Villa/ Sebastian Giovinco – NYCFC/Toronto

This was a hard choice. Was trying to pick one standout player but i just couldn’t. 2 designated players who have been playing out their skins for their respective clubs New York City FC and Toronto. Villa is topping the charts with 13 goals and as touched on previously has helped his team to the top of the table. Giovinco isn’t far behind on 11 and his performances have been the highlight of an average season for Toronto. At the end of the day these two guys could and possibly should still be playing at the highest level in Europe but they are not and its a joy to watch them in America.

Flop of the season – Antonio Nocerino – Orlando City

The move to the MLS hasn’t worked so far for the Italian. Joined the Florida based Orlando from Italian giants AC Milan and i expected him to run the show with Kaka in the centre of midfield. This has not been the case. Nocerino has had to make do with a place on the bench as a result for poor performances and with a high salary he is collecting each week this has got to change and quick. I don’t think it will take it long for the fans to turn on the player.


Antonio Nocerino hasn’t quite found form in the MLS (Image from Tumblr)

Caught my attention – Cyle Larin – Orlando City  

The 21 year old Canadian has had a season to remember.  He is the star striker for Orlando with 10 goals this season and currently standing 5th in the top scorer charts. His performances have made him recognized both domestically and internationally with 3 caps for Canada this year and was included in the roster for the MLS All-Star game against Arsenal in which he played 13 minutes in after coming on as a sub. Larin has massive potential and this could lead to a move to a major european club before long.

Brit Watch 

It has been a solid season for all the British players in the MLS.  Frank Lampard sitting top of the league in New York. On the West Coast Ashley Cole, Steven Gerrard and Robbie Keane ( Yes i know he is from ROI but he can count) all these guys are playing well for the Galaxy with Keane scoring for fun. Liam Ridgewell after winning the MLS Cup last year is now captain at the Portland Timbers and performing well. The Wright-Phillips brothers at the Red Bulls are having two very different seasons .Bradley scoring goals as always and Shaun is warming the bench with not much game time this season. Finally Dom Dwyer is playing up front for Sporting Kansas with 8 goals in 18 games and is having a good season so far with the team in fourth place in the Western Conference.

It will be interesting if my views change come the end of the season as we all know these standing and views can change very quickly.

With the MLS being more accessible with Sky showing games each weekend alongside highlights of the goals the next day, i hope more people are interested in the league and check it out when they can as it is generally a good standard of football that gets played.

I hope you all enjoyed the post and next time you see a game on the TV give it wee watch eh?

Post by Derek Mcallister – writer for Footballs11blog

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US stopper Tim Howard Agrees To MLS Return


In a much anticipated move, MLS side Colorado Rapids have announced that they have signed US goalkeeper Tim Howard from English Premier League side Everton. The player himself announced his return with a quirky 15 second Claymation video by Uninterrupted. The move ends Howard’s thirteen-year stay in England where he has racked up 397 appearances so far, first with Manchester United and now with Everton where he has become a fan favourite. Despite being 37 years old, Howard still has the ability to compete at the highest level but having lost his starting spot in the Everton goal to Spaniard Joel Robles, the American shot stopper has decided that it is time to return home. The move to join Colorado was completed late last month but the club decided to wait to announce their new acquisition to allow the player and Everton to focus on several crunch games in the English league and cup competitions. Howard signs a three and a half year deal with the club to become one of their designated players and joins for a fee of just over $600,000 in the summer.


Howard has racked up nearly 400 Premier league appearances so far (Image from Matt West/BPI)

The move signals Howard’s return to the league where it all began just under 20 years ago. As a native of North Brunswick, it made sense for Howard to join the New York/New Jersey Metrostars (now New York Red Bulls) as a 18 year old. However few expected that he would have the impact that he did. In his debut game ironically against Colorado, Howard gave a dazzling performance making five crucial saves as the Metrostars ran out 4-1 victors. That performance set Howard up for success and he did not disappoint, establishing himself as a important part of the Metrostars team over the next five years. With his growing reputation came the early accolades of his career, winning MLS goalkeeper of the year in 2001 and representing his country at under 20 and Under 23 level. It wouldn’t be long before Howard started to gain attention from abroad and when Manchester United came calling in 2003, Howard knew that his life was about to change massively.


Howard’s move to Manchester United propelled him into the spotlight (Image from Getty)

Signed as a direct replacement for the outgoing French goalkeeper Fabien Barthez in a $4m deal, Howard was dropped firmly into the deep end at one of the world’s biggest clubs. Under the management of the legendary figure of Sir Alex Ferguson, Howard would excel in his opening season winning the FA cup (becoming in the process only the second American to do so). However his second season would be more problematic with Howard losing confidence then his place to Roy Carroll. He would eventually regain it but by then the seed of doubt had been planted firmly in Ferguson’s mind. After United signing Edwin van der Sar from Fulham, Howard was sold to Everton where he has made a majority of his PL appearances during a ten year stint with the Liverpool club. Throughout that time, Howard consistently showed the world exactly how good a shot stopper he is helping the club to establish its self as a permanent fixture in the top half of the league table. He would also play a starring role for the United States, earning over 100 caps with stand out performances at the 2010 and 2014 World Cup including a man of the match performance against Portugal in the latter which spawned a million memes and landed him a meeting with the US president.


Following his breathtaking performance against Portugal, the internet exploded with millions of memes of Howard saving things (Image from Google)

Howard spoke to ESPN Sport center shortly after the announcement, stating that the timing was right for the move and that he will always remember his time in England fondly. Howard returns at a time when Colorado are undergoing a rebuilding exercise after several disappointing campaigns. The signing of Howard adds experience to the side managed by former US international colleague Pablo Mastroeni. The new coach will be hoping that Howard can lend his support both on and off the field potentially paving the way for Howard to move into coaching once he hangs up his boots.

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MLS Pressure Will Do Little To Help Morris Progression

The name Jordan Morris is hardly well known in many football circles but there are several key individuals who are getting very excited by him and his progress.  The 21 year old US born striker has a rapidly growing reputation and has even gained unfair comparisons with a certain Landon Donovan. As one of the brightest prospects to emerge from the US since Donovan (Freddy Adu sadly does not count), Morris looked set for great things. The stage looked set for Morris to replicate Donovan’s path when he was invited to travel to Germany (much as Donovan did) for a trial with Bundesliga side Werder Bremen. The trial by all accounts went well with the club more than happy to offer the player a favourable deal, rumoured to be three years in length. But in a strange turn of events, Morris rejected the deal and now looks set to return to the US and sign for MLS side Seattle Sounders.

Obafemi Martins, Clint Dempsey`

Morris now looks set to join the Seattle Sounders (image from AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The league rejoiced and wasted little time in publicizing the deal as a way of bragging just how far the league had come that now MLS sides were able to compete with their European rivals for young prospects. The critics however are less sure and highlight that this is not the first time Morris has had a change of heart that surprised many. After all it was only a year ago that he turned down Seattle and the MLS to remain at Stanford for a further year which embarrassed the league who had already proclaimed it as a victory. Now a change of heart about a move to Germany sees him return home, with the league clearly suffering from memory lapse about last year.


The next big thing circa 2004, Freddy Adu with Brazilian great Pele (Image from afp)

The decision it would appear is to do more with Morris character rather than picking the MLS over the Bundesliga. At the heart of things, he is a young man who knows what he wants and isn’t afraid to say it. He will put his happiness ahead of what other people believe is right for him and simply chose to remain in the US where his family resides due to this. The decision to pick Seattle over all other teams was largely down to the family connection as his dad is currently employed by the club. The league and its growth in quality, it’s ability to attract or any other factors connected to it hardly played a factor in Morris’ decision to reject a European adventure and stay stateside. It may be seen as a risky move for Morris but there is no guarantee that he would have been a success in Germany if he had moved. Competition for places especially at a club like Werder means that forcing his way into the first team could have been a lot tougher. In truth even Donovan struggled during his stay in Germany despite being regularly touted as the next big thing. Added into that, the cultural and language differences between the US and Germany would have added to the complexity of his move.


Even Donovan struggled to make an impact in Germany (image from getty)

The argument in the flip side is that Morris would have become a better player by simply being in Germany exposed to more talented footballers. This is likely true given that the MLS is still for the better term in development. Morris may not become the next big thing in Seattle and it may take a move to Europe later in his twenties for him to finally make that jump but it’s his career and therefore his decision to make. The league was wrong to proclaim it as a victory for the league. Instead they should have praised Morris for making the choice to follow his heart and do what is right for his own career. You would have thought that they had learned their lesson from before with Adu (they hyped up Adu as the next Pele only for the player to crumble under the pressure and for his career to go into free fall) but clearly not. Morris may become a superstar for the US in the end but he certainly doesn’t need any help from the MLS to do so.

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MLS Cup Bore As League Fails To Show Progress Twenty Years On

2F204C9F00000578-3348536-image-a-82_1449445972634In its inaugural year in 1996, the MLS Cup was contested by two of the leagues most glamorous teams. In the red corner was D.C. United led by US captain John Harkes and featuring Bolivian legend Marco Etcheverry. In the blue corner stood Los Angeles Galaxy who like DC had their own stars, namely eccentric Mexican goalkeeper Jorge Campos and US winger Cobi Jones. In a nail biting match at the Foxboro Stadium in Massachusetts, D.C. United would eventually walk away with the cup after a 3-2 win that had all the excitement that a cup should have. Fast forward 20 years to this seasons MLS cup and glamour was never really on the cards. The game would be contested by two of the leagues more rugged sides, Portland Timbers and Columbus Crew SC. Both teams have a distinct lack of flair players (case in point that Portland’s designated player is former Villa defender Liam Ridgewell) but are known in the league as tough competitors who grind out results with little thought of entertainment. Despite this being the showcase for the MLS season with a record breaking TV audience tuning in, the 20th MLS Cup proved to be a disappointing spectacle.


Its a sad reflection when one of your three allocated Designated Players is Liam Ridgewell (Image from Getty)

Whilst the at home audience landed just north of 400 million globally highlighting the growing appeal of the league, in the stadium it was a different story with only 21,747 attending in person. Partial to blame for this was the selection of the Mapfre stadium in Ohio by Major League Soccer in the first place. Besides the fact that it is the home ground of Columbus Crew to start with (it was impossible however for the league to know that Columbus would make the final), it is also the sixth smallest ground in the league.  With an abundance of stadiums to choose from surely the pinnacle of the MLS season should have been played in a larger venue in front of a packed sell out crowd north of 50,000? It has been done before, three times in fact with the largest attendance being 61,316 for the LA Galaxy vs New England game in 2002. With an ambition to grow around the world and demonstrate the popularity of the sport in the US, does a crowd the same size as some English League One games really help the MLS to showcase this in its fullest?


The Mapfre Stadium holds only 22,500 making it one of the smallest grounds in the MLS (Image from Mapfre Stadium)

Despite the limited number of seats, the fans of the two teams were set to make the most of the occasion with the Timber Army, Potland’s travelling fans making most of the noise. Portland were looking to win their first ever MLS Cup but entered the match as slight underdogs to Columbus who were looking to add to their 2008 cup win. The nerves were obvious as both sides made their way onto the pitch knowing that the first goal would be incredibly important. But few would have predicted that it would only take 27 seconds before one side found the back of the net. It was Portland who struck first thanks in part to some horror goalkeeping by Columbus stopper Michael Parkhurst who failed to deal with a heavy hit back pass and paid the price when Portland striker Diego Valeri slid in to challenge the goalkeeper and bundle the ball into an empty net. Things went from bad to worse only minutes later when Costa Rican winger Rodney Wallace connected with Lucas Melano cross to head home from close range.  If the game wasn’t scrappy up until this point, it got more so as the match progressed. 18 minutes into the game, Columbus pulled one back in ridiculous fashion. Harrison Afful’s cross into the box was not dealt with properly by Ridgewell and then by Adam Kwarasey in the Portland goal who flapped wildly at it as if it was a bothersome fly in his face. What followed was a scramble for the ball which eventually Kei Kamara took control of before hammering it into the net.


From bad to worse – Another goalkeeper howler as Kawarsey flaps at a cross only for Columbus to score (Image from USA Today Sports)

Over the remaining 70 minutes, both teams had chances but the quality of finishing was not there and Portland held on to lift their first ever MLS Cup. As a cup final it was anything but pretty with both teams failing to really show how they managed to get there in the first place. As a showpiece for US soccer and for the MLS, the final probably didn’t help in its efforts to demonstrate just how far the league has come in 20 years. Watching the game yesterday, many fans would have been forgiven for switching off their TV’s, loading up YouTube and watching the highlights of the first MLS Cup instead. At least that game had some good football on show.

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Drogba Joins Foreign Legions Moving To MLS

Immediate Impact - Drogba signs (Image from Getty)When Didier Drogba rejoined Chelsea at the start of last season, many believed it would be his last move with the Ivorian striker now in the latter stages of his career. It seemed to be the perfect end to Drogba’s football story, reuniting with the manager who had put him on the map on a global scale. At Chelsea under the guidance of Jose Mourinho, Drogba became a legend vindicated in 2012 when a fans poll voted him the greatest Chelsea player ever. That was at the end of his original eight year stay where he scored 100 goals in 226 games, making him the club’s fourth highest goal scorer of all time behind Frank Lampard, Bobby Tambling and Kerry Dixon.  Subsequent moves to Shanghai and Galatasaray proved successful but Drogba’s heart remained in London and he secretly pined for a return. So when Jose came calling late last summer, Drogba wasted little time in resigning for the club.

Mourinho and Drogba forged a strong friendship at Chelsea  (Image from Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Mourinho and Drogba forged a strong friendship at Chelsea
(Image from Stu Forster/Getty Images )

The move revitalized Drogba despite the fact that he played a more marginal role than before in his previous spell as Chelsea ran in as English Champions. Knowing he still had something to give and with Mourinho’s blessing, Drogba decided to leave Chelsea again in search of one final swan song. Many anticipated a move back to France with former club Marseille expressing timid interest.But the pull of the ever improving MLS and a chance to sign for Montreal Impact was too interesting to turn down. So Drogba flew to the french speaking Canadian province of Quebec to sign for Montreal in a 18 month deal. Drogba will fill one of Montreal’s three designated player spots on their roster alongside Argentine Ignacio Piatti and one other player still to be named. With the MLS season already underway, Montreal find themselves in sixth place in the Eastern Conference on 24 points  in what is quickly becoming a difficult  and competitive division. Despite being arguably one of the weakest teams in the conference, Montreal are doing ok but have lost too many games away from home to be considered contenders. Drogba should offer Montreal a new threat upfront as a proven goalscorer both for club and country.

Montreal Impact have started well but their chances will be boosted by Drogba's arrival  (Image from THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter McCabe)

Montreal Impact have started well but their chances will be boosted by Drogba’s arrival
(Image from THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter McCabe)

His move comes on the back of several other high-profile players joining the league. In the same division as Montreal, newcomers Orlando and New York have been the most active with the Florida side signing Kaka whilst New York snapped up Frank Lampard, David Villa and Andrea Pirlo. Big spending Toronto have continued to invest in their squad, letting Jermanie Defoe leave with Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco joining as replacements in a move that has helped to balance Toronto’s team. Chicago added Scotland star Shaun Maloney in the close season but despite good form for his country he has failed to reignite Chicago’s fire. Elsewhere Steven Gerrard joined Robbie Keane at Los Angeles Galaxy to continue their run of hiring former England captains whilst FC Dallas chose to look to Mexico with their loan signing of Erick Torres. The addition of these players plus the influx of returning US internationals from Europe has increased the competitiveness of the league overall and with it improved its viewership on a global scale. Drogba’s arrival will help this further given his draw in Africa and in particular at home in the Ivory Coast. Whether he can have the same impact on Montreal though is to be seen.

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Will This Be The Most Exciting MLS Season Yet?

Will this be the most exciting MLS season to date? (Image from MLS)Just days away from the kick off of the new season, the MLS has reached a tentative agreement on a new collective bargaining contract with the players and their union. This move has prevented a PR disaster for the league and its commissioner Don Graber as the players threatened to walk out of the league and go on strike just four days before what could be the most important year in Major League Soccer.  With more at stake than ever before, the agreement ends an anxious time for the MLS management team who can now sit back and watch as this season unfolds. But what type of season are we in for? Well the answer may lie in three important factors as detailed below. Could this well be the best MLS season in its near twenty year history?

Who will challenge LA Galaxy for the Cup this year?  (Image from MLS)

Who will challenge LA Galaxy for the Cup this year?
(Image from MLS)

More Competitive than ever

Since its inception almost 20 years ago, nine separate teams have won the league with LA Galaxy dominating in recent years with their most recent success being last season. But this new season sees the addition of two new teams – New York City FC and Orlando City bringing the number of teams in the league up to 20. Both new sides could pose a threat to LA’s defence with New York in particular looking strong through their squad. Managed by former Real Salt Lake boss Jason Kries and under the watchful eye of iconic US midfielder Claudio Reyna in a Director of Football role, New York have attracted Spanish striker David Villa and England midfielder Frank Lampard  to join their cause. The duo could also be joined by Barcelona legend Xavi in the summer although his move is merely speculation at this point. Their additions give New York a strong chance but winning the league in their first season may be a stretch too far. Similarly Orlando, coached by Englishman Arian Heath who has assembled a multicultural squad including Brazilian Kaka, US international Brek Shea and Jamaican goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts are hoping for an immediate impact however they will face stiff competition from other sides in the league in the form of Houston Dynamo, Seattle Sounders, New England Revolution and DC United. Even Toronto FC, who dispatched with the troublesome Jermain Defoe over the January transfer window have a shot given the strength of squad they have now following the signings of Jozy Altidore, Sebastian Giovinco this year and Michael Bradley last year. This new season is anyone’s to win and could prove to be an exciting spectacle with several twists and turns along the way.

New Star Players

Since its debut in 1996, the single biggest draw for fans to attend games has been the star players on show. Whilst each team is limited to only three designated players, allowing them to stretch their salary caps beyond their given limits, teams have relied heavily on star power to draw in new and existing fans season after season. In the first few years, the draw mainly came from US internationalist like Tab Ramos, Eric Wynalda, Tony Meola and Alexi Lalas with a splattering of South American talent like the wonderfully gifted Carlos Valderamma and the eccentric Jorge Campos. The success of the 1994 World Cup held in the US, plus subsequent performances of the US team at the 1998 and 2002 World Cups helped to generate the passion for the game and gradually attendances started to rise. However it wasn’t until the arrival of David Beckham to LA Galaxy in 2007 and Thierry Henry in 2010 that the league started to be taken more seriously, not just in the US but abroad.

Once viewed by European players as a league to join in the twilight of your career for one final payday, the perception shifted dramatically when Republic of Ireland striker Robbie Keane, aged 30 joined LA Galaxy. His move heralded a new era for the league and its fans with it becoming one of the most exciting leagues in the world to play in. Since then, the MLS has attracted some very big names, most of whom will be on show this season.  Steven Gerrard, Kaka, David Villa, Frank Lampard and Sebastian Giovinco are just a few of the new faces that will help kick off the new season (although Lampard and Gerrard will not join officially until the summer)  as it gets underway this coming Saturday.

Increased Coverage

When the league kicked off, it struggled for a long time to get the exposure it so desperately needed from the US media. Obsessed with the more traditional US sports like football, baseball, hockey and basketball, column inches in newspapers and magazines dedicated to soccer were few and far between. Even worse was the desire of TV stations to cover games with little to no interest shown in the new professional soccer league in the US for several of the foundation years. Having been burnt before with the defunct North American Soccer League (NASL), US based media conglomerates like ESPN, Fox Sports and NBC have been cautious in their approach but as the league grew in stature so too did their confidence that the league and soccer as a mainstream sport in the US was here to stay.  Today the MLS has bumper contracts with all three to showcase its games and have added Univision in an attempt to reach the growing Spanish audience in the US too. International awareness and interest in the league is at an all time high as well with TV networks across the globe now striking deals for their own countries to show the games and highlights much to the delight of the MLS.

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Toronto Prepare For Life After Defoe

Toronto prepare for new season without Defoe (Image from Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport)After the drama of last week which finally saw troubled the English striker leave the club, Toronto FC are gearing up for life after Jermain Defoe. Replacing the English hit man will not be an easy task despite public opinion being split about his departure. Whilst generally unhappy during his time in Toronto and looking for the exit door, Defoe still proved valuable to the team when he did play. His 12 goals in 19 appearances for the club added a much needed threat up front for a team historically that have struggled in that department. Alongside fellow new arrivals Gilberto and Michael Bradley, Defoe stood out showcasing his quality and at times making it look simple when it came to his finishing. Toronto know that they need to find a like for like replacement for the pint sized striker, someone who can not only contribute goals but can inspire his teammates to excel at the same time.

Toronto prepare for life without Defoe after the striker's move to Sunderland  (Image from Getty)

Toronto prepare for life without Defoe after the striker’s move to Sunderland
(Image from Getty)

As part of the Defoe transfer, US striker Jozy Altidore moved the other way which should give Toronto a target man for next season. Altidore’s record at Sunderland was pretty appalling given the price they paid for the player. Having joined the club from Dutch side AZ Alkmaar for a reported $13 million transfer fee, the US front man only scored three times in 52 appearances and found himself consigned to the bench on a too frequent basis. In truth, the player struggled to adapt to life in the Premiership and it particular the overall pace of the game. Unlikely the Dutch league or MLS, the English Premiership is consistently considered one of the quickest leagues in the world and as a result is a culture shock to many non domestic players entering the league. Whilst Altidore possess many of the qualities needed to be a striker in England’s top division, his inability to adapt to the pace was ultimately his downfall. In stark contrast, his spell in the much slower Eredivisie was very successful with Altidore hitting the back of the net 45 times in 82 games in all competitions over two seasons.  Working alongside manager Gerjan Verbeek, Jozy found his rhythm and more importantly his confidence ending his first season with an impressive 22 goals. Unlike at Sunderland, Altidore was the benefactor of several good moves created by the Alkmaar midfield, namely through the excellent trio of Rasmus Elm, Brett Holman and Adam Maher. His form continued into the second season, scoring another 23 goals helping Alkmaar win the KNVB cup and earning himself a place on De Telegraaf’s “Team of the Season”, becoming the first American ever to do so. This prompted Sunderland to splash the cash but with a faster game and lack of supply, Altidore was set to fail before he even began.

Questions will be asked of how Altidore will cope back in the MLS and in particular with Toronto.  In a much slower league, Altidore should be able to adapt and having played in the MLS before as a rookie back in 2006, he should feel at home fairly quickly. Indeed the player who has now arrived at Toronto is much changed from the 19 year old that left for Villarreal in 2008. He is much more grounded now, more mature and at 25 is a fully established part of the US men’s national team. His experiences playing in Spain, Turkey, Holland and England will have taught him a lot about himself and now he will be asked to show that he can be a main star for one of the MLS franchises. At Toronto he will be one of the top players, alongside other designated players Gilberto and fellow US international teammate, Michael Bradley. He will be expected to lead from the front and score the goals needed to push the team forward. Altidore will look to the players behind him to create the chances which may be an issue with only really Bradley and Jackson able to create something from nothing.

However the imminent arrival of Italian international Sebastian Giovinco from Juventus could add the creative spark that the Toronto desperately needs. The 28 year old playmaker that can operate as an attacking midfielder, winger or striker is expected to be unveiled this week and will take on one of the designated player roles at the club which will likely mean that Gilberto either departs the club or is forced to take a pay cut to stay. Either way, Toronto will land a talented player who has pace and skill in abundance and will revolutionize the way that Toronto plays. Giovinco alongside Bradley will create the chances for Altidore to take which should help Toronto to climb the table and challenge next season. Head coach Greg Vanney will be hoping that Altidore can pick up where he left off at Alkmaar and forget about his torrid spell in England with Sunderland. If Altidore can resume his goal scoring prowess then the ghost of Defoe will finally be laid to rest with Toronto starting yet another chapter in their short but colourful history.

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Defoe Calls Time On Love/Hate Relationship With Toronto

Defoe has joined Sunderland from Toronto (Image from Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)In truth it was a love affair of convenience rather than choice that brought Jermain Defoe to Toronto FC. Desperate to remove himself from the White Hart Lane bench in order to increase his England World Cup chances, Defoe would have settled for anywhere as long as he could play regularly. Unfortunately for him, that only option was a move to Canada and the vastly improving MLS as a designated player. TFC pulled out all the stops to persuade Defoe to quit London for Toronto offering him a package that was too good to refuse, wining and dining his mother all across the city and even having Toronto born rapper Drake call the player in an effort to swing favour. But did he really want to leave London for the icy winters in Toronto? Honestly no but he had little choice.

Mummy's boy - Defoe's return to England is likely to have been forced by his mother  (Image from Getty)

Mummy’s boy – Defoe’s return to England is likely to have been forced by his mother
(Image from Getty)

Defoe may have said the right things at the press conference but beneath that fake smile lay the dark truth – he was using Toronto to get to Brazil. He or his advisers had convinced him that playing and scoring regularly for Toronto would give him the edge over other rivals for a spot in the final 23 man squad. With Rooney guaranteed, Defoe was aiming for one of the other three places but did he really stand a chance? Given that his competition was the trio of Lambert, Welbeck and Sturridge, Defoe must have realized that even a move to Barcelona couldn’t have helped his chances. Given that Rickie Lambert, the then Southampton striker who at 31 was scoring for fun on more than a regular basis and offered a more physical presence than Defoe. Or Danny Welbeck, a standout player in a very average performing Manchester United team under David Moyes, who won favour with England boss Roy Hodgson thanks in part to a series of stellar performances during qualifying. Or perhaps it was Daniel Sturridge who he thought he could displace despite the Liverpool striker being in the best form of his life and seen as England’s best striker. Of course Defoe was a shoe in for a place, why wouldn’t he considering that his ego had already told himself that he had one foot on the plane. In the end Hodgson rightly or wrongly didn’t select Defoe for the World Cup thus ending the dream and with it Toronto’s chances of holding onto their big name signing.

Never in doubt - Only injury could have stopped Lambert from taking his place in the England World Cup squad  (Image from Getty)

Never in doubt – Only injury could have stopped Lambert from taking his place in the England World Cup squad
(Image from Getty)

So on the coldest day in Toronto so far this year (-33 with the wind chill), Defoe finally bided adieu to his home for less than a year and headed back to London to sign for… well no-one. Instead he is heading north to Sunderland, a place not known for its warmth either. A swap deal plus cash move that sees US striker Jozy Altidore head to Canada has been agreed and Defoe has gotten his wish, to return to the Premiership and of course to his beloved mother. Defoe will retain the astronomical wages that he was given in Canada at Sunderland, along with his belief that a return to the national team is a possibility. Toronto on the other hand will pick up the pieces of Defoe’s failed move and focus on replacing him, either with Altidore on his own (if the MLS agrees to it of course) leading the line or as part of a new front duo alongside rumoured target Italy and Juventus striker Sebastian Giovinco.

US striker Jozy Atlidore is Toronto bound, if the MLS approves  (Image from Mike Russell |

US striker Jozy Atlidore is Toronto bound, if the MLS approves
(Image from Mike Russell |

The heavily advertised “Bloody Big Deal” has spectacularly ended with a whimper with few fans disappointed to see Defoe go. Whilst he may have performed well during his 19 games for the club, the player’s attitude and apparent need of an escape route as soon as possible quickly turned the home crowd against him. Even the two men responsible for engineering the move – Tim Bezbatchencko and Tim Leiweke could not hide their distaste for the man towards the end. Whether this was an eye opening experience for the pair is unknown but surely they must have predicted this when they signed Defoe in the first place? Hardly filled with options, Defoe could either languish on the bench at Spurs or give this MLS malarkey a go in the hopes that he became a superstar once more like Henry or Keane had. Unfortunately for Defoe both of those players, who he called out as reasons for his optimism for the league, were superstars when they arrived; not because of it.

Defoe’s return to the Premiership will be viewed by many as a career salvaging move, with the striker still highly regarded by many in England. His spell in North America will be viewed in the future as successful given his goals to game ratio however the underlining truth is that it wasn’t. From the day Defoe arrived in Toronto, he was engineering his escape. That escape has been found and for the MLS its good riddance. Toronto may suffer in the short term from his departure but longer term will become a stronger team. Defoe on the other hand could have made yet another terrible mistake by joining relegation threatened Sunderland. He must believe that he can score the goals to rescue them and keep them in the Premiership, but if he can’t then once again he will be looking towards the exit door.

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MLS Call Time On Chivas USA Experiment

Gone but not forgotten - Chivas USA (Image from Getty)Ten years after its inception, Chivas USA are no longer. As a subsidiary of Mexican club C.D Guadalajara, Chivas were seen as the perfect way to appease the strong growing latino community in California.  Forged in 2005 in Carson, a small suburb of Los Angeles, Chivas was the eleventh team to enter the MLS and was intended on being a nurturing ground for talent born out of Guadalajara. The experiment started slowly so when Chivas appeared to be making progress in the 2006 season under the management of Bob Bradley, the fans celebrated believing this was the beginning of something. It would turn out to be a false dawn with Chivas reaching the Western Conference play offs in style which in the end would be their best performance. After Bradley left to take charge of the US men’s national team, Chivas went into freefall and with attendances dropping and turmoil both on and off the field; the decision was made to call time on the experiment with Chivas becoming the third MLS team after Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny to fold.

Under Bradley, Chivas had its most successful season  (Image from MLS)

Under Bradley, Chivas had its most successful season
(Image from MLS)

Playing second fiddle to the Los Angeles Galaxy with whom they shared a stadium was always going to be a challenge but given the population of America’s second biggest city and its diverse mix of residents, it was believed that there was enough passion in the city for two teams to survive. However as LA Galaxy evolved to become one of the most decorated clubs in the league, pulling in marquee signings like David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, Chivas struggled day after day to keep up eventually falling behind to their now more popular landlords. Galaxy’s nine year head start did not help things so it was always going to be an uphill struggle for Chivas. Having now folded at the end of the 2014 season, Chivas will be picked apart slowly with all of its assets stripped out and taken by other clubs. The players will be split into two groups – those still under contract will be distributed to other teams by way of a dispersal draft in November whilst the players out of contract will be left to their own devices. Captain Carlos Bocanegra has already admitted he is calling time on his career whilst star player Erick Torres is likely to return to Mexico with parent club Guadalajara unless an MLS club snaps him up. Manager Wilmer Cabrera would like to stay in the US as a head coach but with only one position vacant at the Houston Dynamo’s, he may not get that opportunity.

Star player Erick Torres is likely to be homeward bound  (Image from Getty)

Star player Erick Torres is likely to be homeward bound
(Image from Getty)

As for the club itself, the name and brand will disappear in the MLS archives, with the only record of the clubs existence listed in the history books. It is expected that an announcement will be made today by the MLS about a new LA based franchise due to launch in the 2017 season. The new club will be owned by an investor group lead by Vietnamese-American businessman Henry Nguyen, alongside several minority partners like Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan and LA Dodgers co owner Peter Guber. Many believe that the slot should be given to a city that currently doesn’t have a team like Las Vegas (as reported in a previous blog post) but Commissioner Don Garber appears set to hand Los Angeles a second chance to prove it can support two teams. Core mistakes were made by both the MLS and by the Chivas owners during its ten year residency in the league that must not be made again. However with the league now coming up to its 20th year, it is now a much slicker and well run organization than ever before. It has expanded beyond its original boundaries and continues to develop with a further three teams (Orlando City, New York City FC and Atlanta) joining in the upcoming seasons. LA will get its second side and another chance to show that it is a soccer mad city. The ghost of Chivas USA may still live in the city of Angeles for some time to come but in its passing a new dawn is emerging for LA and its soccer loving residents.

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Switch To Morocco Adds Little To Farcial Club World Cup

FIFA's continuation of the Club World Cup is baffling with interest falling year over year (Image from Getty)For a tournament that is seeing diminishing interest season after season, the annual FIFA Club World Cup continues to rear its ugly head much to the surprise of many. This year’s tournament is being played in Africa for first time in a welcome change to what has already become a dried out format. The switch to Morocco is only the fourth time that the tournament has been played away from its apparent home in Japan and was done it would seem to appease Real Madrid who already face a tough schedule as it is. The Club World Cup, despite being yet another opportunity for Real to showcase its star studded line up offers little to the Spanish giants and travelling to Asia would have made it even less appealing. Moving the event to within a short flight of Madrid means that Real can take part without worrying about the consequences attached to a long haul journey mid season.

Morocco plays host to this years event  (Image from AFP)

Morocco plays host to this years event
(Image from AFP)

Real manager Carlo Ancelotti remains as always positive about the tournament insisting it is the perfect way for his side to cap off a highly successful 2014 but in truth he is probably frustrated that this event is even on the calendar in the first place. To be honest, most clubs are with the exception of the South American teams who strangely see it as a pinnacle event. With only seven teams taking part, two of which (finalists Madrid and San Lorenzo) entering at the semi final stage, the cup is viewed by many as a joke. After all you have to ask yourself what value a tournament has when it can be won by only playing two games. Few other sports would entertain such a bizarre concept as this but yet FIFA insists that the tournament remains as is and continues to exist season after season.

Real Manager Carlo Ancelotti has remained positive about the tournament despite its drawbacks  (Image from EPA)

Real Manager Carlo Ancelotti has remained positive about the tournament despite its drawbacks
(Image from EPA)

Real Madrid’s passage into the final was as expected; a fairly easy exercise with Madrid not really having to step up a gear to beat Mexican side Cruz Azul in the semi finals. In the end a 4-0 score line highlighted the ease in which they dispatched their opponents and in truth it could have been worse especially if some of the half chances created by Madrid had been converted. Up next in the final is San Lorenzo which is likely to be a more difficult match for the Galaticos, albeit one that they should still win without much drama.

Sergio Ramos scores one of Real's four goals against Cruz Azul  (Image from PA

Sergio Ramos scores one of Real’s four goals against Cruz Azul
(Image from PA

Argentinean side San Lorenzo may be able to call on Pope Francis as one of their most famous of fans but relying on him for divine intervention against Real Madrid may be asking too much. Since their stunning Copa Libertadores victory over Paraguay’s Nacional in August, the squad has lost some of its key players. Stars like Angel Correa, the talented young attacking midfielder who agreed to join Spanish champions Atletico Madrid in the summer before the conclusion of the Copa and top goal scorer Ignacio Piatti who joined Montreal Impact in the MLS shortly after playing in the final. The loss of these two players in particular cannot be understated as both were considered as vital cogs in the Lorenzo machine. Replacing them has not been easy with head coach Edgardo Bauza relying on emerging youngsters like Juan Cavallaro and Hector Villalba to plug the sizeable gap. Nevertheless progress through the Club World Cup has been steady yet if somewhat frustrating.

San Lorenzo are a weaker side now that Correa has departed for Europe  (Image from Getty)

San Lorenzo are a weaker side now that Correa has departed for Europe
(Image from Getty)

Entering at the semi final stage, San Lorenzo were pitched against New Zealand outfit Auckland City with the Argentine side considered heavy favourites to progress to the final. However they made hard work of doing so, needing a 93rd minute strike by substitute Mauro Matos to seal the victory. Even after Matos goal, San Lorenzo looked suspect at the back and on a few occasions their fans had their hearts in their mouths following some near post chances from Auckland. Regardless San Lorenzo now find themselves in their first ever Club World Cup final against arguably the best side in the world right now. They will need to play exceptionally well to win the Cup or hope that Madrid realize how insignificant this tournament has become in advance of the final and choose to not show up. Whilst unlikely to happen, it is this sort of move that would force FIFA into a drastic rethink about their beloved Club World Cup format. Only then could this tournament start to demonstrate value once more and become a competition that clubs across the world actually want to compete in and win.

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Henry lines Up Ligue 1 Swansong

Where next for Henry? (Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)

The name of Thierry Henry is one of the most recognised in world football. The World Cup and European Championship winning striker is second only to Lillan Thuram as the most capped French footballer of all time with 123 caps for France and leads the ways in goals scored with 51 to his name, 10 ahead of French legend Michael Platini and 20 ahead of Just Fontaine. Whilst his time on the international stage has now come to an end following his retirement after the 2010 World Cup, Henry continues to play at club level and is now in his fourth season in the MLS with New York Red Bulls. But as Henry’s contract reaches its end, the former Juventus, Arsenal and Barcelona frontman is surveying his options ahead of one final swansong. With a variety of offers including lucrative moves to the Middle East, China and India on the table, it would appear that Henry has his heart set on a switch back to his homeland, with champions Paris Saint Germain and Monaco leading a chasing pack.

Legend Status Secured for France - Henry  (Image by © Christian Liewig/Corbis)

Legend Status Secured for France – Henry
(Image by © Christian Liewig/Corbis)

At 37 questions will be asked about whether Henry can cope with life back in Frances top division but one man has no doubts that he can. Former Liverpool boss Gerard Houllier, now technical director at New York Red Bulls believes Henry still can compete with the best and at the highest level. He is desperate for Henry to stay with the MLS side but knows that his chances are slim given Henry’s desire for one final challenge. Returning to France would suit the former French internationalist rather than moving back to London with Arsenal where arguably Henry made his name. The news will come as a bitter blow to Arsenal fans who would love to see their former star return to the club for a third time. Henry became a legend in his first spell, scoring 174 goals in 256 games helping Arsenal to two Premiership titles along the way. Whilst he hasn’t ruled out a sensational return to the Emirates, Henry appears to be thinking more about another former club Monaco rather than Arsenal. It was in the south of France at the small principality club that Henry first emerged as a then speedy winger. The manager at that time was Arsene Wenger who would sell the player to Juventus before buying him back for Arsenal and converting him into one of the best strikers the game has ever seen. Henry spent eight years at Arsenal before being sold to Barcelona and then eventually to New York Red Bulls as a marquee signing.

Thierry Henry during his time at Monaco  (Image from AFP)

Thierry Henry during his time at Monaco
(Image from AFP)

Like David Beckham in Los Angeles, Henry’s arrival in the Big Apple was heralded as a momentous moment in the club and league’s history. He has since gone on to showcase to the US soccer fans how the beautiful game can be played with a series of dazzling performances making him one of the best players in the league. Contrary to popular belief, it was Henry’s move rather than Beckham’s that convinced many others like Robbie Keane and Tim Cahill  to move to the US by showing them that the league was a desirable place to play in their prime rather than simply in their retirement years. The league has benefited massively from Henry’s presence with crowds growing in both New York and in away grounds where Henry was playing. But with all good things, eventually this must come to an end with Henry departing to pastures new. A January transfer back to France is likely but to which club is yet to be decided. He may follow in Beckham’s footsteps by joining PSG and in turn getting one final chance at the Champions League but he may also opt to follow his heart back to his old club Monaco. That is unless his old mentor Arsene Wenger has a say and convinces Henry that his final season should be spent back in his other homeland with a return to Arsenal.

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Las Vegas Moves A Step Closer To A MLS Franchise

Will Las Vegas finally land a sports team? (Image from MLS2LV)

For anyone who has ever visited Las Vegas will know, entertainment options are a plenty. Everything from live shows from top performers like Britney Spears and Celine Dion to spectacular magic shows by David Copperfield and Criss Angel to dramatic live events such as Cirque du Soleil is available for the millions of tourists that visit the city annually. However there is one notable absence, with no recognized sports team in any sport playing in America’s entertainment capital. Plans to build an NHL expansion team in the desert were scrapped early on by the league whilst the NFL has expressed on several occasions its opposition to a team based in Vegas due to its feelings towards sports betting. But now there is hope on the horizon that Las Vegas may eventually be home to a soccer team that will play in the MLS. The MLS2LV movement was started by local resident Justin Findlay whose family moved to Vegas over 50 years ago and set about creating one of the largest automotive retailers in the US. Now Findlay has turned his attention to soccer and created the Findlay Sports and Entertainment Company with the sole aim of it to bring an MLS team to Las Vegas by 2017.

Concept of what the stadium will look like  (Image from MLS2LV)

Concept of what the stadium will look like
(Image from MLS2LV)

Findlay’s argument is that Las Vegas is underutilized when it comes to leisure activities for residents and that it makes little sense that Las Vegas is the highest populated city in the US without a MLS team.  With a population of 2.1million permanent residents and supplementary tourist traffic in the region of 40million per year, he has a strong argument.  Added into this, the city has a strong soccer following given that a large cross section of its residents are of Hispanic origin, hailing from other soccer mad countries like Mexico and Colombia. The MLS2LV movement has taken some significant steps in recent months including gaining city council initial approval on plans by 6-1 to construct a 19,000 to 24,000 seat, $200million stadium right in the heart of the city. The next step is to secure the funding with initial plans to seek public funding scrapped by the council in favour of private investment. The Findlay group now has two months to come up with the funding and present it back to the council for final approval.

Justin Findlay dreams of a Las Vegas based MLS team  (Image from

Justin Findlay dreams of a Las Vegas based MLS team
(Image from

The deadline given by the council works well for Findlay and his potential investors as he will need to secure the stadium before making a formal bid to the MLS for one of the 2017 franchise options. He will face stiff completion from other cities such as Austin, Minneapolis and Sacramento who are all looking to start an MLS franchise. But Findlay is confident as he knows that the MLS has ambitious long term plans to build the league up to 24 teams by 2020 with Atlanta, New York City FC, Orlando City and the David Beckham run Miami franchise already confirmed. Executive vice president of communications for the MLS Dan Courtemanche has stated that he is looking forward to seeing all the bids and that there is no shortage of demand for that final MLS expansion team spot. Findlay will be hoping that his team can grab that spot and finally end Las Vegas run of having no major sports team in the city.

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Defoe To Remain In Toronto, For Now

Under Pressure - Tim Bezbatchenko (Image from Getty)

It was a very long day for Tim Bezbatchenko and one that he won’t necessarily forget any time soon. Just a day after sacking manager Ryan Nelsen and his entire coaching staff for what he deemed as a run of poor results, the Toronto FC general manager was back in the trenches again trying to prevent Jermain Defoe from leaving the club. Three English Premiership clubs including QPR were actively pursuing the England striker during transfer deadline day, in the hopes of persuading him to move back home. Defoe appeared to be keen to move given his timely yet unnecessary flight back to England for apparent treatment on a groin injury. Indeed a bid was made by QPR and their Defoe loving boss Harry Redknapp but Bezbatchenko and Toronto rejected it outright insisting the player was staying. Rumours began to circulate that Defoe was unhappy in Toronto and in the general direction that the club was going in which given the sacking of his friend Nelsen the day before makes sense.

Nelsen's sacking has made Defoe unhappy  (Image from cp)

Nelsen’s sacking has made Defoe unhappy
(Image from cp)

Back tracking eight months, Defoe’s arrival in Toronto was a spectacular affair, a bloody big deal as defined by MLSE (Toronto FC’s owners, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment). Defoe became one of the league’s highest paid players, alongside fellow new signing Michael Bradley and spoke of his excitement about joining the club and the massive opportunity it presented. His reason behind leaving Tottenham for the MLS was the challenge it presented and the chance to make an impact in a league that was flourishing. But in truth Defoe moved to Toronto for one reason – to get regular first team football in order to secure a spot in the England squad for the World Cup in Brazil. Things started brightly with a debut brace for Defoe in his first match in March against Seattle. However despite some good performances and another five goals, Defoe was eventually overlooked by England boss Roy Hodgson. Defoe now had a dilemma. At 31, he has still a lot to offer and the MLS wasn’t challenging him. Yes he was the clubs top goal scorer with 11 and Toronto looked good for a playoff place in the Eastern Conference but was this really where he wanted to be? Given the chance, a move back to the Premiership would be his real dream so that he could once again get the chance to play for his country. All he needed was an exit strategy, and one that Bezbatchenko handed to him on a plate with the sacking of Nelson. Now “disgruntled” by the direction the club was going in, Toronto would surely sell him on at a healthy profit in order to protect face right?

Bloody Big Deal - Defoe and Bradley arrive  (Image from CP)

Bloody Big Deal – Defoe and Bradley arrive
(Image from CP)

The irony that Defoe was in the UK on transfer deadline day looks to have been missed by most in the media. For the injury Defoe has, there was no real reason for him to travel to the UK for specialist treatment as he could have received that in Canada. More likely, his agent convinced his want away client to be in England so that he could attend signing talks in person with any potential suitors on deadline day. When Harry came calling, Defoe was London bound with QPR the destination. Personal terms were agreed swiftly with Redknapp keen to sign the striker who has played for him three times before at West Ham, Portsmouth and Spurs. Now the only thing that stood in the way was the transfer fee. A bid was formally made, rumoured to be in the £11million mark almost double what Toronto paid Spurs but was rejected. Toronto refused to part with the player as they chased a coveted playoff berth. The deal was dead and Defoe is staying in Toronto, well for the time being. During a hastily arranged press conference, Bezbatchenko reassured Toronto fans that Defoe was committed to the cause but refused to give them what they wanted to hear – that Defoe was staying for the long term.

Old Friends - Defoe and Redknapp  (Image from AP)

Old Friends – Defoe and Redknapp
(Image from AP)

What has likely happened is that Defoe and Bezbatchenko have made an unwritten agreement for the England striker to stay at the club until the end of the MLS season and help the club into the play offs before he is sold back to England (and QPR) during the January transfer window. The deal works for everyone, giving Defoe the route back to England he so desperately wants and Toronto the time to find yet another bloody big deal signing. Bezbatchenko and Toronto get to keep face and will spin it in January that they gained a healthy profit from the sale of Defoe and have reinvested it in their new to be announced star striker. The plan is flawless except for one potential problem – Harry Redknapps long term future. Given QPR’s stuttering start to the season, Redknapp knows that he must improve the team’s results or face the axe which in turn could kill any potential deal for Defoe. Other suitors may appear but whether they are as an attractive an opportunity to Defoe as working again with Redknapp is unsure. Defoe may end up being stuck in Toronto and in turn Toronto may be stuck with a designated player who doesn’t want to be at the club. It will be then that Bezbatchenko will look back on the events of September 1st 2014 and wonder whether he should have just accepted that bid from QPR and let go of his troublesome headache once and for all.

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King Carles Breaks Barca Hearts As He Heads For Exit

Carles Puyol, Barca legend (Image from PA)With his floppy hair and short stature, Carles Puyol looks more like a surfer than a footballer. But anyone who has been unfortunate enough to play against him will testify that he is one of the best footballers around. The Spanish internationalist has been the heart beat of Barcelona for over a decade now but as the phrase goes, all good things must come to an end. It’s the day Barca fans didn’t want to see but yesterday in front of a packed press room, Puyol announced his intentions to leave the Nou Camp at the end of the season. At 35, the defender had one year remaining on his contract but has reached an agreement with the club to terminate his agreement early. It’s not known at this stage what or where Puyol will end up next but one rumour suggests that Puyol wants to play one final season in a different league, with the US his likely destination.

Puyol during yesterday's conference  (Image from Getty)

Puyol during yesterday’s conference
(Image from Getty)

Having played over 593 times for Barcelona since his debut in 1999, Puyol is a club legend. A formidable defender, tough in the tackle, Puyol has helped Barcelona to undoubtedly its best trophy haul in the clubs history. With 6 La Liga titles, 3 Champions League titles, 2 UEFA Super Cups and 2 FIFA Club World Cups as well as 2 Copa Del Rey trophies, Puyol will leave the club a winner. His partnership over the past six years with Gerard Pique has proven to be highly lucrative and was seen as the best defensive paring in the world during this time.  The duo teamed up for Spain as well on several occasions, helping them to a European Championship victory in 2008 and then cementing Spain position as the best team in the world with their first ever World Cup triumph in 2010. His performances in that World Cup in South Africa earned him a place in the FIFA World Cup All Stars team, which for Puyol was yet another accolade to add to his growing collection. Puyol to date has won 100 caps for his country and is likely to travel to Brazil as a crucial part of Vicente del Bosque’s Spanish squad.

World Cup winner  (Image from PA)

World Cup winner
(Image from PA)

Puyol’s influence for club and country cannot be understated. His fellow professionals look to him for leadership and guidance. He is the first player in the dressing room and the last to leave. Teammate Xavi has spoken in the past about his admiration for Puyol and what he brings to the team:

“Puyol is the key, not just because he is one of the best defenders in the world but because of his character. He never lets up”

Replacing Puyol will not be an easy feat for whoever is in charge at Barcelona next season. Current boss Gerardo Martino is under fire and rumours surrounding the club suggest he will leave in the summer and be replaced by former Chelsea and Tottenham manager, Andre Villas Boas. Either way, replacing Puyol will be the primary goal during this summer’s transfer window. Eliaquim Mangala and David Luiz are two players being linked heavily with the club but both will face the challenge of filling Puyol’s shoes.  Pique is skeptical that anyone can do this, saying that Puyol is simply one of a kind. Few would argue with that.

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Logo Hopes To Sell Belonging To Potential NYC FC Fans

NYCFC Logo concept (Image from Hyperakt)Even before a single ball has been kicked, the frenzy around the Big Apple’s latest team, New York City FC has begun. The franchise, which was announced in May by MLS commissioner Don Garber as the league’s 20th team won’t officially take the field under 2015 but that hasn’t stopped companies from trying to ride the tidal wave that has been created. One such company, New York based Hyperakt have decided not to wait for an official announcement from the club around their kits or logos, instead creating a set of original unsolicited branding packages for NYC FC. Whilst the club hasn’t even released any indications around colour schemes, Hyperakt have gone out on a limb to suggest what they think makes sense for the club and its new fans.

Logo Concepts  (Image from Hyperakt)

Logo Concepts
(Image from Hyperakt)

As Creative Director Deroy Peraza states on their website, the Brooklyn based design firm, who are know in the city  for their info graphics and brand identity work, have taken a more minimalistic approach to the creation of the proposed brand and its logo. Pulling inspiration from a variety of sources including the clubs owners (Manchester City FC and The New York Yankees) as well as the city itself and its history, Peraza and his team designed the above logo, incorporating the light blue of Manchester City, the darker blue and white from the Yankees and an ironic symbol of New York past – the famous pentagon from the old now debunked MTA token.

How they got to the design (Image from Hyperakt)

How they got to the design
(Image from Hyperakt)

The key component of the new logo is the iconic pentagon which represents the five boroughs of New York itself. Updated by Peraza and his team to give it a more modern field (they removed the sharp edges to make the pentagon more rounded), the shape itself is also a thrown back to the football, which is made up of a series of pentagon’s stitched together, something that amazed Peraza during the design phase:

“It amazed me that I couldn’t think of a single major world football brand that really owned the pentagon shape as a key part of their identity. In New York, everyone had the tokens in their pockets regardless of class, ethnicity, or gender. It’s a truly democratic symbol that was accessible and essential to virtually everyone. Those are the kinds of values I wanted to embed in this club’s identity.”

NYC FC logo on IPhone (Image from Hyperakt)

NYC FC logo on IPhone (Image from Hyperakt)

Being a brand for the people of New York, not dependant of ethnicity or class again harks back to the overall philosophy of this team being for the people. The NY Redbulls have faced much criticism for not being a New York team, preferring to play in New Jersey and stripping their name back to incorporate their wealthy owners, Redbull. Hyperakt have understood this, mostly thanks to Peraza being a football fan himself, living in the city and not feeling a connection.  So in order to bring their new creation to life, Hyperakt created a series of mock ups of what the logo will look like, both across the city as well as on potential strips/kits. Billboards, MTA passes, taxi cab toppers and even phone covers have been added, all of which is now on display on their website. The strips follow the same mould with a very simplistic design, utilizing the two shades of blue and the white to make up the three options for Home, Away and Third kit. The public response has been positive, however some have pointed out the similarities to NPSL side Chattanooga FC’s logo, but the two are very different.

MTA passes with NYC FC logo  (Image from Hyperakt)

MTA passes with NYC FC logo
(Image from Hyperakt)

Taxi to the Game?  (Image from Hyperakt)

Taxi to the Game?
(Image from Hyperakt)

Billboards promote NYCFC  (IMAGE FROM HYPERAKT)

Billboards promote NYCFC

Others like Californian based designer Mike Retrum have also come up with concept designs like Hyperakt did, and incorporate the same principles with a different result.Whatever brand NYC FC chooses in the end will need to win over the fans in an ever increasing competitive landscape. With just over two years before their inaugural kickoff, the club has time to decide but they will be cautious that leaving things too late may make it difficult to win over New Yorkers who are not following the city’s current MLS team NY Red bulls or those joining up to follow the newly reformed NY Cosmos. But Peraza believes that the brand that Hyperakt has created will speak to those fans as it will be the only club in New York that calls itself “City”. Loyalty stems from a sense of belonging and if Peraza can convince New York City FC that his brand sells belonging, then this will go a long way towards the creation of a new audience for the MLS’s latest franchise.

Which concept do you like the best? Or does it not really matter as long as the team is good? Let us know your thoughts, as always on Facebook and Twitter: or  #BOTN

Beckham Brings Soccer Back To Miami

It was the soccer’s worst kept secret but yesterday David Beckham officially revealed that he is indeed fronting a new MLS team to be based in Miami. The now retired soccer legend has decided to exercise an option in his old Galaxy contract that he signed back in 2007. Written in to David Beckham’s LA Galaxy contract was the option to become a franchise owner giving the former England midfielder the door he needed however the ease in which he opened that door was quite unexpected.

In fact, it would appear as though MLS commissioner Don Garber was holding it open as Beckham swanned in immaculately dressed buzzing with self confidence. Garber, known for his rules and regulations has turned a blind eye to many of the requirements that the MLS has for potential new franchises including securing a stadium to play in or at least the land (neither of which the new Miami team has) and an investment of $100m paid to the MLS (Beckham paid only $25m as per the terms in his old legacy contract). But for Garber, having Beckham and the worlds media that follows him back in the MLS makes the risks more palatable and with Miami ready to bend over backwards to accommodate Beckham and his investors, everything should fall into place fairly quickly.

Miami will play host to an MLS team as of 2016  (Image from Getty)

Miami will play host to an MLS team as of 2016
(Image from Getty)

Indeed Beckham and business partners (Entertainment guru Simon Fuller and Bolivian billionaire Marcelo Claure) have been in deep negotiations with the city over a preferred waterfront location for a new all seater stadium. Working with Miami mayor Carlos Gimenez, Beckham knows he needs the land and quickly so that construction can get underway to meet the 2016 season deadline. With a place to play, construction on the team will follow, much in the same style as what is happening in New York with New York City Football Club. A CEO and Director of Football will be appointed, followed swiftly by an announcement over the clubs first ever manager.

Then player selection will begin with Beckham keen to help bring in some of the world’s greatest players. Having played at Manchester United, Real Madrid, PSG and Milan, options are not limited with some players already putting up their hands to sign on. But Beckham will know that he needs to bring in the right players, at the right price and age and not ones who are looking for one final pay day. He will want to follow Toronto’s lead by investing in players of caliber who still have several years left to play. Smartly Beckham will not reveal now who he has in mind but will look to pull as many strings as possible to bring the world’s best to Miami.

Beckham and investor Claure  (Image from Getty)

Beckham and investor Claure
(Image from Getty)

There is a lot of work that needs to be done before the kick off in their inaugural season in 2016 including finding a name for the club. Suggestions have already been touted from Miami Waves to Miami Mavericks and even a kick back to the old NASL team name, Miami Toros. But whatever the team is called, it will be what happens on the pitch that will matter the most to Beckham.

As the face of the club, he can ill afford to damage his reputation by being associated with a lemon or an underperforming team. Getting it right from day one will require a lot of preparation, with a handful of luck thrown into the mix. If the world’s media was fixated on New York in 2013 with the news surrounding NYCFC and the rebirth of the Cosmos, 2014 will be all about Miami and whether or not Beckham can write yet another chapter into soccer history.

Ambitious Toronto Invest Heavily To Realize The Dream

Toronto or Bust for Defoe's World Cup Dream  (Image from PA)

Toronto FC are set to announce the capture of two well known faces this coming Monday that will kick start the clubs revival. The Canadian club has agreed bumper deals with Tottenham striker Jermaine Defoe and Roma midfielder Michael Bradley. At a combined transfer fee of $15.5million, the pair are an expensive addition to the squad but something that was very much needed to progress. Both arrive knowing that they need to perform quickly if they are to impress their respective national coaches and secure a place within their country’s squad for the forthcoming World Cup.

Defoe and Bradley both have aspirations to play at the World Cup in Brazil this summer  (Image from PA)

Defoe and Bradley both have aspirations to play at the World Cup in Brazil this summer
(Image from PA)

Bradley’s arrival is more of an indication of Toronto’s intent and vision than that of Defoe’s. Whilst the England international brings the flair factor to Toronto’s pre season, Bradley brings with him the direction that the club wants to go in. The US international turned down other offers across Europe including at rumoured move back to the English Premiership, to join Toronto. Granted the wages on offer were far more appealing than others on the table, but Bradley has indicated it was more the vision of where TFC are going and the important role he could play that enticed him. It’s a fair indication given that a club the size and stature of Toronto have managed to persuade a player in his prime to join them in the MLS ahead of going to play in one of the better quality leagues in Europe.

Bradley's arrival showcases Toronto's intent  (Image from Getty)

Bradley’s arrival showcases Toronto’s intent
(Image from Getty)

Ambition has not been something that TFC has demonstrated greatly in the past five years with only talk of success touted in pre season but little to show for it. Failed strategies, lack of investment and overall interest has hindered progression but now a new dawn is rising over the club, backed with significant investment from its owners, MLSE. The change can be sourced to the arrival of three wise men, less in the biblical sense but more in the footballing sense. With a wealth of knowledge of the game between them and strong reputations to boot, Tim Leiweke, Ryan Nelsen and new GM Tim Bezbatchenko have restarted the faltering heart of the Canadian franchise. Last season was the bedding in period for Nielsen and Leiweke with the final piece in Bezbatchenko arriving late last year. They have wasted little time in identifying and correcting Toronto’s problem areas, the results of which are now being showcased with the arrival of a collection of quality players like Bradley and Defoe. Their collective ambitions is to create a franchise and a team that can challenge the likes of Leiweke’s old club L.A. Galaxy, or last year’s winners Sporting Kansas City for honours. It starts with the building of a spine for the team, with Defoe leading the line supported by Bradley and with Caldwell patrolling the back. A strong reliable goalkeeper is needed to complete the set with questions still lingering over the qualities of current number one, Joe Bendik. Support has been arriving all winter in the form of Brazilian duo Jackson and Gilberto; the latter viewed as something of a coup for the club given his growing reputation back home in Brazil. Adding local boy Dwayne De Rosario gives Nelsen options and the hometown passion his team lacked on several occasions last year. And with Justin Morrow arriving to strengthen the defence, Toronto is starting to look like a squad capable of living up to expectations.

TFC's three wise men  (Image from CP)

TFC’s three wise men
(Image from CP)

Those expectations are heavy ones given the significant outlay of cash in this pre season. Between Bradley and Defoe, the pair will reportedly split close to $100m in wages over the next four years. They will need to prove their worth and quickly to keep the fans and the three wise men happy. Mid table mediocrity will not do with expectations on competing for a Champions league spot more in line with the managements thinking. Toronto needs to continue to invest with an established goalkeeper and creative midfielder a top priority. Investment in the future of the academy, not just in securing 1st round draft picks is also needed if Toronto is to protect its long term future. With world class facilities already in place, Toronto need to develop more Canadian youngsters who will eventually step into the shoes of Defoe and Bradley, keeping the franchise going. This year’s mission though starts in earnest in March when the judges will be out in force to see what this new era has in store. Will the new look Toronto FC impress or will it be an expensive mistake by a club full of ambitious dreams.

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Erick Torres Planning On Taking The World By Storm

On Fire: Erick Torres (Image from Getty)Mexico’s surprise win at last year’s Olympic Games highlighted a new batch of Mexican players about to take the football world by storm. Players like Marco Fabian, Nestor Araujo, Raul Jimenez and Jorge Enríquez all made a name for themselves at the Games and have attracted interest from clubs across the globe. But one player who didn’t make the squad is now blazing his own path in a quest to make himself known to the world and is doing a good job of it too. Erick Torres exploits on loan for Chivas USA have been nothing short of breathtaking and is starting to attract the gaze of foreign scouts from Europe’s biggest clubs. The young striker has been compared recently to another Mexican striker, Manchester United’s Javier Hernandez due to their similarity in their style of playing and his rapid success months after his debut. Like Hernandez, Torres is bursting with energy and lethal in the penalty box, making him one of the brightest prospects in Mexican football. Possessing an abundance of pace and flair as well as incredible close control, Torres looks set to become one of the worlds’s most feared strikers.

Follow my lead: Javier Hernandez leads the way  (Image from Getty)

Follow my lead: Javier Hernandez leads the way
(Image from Getty)

Born in Guadalajara, it seemed only right that Torres first club would be that of his home town. After starting in the youth teams, Torres was quickly promoted in 2010 to the first team as one of the most promising youngsters the club has ever produced. He made his official debut in the Mexican Primera División in November of that year against C.F. Monterrey, and marked his appearance in style with a debut goal which helped to salvage a point. That season he ended with 6 goals from 20 appearances including a stunning brace against Querétaro in March 2011 and a debut Super Clasico goal against arch-rivals América in a stunning 3-0 victory. The following season, Torres led the line for Guadalajara alongside Marco Fabian, finishing the season with 7 goals from 20 appearances. This form persuaded Chivas USA in the MLS to arrange a season long loan deal for the player, which has already started to pay dividends. Torres made his debut against Toronto and in usual Torres style marked it with the winning goal. He has continued in that vein with another 5 strikes in his last 6 games including a brace last Sunday against Vancouver. His first goal in that match highlighted the skill and talent he possesses as he scored with a stunning bicycle kick from the edge of the area, perfectly executed and simply unstoppable.

Torres scores against Seattle  (Image from Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports)

Torres scores against Seattle earlier this season
(Image from Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports)

Despite his young age, Torres has already had success at international level at various levels, first captaining Mexico’s under 17 squad at the 2010 Milk Cup in Northern Ireland, before moving on to join Mexico’s Under 20’s squad at the 2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup where he helped Mexico to a third place finish. Despite missing out on a place in the Olympic squad, Torres has his heart set on making his full senior debut for Mexico in the not so distant future. With Mexico lying third in the CONCACAF group behind the USA and Costa Rica with four games left to play, Torres may get his shot, especially if his form for Chivas continues.

To see Torres bicycle kick, click here:

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Drugs, Sex and Rock and Roll – TV Soap Opera About Four Iconic Colombian Legends Begins

A footballer’s life can often be like a soap opera with off field scandals and on field dramas all played out in the public eye. The general fascination with these players, mostly thanks to increased media attention has made the modern day player into a modern day superstar. Now a Colombian TV station has decided to fixate on the fascination with footballers by creating a soap opera called “La Seleccion” all about them. Featuring four of Colombia’s best known players – Carlos Valderrama, Freddy Rincon, Faustino Asprilla and Rene Higuita, the show focuses on the trials and tribulations of these iconic and legendary figures.

La Seleccion first aired in July  (Image from La Seleccion)

La Seleccion first aired in July
(Image from La Seleccion)

The four players in question are perfectly suited to star in such a TV event as all four had colourful careers and indeed hair. Goalkeeper Higuita is probably best remembered for one sensational save during a friendly between England and Colombia. As England broke the ball was played wide to Jamie Redknapp who looped the ball into the box towards the six yard line. Higuita with no one around and in his usual flamboyant self decided to entertain the crowd with a spectacular scorpion kick clearance. But apart from that Higuitas life is somewhat more checkered. Away from the pitch, Higuita was a known acquaintance of infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar and even spent some time in jail for his part in a kidnapping. On the field, Higuita was known as “The Madman” as he created the term defensive goalkeeper. Higuita’s runs out of the box and dribbles towards the half way line became as famous as the goals he scored (yes goals) as he went on to finish his career as the world’s third highest goal scoring goalkeeper of all time with 41 strikes.

Higuita performs the Scorpion kick for the first time at Wembley  (Image from Getty)

Higuita performs the Scorpion kick for the first time at Wembley
(Image from Getty)

Similarly Asprilla will be remembered in the UK for his time at Newcastle where he entertained the Geordie faithful with his dazzling goals, mesmerizing runs and amazing back flip celebrations. But like Higuita there is a dark side to his past with run ins with the law on a too frequent basis. His wild off field antics and partying lifestyle led to several ticking offs by the clubs he represented and by the police but it was never as serious as the incident in 2008 when he was arrested for allegedly firing a machine-gun at security forces near his farm in Colombia. Asprilla was placed under house arrest on charges of weapons possession and criminal damage. Further problems with drug lords and dealers back home in Colombia led to Asprilla needing an escape back to England, which led to the bizarre link to Darlington back in 2002.

Asprilla's time at Newcastle was a huge success  (Image from Getty)

Asprilla’s time at Newcastle was a huge success
(Image from Getty)

Asprilla’s gun antics were nothing compared to his countryman and teammate Freddy Rincon’s run in with the law. The tedious midfielder, who represented Colombia on 84 occasions and also holds the honour of being the first Colombian to ever play for Real Madrid, Rincón came under criminal investigation in Colombia and Panama, facing charges of collaboration with cocaine kingpin Pablo Rayo Montaño and suspicion of money laundering. As he was living and working in Brazil at the time, São Paulo police took him into custody after a Panamanian request for extradition came into effect. Interpol issued an international arrest order against him and Rincon was sent to jail in Brazil. He was released after 123 days, having given proof of his properties and businesses. However the Panama government continues to pursue Rincon on money laundering charges, with the player now in daily talks with his lawyer in order to prevent further jail time

Wanted man - Rincon's warrant issued by Interpol  (Image from Interpol)

Wanted man – Rincon’s warrant issued by Interpol
(Image from Interpol)

One player who ever embodies Colombian football is Carlos Valderrama. The former captain, famously recognized worldwide due to his colourful perm, is probably best known for his appearances at the 1994 World Cup in the USA and for being the poster boy for Colombian football’s golden age during the mid nineties. His love affair with the USA led Valderrama back there to play in the MLS inaugural season as one of its first star players. Over the next six years, Valderrama firmly placed himself in the leagues history books with some sensational performances and iconic hair styles. In 2004, Valderrama was included in the FIFA 100, a list of “greatest living footballers” chosen by Pelé to celebrate the 100th anniversary of FIFA, highlighting what an amazing player he was during his career.

Big Hair, Iconic Player - Carlos Valderrama  (Image from AP)

Big Hair, Iconic Player – Carlos Valderrama
(Image from AP)

All four are as recognizable in Colombia as any Hollywood star. Like current favourite Falcao, the four men are seen as gods so to have their lives play out on the small screen is must see TV. The company behind the soap opera knows that they are on to a good thing as long as they can tell the players colourful stories in an interesting way avoiding the trap of making them look less special. Not an easy job considering what these four did during their careers on and off the field.

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Toronto Relieves Payne With Much Needed Shake Up

Toronto Dismiss Kevin Payne (Image from TFC)These are trouble times for MLS team Toronto FC. Sitting second bottom of the Eastern Conference just above DC United, it’s not been the best start to this new season and it’s just got a whole lot worse. Yesterday Toronto’s owners MLSE decided that change was needed and started to make some radical adjustments starting at the top with the dismissal of General Manager Kevin Payne. It’s been a short and turbulent ride for Payne who arrived last November from DC United promising to bring the good times back to Toronto and its bewildered fans. His first move was to dismiss head coach Paul Mariner and replace him with New Zealand legend, Ryan Nelsen in a move that was seen as bold but necessary. However from the off, things weren’t as rosy as hoped and even the signing of Nelsen was farcical in the nicest possible way. Nelson at the time was still playing for QPR in the English Premiership when Payne came calling in January 2013 with his dream offer to take over as manager of Toronto but the GM clearly hadn’t thought about one small detail, Nelsen’s existing playing contract that ran until 1st July 2013. With QPR fighting against relegation, they were of course reluctant to release one of their strongest defenders but after weeks of back and forth and an intervention by Nelsen himself who pleaded with QPR manager Harry Redknapp to let the move happen, Toronto finally got their man on the 1st February, only one month before the new campaign was to kick off. Not the greatest of starts.

Frustrated - Coach Nelsen  (Image from TFC)

Frustrated – Coach Nelsen
(Image from TFC)

With Nelsen onboard, focus turned to player acquisition but again Payne would fail to deliver. Handed a war chest of $25million for signings and wages, Payne focused more on glamour signings for the designated player spots instead of what was really needed, an overhaul of the existing squad. Payne spent the better part of the next 4 months flying to and from South American in an attempt to persuade Uruguay legend Diego Forlan to join his revolution, much to the frustration of Nelsen. Forlan was keen and with his wages no longer an issue, it looked as though the former Manchester United, Atlético Madrid and Inter striker would be coming onboard but Forlan’s demands for a two and a half year contract, which would end half way through the 2016 campaign would turn out to be the stumbling block. Toronto fans will be shocked by the news today that they missed out on a great player as Payne couldn’t find a resolution to this term issue and many will wonder why Toronto did just accept Forlan’s ask especially considering his age. At 34 years young, Forlan’s better days are behind him but he still has the ability and skill needed to be a huge success in the MLS. A two year and a half year contract would see Forlan through till he was nearly 37 at which time Toronto would probably have jettisoned him for a younger alternative. Nelsen’s team has lacked a biting edge this year with only Welsh striker Robert Earnshaw looking capable of scoring on a consistent basis. Forlan would have grabbed much needed goals for the club which could have stopped the rot that has seen Toronto draw ten of the twenty six games played so far this season. Goals win games and with Nelsen working hard on the teams backline, improving it recently with established signings like former Scotland defender Stephen Caldwell, Toronto could have turned a corner and Payne may well have still been in a job.

What could have been: Diego Forlan  (Image from Wikipedia)

What could have been: Diego Forlan
(Image from Wikipedia)

But failure ultimately leads to disappointment and the clock ran out for Payne when Nelsen, frustrated by the lack of arrivals and general support spoke out to senior staff at the MLSE. There was only going to be one winner in the eyes of CEO Tim Leiweke, who wielded the axe on the bumbling GM, much like he had done at one of the company’s other franchises, NBA team Toronto Raptors. Payne will remain at the club for the time being to make sure that a smooth transition is implemented with his successor, but will suffer in the time being from a lack of any specific title to hang his hat on. Leiweke, the former President and CEO of Anschutz Entertainment Group who took control of the MLSE in April 2013, will start the search for a new GM as soon as possible with Real Salt Lake GM Garth Lagerwey already installed as the front runner by one source. Whoever Leiweke turns to will face the difficult task of breathing life back into the failing franchise and putting Toronto back on the right path towards success in the MLS. Nelsen should play a pivotal role in that hiring as the two need to work more closely together than Payne and Nelsen ever did, identifying targets, building a playing strategy and chasing realistic options to strengthen the squad. That is unless MLSE has plans to make Nelsen its next lamb to the slaughter in its much needed shake up of Toronto FC. 

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Demspey’s Departure Doesn’t Add Up

Seattle bring back Demspey to the MLS (Image from MLS)The real question that has risen this weekend at Tottenham is why exactly did Clint Dempsey move back to the MLS with Seattle Sounders? The move, worth just over $9 million, comes only a year after the American left Fulham for Tottenham in order to pursue his dream of playing in the Champions League. At present that dream would still be alive, regardless of Gareth Bales long term future at the club, as Tottenham continue to grow as title hopefuls under Andre Villas Boas. So that what changed?

Dempsey back home but for what reason?  (Image from Getty)

Dempsey back home but for what reason?
(Image from Getty)

That part is still very much unknown. At 30 years old, Dempsey still had a huge part to play at Spurs. His ability to play in several positions from midfield to the wings to a central striker made him a valuable asset to have in any squad and his uniquely direct approach to his game saw him consistently be one of the most exciting players in the league. For those two reasons alone you would have to believe that Dempsey was still very much in Andre Villas Boas plans, despite Tottenham strengthening in several key forward positions.

Dempsey during his time at Fulham  (Image from PA)

Dempsey during his time at Fulham
(Image from PA)

Perhaps for Dempsey, the lure of a move back home was too tempting and he felt that he should go now whilst he still has something to offer the league than in say three to four years time when he would be more likely to be going for one last paycheck. Certainly it’s not about the money right now. Granted the MLS is growing in stature but it cannot compete just yet with the financial clout of the Premiership. Going home for personal reasons looks more plausible but for the boy from Texas, Seattle is a long way away. The Sounders are a team in transition, having only joined the league in 2009 but the acquisition of Dempsey, along with other designated players Obafemi Martins and Mauro Rosales and a batch of talented US players, the three times US Open Cup champions are building a squad capable of challenging for honours on all fronts. Adding Dempsey, the current US Captain certainly helps their cause and will give the team a much needed boost for this season, with the team currently languishing in 7th place in the Western Conference.

Regardless of the reason behind his move, Dempsey is looking forward to kick starting this new chapter of his career:

“I am very excited about coming back to the MLS and thrilled to be joining Sounders. Having recently played in Seattle with the national team, I experienced the incredible atmosphere and the passion from the supporter’s first-hand. It’s going to be an honour to represent the fans in Seattle.”

Century Boy - 1 Cap away from 100 caps for USA  (Image from Getty)

Century Boy – 1 Cap away from 100 caps for USA
(Image from Getty)

The Premierships loss is the MLS’s gain as the expanding league picks up a quality player, still very much in his prime. Dempsey has built a successful career and will be remembered fondly by Fulham fans and Tottenham fans for his overall contribution to their clubs as well as to the league. Dempsey’s return to the MLS comes at an exciting time not just for Seattle but for the MLS as interest and crowds continue to grow within the league. One game away from 100 caps for his country, Dempsey has the potential of being the Beckham of Seattle by helping to inspire the next crop of US youngsters to follow in his footsteps and become US legends as well.

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No Football July? We Don’t Think So

Moutinho and Rodriguez start revolution (Image from CP)In a year of no World cup or European championship action, most football fans will be wondering what to do this coming July in place of watching the beautiful game. Wife’s and partners are rejoicing as they plan a summer of activities for their other half’s such as gardening, painting the fence or fixing those broken stairs that have stood that way for the past nine months. However don’t despair there is still football on offer in the shape of the MLS, Champions league qualifiers and meaningless pre-season friendlies. If that’s not enough, BOTN will be there as always reporting on the stories that matter in football and some that don’t. In June alone we covered a variety of topics such as the controversial appointment of Joe Kinnear as Newcastle new Director of Football. In a hastily organised interview (arranged by Kinnear without the clubs knowledge), Kinnear proceeded to not only talk himself up as god’s gift to the game but also managed to annoy the clubs top stars by embarrassingly mispronouncing their names. Alan Pardew never felt as safe in his job as he does now. Also making waves last month were French side Monaco who proved that cheating in Football Manager by spending millions in one transfer window, buying the world’s biggest names in an effort to build a winning team, makes a lot of sense. Arriving players like Colombian duo James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao as well as Portugal midfielder Joao Moutinho, will surely make life extremely difficult for PSG and their new head coach, Laurent Blanc to win back to back titles.

Guess who's back - Kinnear checks in at Newcastle again  (Image from The

Guess who’s back – Kinnear checks in at Newcastle again
(Image from The

In Scotland, the football landscape is finally changing with the joining of the SPL and the SFL to make one new governing body, ironically named the SPFL. In a move which only took a decade to do, Scottish fans rejoiced with the complete restructuring of the domestic game, except with hardly anything actually changing. The only major change is the reallocation of monies throughout the four leagues, something that really should have happened say a decade ago when there was money in the Scottish domestic game. One player who knows all about Scotland’s woes is former international defender David Weir, who took his first steps into management with his appointment at Sheffield United. Weir was classified as a shock choice but given that several of Everton’s first team coaches from last year are leaving following the departure of David Moyes, it’s actually not that surprising. Weir is now spending the summer looking for new players to sign to strength his squad, something that fellow Scot Paul Lambert has not hesitated in doing myself. The Villa manager has signed six players so far with one, Nicklas Helenius the stand out player to everyone here at BOTN. The young Dane has a promising career ahead of him and will likely be one of the signings of the summer in the Premiership.

Villa bound - Helenius  (Image from AFP)

Villa bound – Helenius
(Image from AFP)

It wasn’t all good news in June as the footballing world paused to remember Marc Vivien Foe on the 10th anniversary of his untimely death. Foe, who suffered a fatal heart attack on the pitch during Cameroons semi-final appearance against Colombia in the 2003 Confederations Cup, will not be forgotten easily with players and fans alike reminiscing on social media and on football talk shows about what a great player he was. Also making the news was the shocking story of Bosnian goalkeeper Dusko Krtalica who was shot in the head during a match. Remarkably he wasn’t killed and was actually unaware that he had been hit, playing on till the end of the match before friends had to take him to hospital following severe headaches and pains in his arm. It’s a story we couldn’t make up which is also what we were all wishing was true when we discovered that kids in Quebec, Canada were prevented from playing football as they were wearing turbans. The kids and their parents turned to the Quebec Soccer Federation to stop the nonsense but were amazed when they supported the decision, despite FIFA clarifying that wearing a turban is allowed. Calamity followed with the Canadian Soccer Association banning the QSF, who then faced the wrath of Quebec Premier Pauline Marios who defended the QSFs honour and right to do so despite not actually understanding the point of the whole issue. FIFA eventually had to step in and tell everyone to settle down and behave before the ruling was overturned and the kids could return to the pitch. Farcical is not the word.

Premier Marois is regretting getting involved  (Image from CP)

Premier Marois is regretting getting involved
(Image from CP)

June was action packed as July will be with the opening of the transfer window and the madness that brings to look forward to. So to all wives and partners out there who are hoping to steal some time back with their loved ones, I am afraid you will be bitterly disappointed as football never stops, it merely pauses to let the fans catch their collective breaths before a whole new season begins again.

Check out all these stories and more in the archives section on the right hand side of the page!

Reo-Coker Looks to Revive Career With Move To The US

Nigel Reo-Coker (Image from Getty)The appeal of a move to the MLS is starting to become clearer as Nigel Reo-Coker becomes the latest player to move to the US league. Following closely on the heels of former France and Manchester United defender Mikael Silvestre, who last week moved to Portland Timbers, Reo-Coker has spotted the potential in a move to America as a way to reignite his career. With increased awareness of the league global due to improved TV rights and increased newspaper column inches, the MLS is booming and is now becoming a more interesting destination for players still with a lot to give. Historically European based players have viewed the league as their last paycheck before retiring with the likes of Alessandro Nesta and Arne Friedrich moving to the league to extend their careers by a few more years. With a slightly slower pace to the game and superstar treatment given to designated or foreign players willing to play in the league, aging players have reacted kindly to the MLS as a more lucrative and attractive option than dropping down the leagues in their home countries. 

Alessandro Nesta turns out for Montreal in the MLS (Image from MLS)

Alessandro Nesta turns out for Montreal in the MLS
(Image from MLS)

But now players still in their prime, like Reo-Coker and Robbie Keane are looking at the league, not as a personal money spinner but as an opportunity to play competitive football week in week out, with the hopes that they can raise their profiles again to a level that attracts either interest from European clubs or international managers. Keane’s move to LA Galaxy not only breathed new life into his career, which was slowly on a downward spiral in England but possibly extended his Ireland adventure as well. Reo-Coker, who left Championship side, Bolton in the summer thought he was a good enough prospect for a Premiership club to come in for him but he was wrong and ended up signing for Ipswich Town in what was likely to be a very disappointing move for the player. Despite putting the best spin on it as he could calling the move ”  the right club at the right time for me” and proclaiming ” Ipswich are a sleeping giant in the Championship – a massive club with a great history”, after going through another transfer window with no interest, he decided to leave the club.

Reo-Coker's stay at Ipswich didn't last long (Image from Getty)

Reo-Coker’s stay at Ipswich didn’t last long
(Image from Getty)

Although it was Portland who actually approached Reo-Coker first and therefore hold his discovery rights (a bizarre system created by the league to avoid monopolies of players and complex salary negotiations), they decided to sell these on to Vancouver instead much to Reo-Coker’s delight as he wanted to work with head coach Martin Rennie after been impressed by his professionalism. He joins a growing Vancouver squad that already boasts the likes of Scotland international duo Kenny Miller and Barry Robson, Irish centre back Andy O’Brien and former USA players, Jay DeMerit and Joe Cannon. Reo-Coker will be looked upon as the midfield rock that Vancouver will build around when the season finally kicks off in less than two weeks time. With aspirations to play international football in the future, Reo-Coker will be keen to cement his place early and impress all that are watching both in Vancouver and abroad.

New teammate, Kenny Miller (Image from AP)

New teammate, Kenny Miller
(Image from AP)

Although capped at England Under 21 level, Nigel has the opportunity to play for Sierra Leone having spent 6 years there as a child whilst his father was working in the country as a doctor. Reo-Coker had originally be open to the approach from the west african nation but when called up to play in a recent African Nations qualifying match, the player had a sudden change of heart stating that he would rather focus on his then Aston Villa career and a potential return to the England set up. Now three years on, and settling into his new life in Vancouver with the Whitecaps, an England call up looks literally a million miles away. At only 28, he still has the potential to play for England but appearing for Sierra Leone now might be the more realistic option.  But first he needs to do the business as they say for Vancouver. He has less than fourteen days to prove his fitness if he is to make the season opener away to fellow Canadian side Toronto FC, now led by Ryan Nelsen. Reo-Coker will want to show the world that he can still play at the highest level, even if he won’t be doing it this season. He will undoubtably look towards a move back to England in a few years, once he has made his impact on the MLS. Until then, he will entertain from a far in one of the world’s fastest growing leagues.

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Brand Beckham Joins PSG With More Than One Goal In Mind

Beckham signs on for PSG (Image from weeks of speculation, David Beckham has finally chosen to reunite with former coach Carlos Ancelotti at PSG, much to the surprise of the manager himself. His surprise is not down to his reluctance to sign the player nor his faith in Beckham as an athlete but mostly at Beckham’s decision to join knowing that he will be likely be used as a pawn for the owners in their quest for world football domination. The mega rich Qatar-owned club see Beckham not as the piece of the puzzle missing that will help them win the league or the Champions league, instead viewing Beckham as the brand that will give them crucial inroads into the valuable Asian and US commercial markets.

Opening the door to Asia via Beckham (Image from Getty)

Opening the door to Asia via Beckham (Image from Getty)

Despite PSG’s vast wealth and rising pool of talent, they have so far been unable to crack the Japanese market, that is paved with golden opportunities for advertising and merchandise sales. In a world where additional sources of revenue become more valuable to a club than conventional ones like TV and player sales, the soccer mad Asian market, in particularly Japan and China offer more than their fair share of interesting prospects. Additionally the Qatar owners are looking westwards towards America with aspirations to open up a PSG offset franchise in the MLS, one that could act as a feeder club, both for players and revenue. Beckham holds the keys to both markets, having starred in one and being adore in the other.

PSG have aspirations to launch in the US

PSG have aspirations to launch in the US

The Beckham brand is now gone global but is only half of what the player is. At the heart of it still beats a footballer who wants to win trophies, cups and awards with whatever club he plays for. Beckham knows that the two go hand in hand and by joining PSG, both parties will gain from the partnership. Beckham has a chance at picking up yet another league title in another country, which would take his tally to four. With PSG storming Ligue 1, the title looks on the cards and would require very light lifting on the part of Beckham to make that happen. Indeed game time might be something he struggles with in Paris as Ancelotti already has amassed a squad full of talent in every position. And at 37, Beckham isn’t quite as able to get up and down the pitch as much as he would like. But to be fair this is not his core competence and has never really been the Ryan Giggs or Gareth Bale type of player. Beckham relies heavily on his unique array of passing and dead ball expertise to add value to any team he plays in and so far this has worked for him. At LA he tried to adapt his game and play deeper than he has previously in a defensive playmaker type role but was found wanting on several occasions due to his lack of pace and defensive capabilities. But in Ancelotti and PSG Beckham has a manager and team that only need him to do what he does best and still be successful.

Bend it like Beckham - David Beckham (Image from Getty)

Bend it like Beckham – David Beckham
(Image from Getty)

The former England captain knows he has one maybe two years left and wants to leave on a high rather than whimper out of the back door or fall into a lower league in England or in Europe where he will fade quicker and less publicly. After all this is a man who has built a brand recognisable by many across the globe and for all he protests around intrusion into his personal life, loves the attention he has gained through the years. But credit where credit is due, Beckham as worked hard to get where he is today, both on the pitch and off it. If PSG is to be his final swan song, then Beckham has chosen a club that could give him a send off like no other as a champion, in exchange of course for a small piece of Brand Beckham to be used across Asia and the US. Looks like a fair deal to me.

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Lampard MLS bound After Chelsea Snub

Lampard is now a Chelsea legend (Image from Getty)In a West Ham AGM in 1996, an animated Harry Redknapp, the then Hammers boss, reacted badly to a fan who questioned the inclusion of Frank Lampard in Harry’s first team plans, citing the player’s lack of talent and ability as the key reasons for his exclusion. Redknapp defended the player with a passionate statement saying that one day Lampard would be one of the best midfielders in the world. He continued by saying that the talented youngster would break records for club and country and would have a legacy that the fan would regret. Some 17 years on, it’s as if Redknapp could see the future as everything he predicted has come true. Lampard, through a strong work ethic and determination, has become one of the world’s best midfielders, breaking records for Chelsea as well as playing a pivotal role for his country over the past 14 years.

A young Frank listens to Harry Redknapp defending him at the AGM in 1996

A young Frank listens to Harry Redknapp defending him at the AGM in 1996

Lampard’s career with Chelsea has been nothing short of impressive since signing for the club in 2001 for a fee of £11 million. The midfielder has been a constant goal threat, banging in at least 10 goals a season for the past 10 years. This has helped Lampard to reach an amazing 195 goals for Chelsea in all competitions. His consistency made him a first pick on the team sheet for many a manager and during his time at Chelsea, Lampard has broken the record for the most ever Premier League appearances with the club with an amazing 384 matches under his belt.  

Lampard is a natural goalscorer (Image from

Lampard is a natural goalscorer
(Image from

 His form at club level propelled Lampard to the next stage of his career, a place within the England national team. Since making his debut in the 2-1 victory over Belgium in October 1999, Lampard has featured regularly for the national side at the heart of the midfield, usually accompanied by his partner in crime, Steven Gerrard. Over the past 14 years, Lampard has amassed 93 caps and has scored 26 goals, including vital strikes against World Champions Spain in a 1-0 victory at Wembley in 2011 and a disallowed goal against Germany in the 2010 World Cup that has caused many to call for the introduction of goal line technology. Having played a vital role in the winning of many Premiership titles, cups and international games, Lampard will go down in history as a legend for both Chelsea and England.

Partners in Crime - Gerrard and Lampard (Image from AP)

Partners in Crime – Gerrard and Lampard
(Image from AP)

Despite his advancing years, Lampard’s has continued to improve his game. For most of his career, Lampard has been an attacking midfielder, operating either as a central midfielder who pushes forward or as an advanced player who played behind the lone striker. But as the years have progressed, Lampard has taken up the role of a more defensive playmaker, using his extensive range of passing and awareness of the game he is in to maximum effect. For the Premiership’s greatest goal scoring midfielder (194 goals in 584 games), it has surely been a hard adjustment but Lampard has no sign of struggling to adapt. Whilst this means that his goal tally has been reduced, his overall play has increased, with the player passing more freely and openly than ever before.

Chelsea may be making yet another mistake with their contract policy that echo’s Arsenals – no player over 30 will be offered more than a one year contract. Having adopted the same policy whilst negotiating with Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba, the club ended up releasing the player who briefly joined Chinese club, Shanghai Shenhua, before signing on recent at Galatasaray. Arsenal’s policy may have worked for them but to be fair they have never had a player like Lampard in their ranks, who at 34 still has a lot to offer.  But Chelsea are unlikely to change their mind and will allow Lampard’s contract to end in the summer, much to the player’s disappointment.

Did Chelsea make a mistake in releasing Drogba? (Image from Getty)

Did Chelsea make a mistake in releasing Drogba?
(Image from Getty)

The question remains over what will be Lampard’s next move. Reports suggest that Lampard’s next move is to join Los Angeles Galaxy as David Beckham’s replacement. Originally thought to be chasing Real Madrid star Kaka, it would appear that they have lost out on this opportunity due to Kaka’ demands, with the player now likely bound for his old club AC Milan. LA has switched their attention back to Lampard, with manager Bruce Arena talking to the press about Lampard only a week ago:

“I wouldn’t be surprised if over the next week or so we’re going to have some sort of decision with a designated player. We wouldn’t rule a move for Lampard out. It’s always a possibility.”

The midfielder is keen to move as he looks to continue his career for a few more years yet. In the US, he will find a slower paced league where Lampard can showcase his superb passing ability and keen eye for goal. Chelsea’s loss could be Galaxy’s gain if the player if to make the move across the water. It will be yet another chapter in the success story of Frank Lampard who would give anything to meet that fan again from the 1994 AGM to show to him how wrong he was.

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Toronto Unable To Lock Down Full Nelsen

Ryan Nelsen takes over at Toronto (Image from Frank Gunn/AP)Toronto’s abysmal season last year and the gruelling post season interview between the media and head coach Paul Mariner, eventually led to his dismissal. Toronto need a fresh approach after more than a few disappointing seasons so have turned to QPR centre back Ryan Nelsen as the man to lead this. The 35-year-old New Zealand captain has had a distinguished career which has seen him take the field for Christchurch United, DC United, Blackburn, Tottenham and now Queens Park Rangers. But his new job, as Head coach of Toronto FC will end his playing days and begin what is sure to be a long career in football management. Nelsen, capped 49 times for his country, has a wealth of experience that he will undoubtedly bring to the role, once he actually starts. The problem is that Nelsen is under contract with QPR until this summer with the club keen for him to see out the term but with the new MLS season starting in March and pre season a month before, Toronto may be managerless for the first four months of the season. A farce is not quite what people are calling it, but its close.

New Boss for Nelsen - Payne (Image from

New Boss for Nelsen – Payne (Image from

Nelsen is tired. He has played in England’s top division for the last seven years and is now running on empty. With knees and ankles like glass, as Nelsoe himself describes it, it would appear that the time has come for the defender to hang up his boots. However he is still performing, week in, week out and is the main reason why QPR still have a chance of surviving a relegation dog fight. Manager Harry Redknapp knows this, hence why his reluctance to release the player to Toronto in this January transfer window. With little or no cash available to spend by Harry, assuming because Mark Hughes spent more than his share of it in the summer, finding a capable replacement for Nelsen may be tricky. Israeli Tal Ben Haim has arrived on a short-term contract to provide cover so could fill the slot left by Nelsen. Redknapp knows Ben Haim well from his time as Portsmouth boss so will be comfortable turning to the 30-year-old but he is not even half the leader than Nelsen is, who generals the QPR back line as if his life depended on it.

Nelsen gives his all for QPR (Image from Getty)

Nelsen gives his all for QPR
(Image from Getty)

For QPR it’s a sad state of affairs that your best defender is a soon to be retired 35-year-old. Nothing against Nelsen or older players as such but looking at the money Hughes invested, especially in his back line, you have to wonder what has gone wrong. Along with Nelsen, Hughes brought in Portuguese right back Jose Bosingwa (Free) , centre back Stephane Mbia (£4.5million) and left back Fabio (loan deal), as well as two experienced goalkeepers in England’s Rob Green and Brazil’s Julio Cesar.  All are internationally capped players  (granted Fabio only has two caps and is still 22) and most arrived for a considerable fee but yet are unable to form an effective back line between them or the players who were already at QPR – Nedum Onuoha, Anton Ferdinand, Clint Hill, Armand Traoré and Luke Young. For Nelsen, who this season should be enjoying one of his last full seasons as a professional, it’s a sad state of affairs that Redknapp has no option but to use him in every game, despite his tiring legs.

New Zealand celebrate scoring against Italy at the World Cup (Image from

New Zealand celebrate scoring against Italy at the World Cup (Image from

For the New Zealand legend, who captain his side to their first ever FIFA World Cup appearance in 2010, the next chapter of his career looks to be happening back across the pond in the MLS, where his career began. He is due to meet with Redknapp and QPR owner Tony Fernandes to plead for his release at the end of the January transfer window, but this is unlikely to happen unless QPR can find a replacement. West Brom’s Swedish defender Jonas Olsson is a likely option whilst Tottenham defenders William Gallas and Michael Dawson are rumoured to be targets as well, mainly as the duo are known to Redknapp and played for him at Spurs. Gallas will be the more likely of the two to join as either no fee or a minimal fee would be required for the experienced 35-year-old French defender. Dawson would be the preferred option but Tottenham will be looking for a fee around £6million before they let the player leave White Hart Lane. Regardless of who arrives, Redknapp will want to reach a conclusion to the Nelsen decision soon as he holds too much respect for the player to drag it on and delay the inevitable.

Possible Options? Dawson and Gallas (Image from AP)

Possible Options? Dawson and Gallas (Image from AP)

For Toronto FC new club President Kevin Payne (who worked with Nelsen at DC United) the waiting game is now on, with a slim chance that his new head coach will arrive before pre season begins in late January. There is more chance of Nelson being in place by the season opener against Vancouver Whitecaps on March 2nd but there is also a chance that he won’t take up the job until Toronto’s home game against Montreal Impact on July 3rd, some 16 games into the 34 game season.  Payne will be praying that QPR backs down and releases the player so he can move to Canada and start the next phase of his life. Payne will also know that hiring Nelsen is a gamble, regardless of the start date as he has no coaching licences and has not managed until now. If Nelsen can turn around Toronto’s fortunes and lead them to a reasonable;e finish in the Eastern conference and potentially a CONCAF Champions League place then his lack of paperwork or experience will be forgotten. If he can’t and Toronto replicate the run that they showed this year, it may not be only Nelson that is looking for pastures new once again.

Palace Finally Have Something To Cheer About

US CheerleadersWhen soccer first landed on US shores, it wasn’t deemed exciting enough to watch so plans were put in place to add glitz and glamour to it. In the present day, the MLS has introduced a variety of additions in and around the game to keep the watching public entertained. One such addition is drawn from a variety of US sports including Basketball and American football – Cheerleaders.

Cheerleading has been around since the 1870’s, firstly as all male cheerleading teams then later introducing women into the fold which has gradually become the norm. From middle school to high school to college and professional troupes, cheerleading has grown into a national past time in the US and its now spreading its wings further with several countries embracing the sport. For the British football fans, cheerleaders at games was a foreign concept for a long time, with pies and bovril the only half time entertainment as such. That was until some clubs decided to lead the way and introduce cheerleaders into their pre game and half time show.

Blackburn Rovers Andrew gain alot of negative media attention

Blackburn Rovers Andrew gain alot of negative media attention

Blackburn Rovers was surprisingly one of the first teams to introduce cheerleaders into is pre game and half time entertainment shows but other clubs like Fulham, Sheffield Wednesday and West Ham have followed suit. Whilst they have all attracted some media attention, notably Blackburn in 2007 due to their inclusion of the UK’s first male cheerleader called Andrew and West Ham for their fairly raunchy performances, none have captured the media’s attention as much as Crystal Palace’s team, known simply as The Crystals.

Crystal Palace's cheerleaders, The Crystals

Crystal Palace’s cheerleaders, The Crystals

Whilst they have received a lot of negative remarks from their own fans recently who blame them for the teams poor form instead of the players themselves, what The Crystals have done is help to build the clubs brand across the globe with their clever marketing efforts. The Crystals have taken to social media and released a series of song cover versions that have gathered millions of views on YouTube alone. Their cover of the Carly Rae Jepson song “Call me, Maybe” has been viewed nearly 2 million times, their latest cover of Psy’s “Gangnam Style” is at 1.2million and growing daily and the girls have just released their christmas version of Mariah Carey’s ” All I want for Christmas is you” which looks like it will follow the same path as the previous releases.

Gangnam Style - The Crystals

Gangnam Style – The Crystals

Regardless of how you view this, be it a promotion gimic or a tasteless distraction in the beautiful game, The Crystals and the other cheerleading troupes continue to perform in front of crowds in all types of weather, regardless of how the team is performing. Most troupes are made up of genuine fans of the clubs who are passionate about what they do and receive no form of compensation for doing it. The question of if it adds anything to the fans enjoyment of the game is still unresolved but for most, particularly Palace fans, it’s a welcome distraction for the poor performances they are having to watch on the pitch.

To watch the Crystals version of Call me Maybe, click here:

To watch the Crystals version of Gangnam, click here:

To watch the Crystals version of All I want, click here:

Redknapp Faces Up To His Hardest Challenge Yet

Harry Redknapp, new QPR managerHarry Redknapp must be wondering what he has taken on as he looks at his new QPR squad and the up coming fixtures. The veteran English manager, who took over from Mark Hughes at Loftus Road at the end of November, is a formidable record for turning teams over the years. Look at what he did with Tottenham for example. Sitting in the bottom of the Premiership after a disastrous time under Juande Ramos, Harry left Portsmouth to take over at White Hart Lane and transformed the team into title challengers within 2 years.  He instilled confidence in the team once more and worked with players who had struggled to find form and position such as Gareth Bale which started the revival. His work at Spurs was so impressive that most fans felt he was a certainty for the England manager’s job after the departure of Fabio Capello, only to be surprisingly overlooked in favour of Roy Hodgson. Harry’s confidence took a knock which eventually led to his dismissal from Tottenham due to a poor end to the season, but his qualities as a manager made it only a matter of time before he resurfaced at another club.

When the call came from QPR owner Tony Fernandes, Harry jumped at the chance, despite contractual negotiations being underway with the Ukrainian Football Federation over their top job, the national manager’s position. But Harry favoured a return to the Premiership rather than a 1,000 mile journey to the former Soviet Republic. However his new challenge could quite easily be the hardest one Harry has ever faced. With QPR rooted to the bottom of the Premiership with only 4 points in the first 13 games, Harry took over the club on the 24th November for the match against Manchester Untied. Harry decided to sit in the stands for this match and let caretakers Mark Bowen and Eddie Niedzwiecki, he watched as his new side were dispatched 3-1 by a rampant United team and highlight the various problems that exist at Queens Park Rangers.

Task in Hand - new boss, Harry Redknapp

Task in Hand – new boss, Harry Redknapp

A team lacking in confidence, desperate for direction and tactical awareness on the pitch, a squad heavy with over paid new signings unable to gel or adapt to life in the Premiership, with disgruntled players and ego’s off the pitch, Harry was facing up to a spider-web of problems to solve. The legacy that Mark Hughes had created was starting to look more like a nightmare. Hughes, for all his managerial skills and abilities had foolishly spent heavily over the summer bringing in a host of new players in a desperate attempt to completely revamp his squad and remove all reminders from the Neil Warnock era. Wranock had left Loftus Road in January 2012 with the team struggling in the league, but what he had done was build a strong team of grafters who would fight for each point. Although not technically gifted nor exciting to watch, his approached worked in the first few months of the season  job but ultimately struggled in the few months before his sacking, due to injuries, suspensions, fitness and lack of creativity in the final third. Hughes scrapped that philosophy as soon as he arrived and deemed several players as no longer needed.

Mark Hughes struggled to change QPR's fortunes

Mark Hughes struggled to change QPR’s fortunes

Over the summer he brought in a host of big name players – goalkeepers Robert Green and Julio Cesar, defenders Jose Bosingwa, Nedum Onuoha, Ryan Nelson, Fabio, midfielders Park Ji-Sung, Esteban Granero, Junior Hoilett, Samba Diakité and strikers Bobby Zamora, Djibril Cissé and Andrew Johnson in an attempt to turn the fortunes of the club around but still struggled to do so. After a poor end to last season and an even poorer start to this season, Fernandes could support Hughes no longer and dispatched with his services. Harry was an easy choice for the owner and with the a pedigree for turning things around, he was confident that Harry was the best choice too. After three games in charge, Harry has halted the clubs losing streak but has yet been able to get his first three points, managing only 3 draws so far. Saturday’s 2-2 draw with relegation candidates Reading was probably Harry’s best chance, and now faces a tough next 5 games against sides in the top half of the table.

One of Hughes many signing, Park Ji Sung

One of Hughes many signing, Park Ji Sung

Redknapp knows he has the squad capable of turning the season around and will likely have to rely on them as transfer funds in January are likely to be limited. Harry may be able to bring in some players on loan and may look towards the US for an injection of fresh talent. As the MLS season finishes and is not due to restart until March, players like Tim Cahill, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane are all looking for short-term loans to keep their fitness levels up. Redknapp knows all these players well having managed Keane before at Tottenham and has seen Donovan and Keane up close during their time at Everton. All three would offer a new dimension to the team and with experience in the league all ready, would be able to adapt with ease. Regardless of what Redknapp decides, he has a job on his hands to change the fortunes of the club. He needs to take his talented squad and get them to play together quickly. His approach is likely to be focused on the basics first, creating a solid spine to the team and a tight defense. If he can stop the goals being conceded, Redknapp and his coaches Jordan and Allen, will then work with his strikers to give them back the confidence they need to start scoring again. If he can manage this, it will be only a matter of time before QPR start to climb up the table once again.

Chivas End Cruyff Experiment

Johan Cruyff's mexican stay has endedJohan Cruyff’s hiring in February of this year as special consultant to FC Chivas de Guadalajara in the Mexican league was seen by many as a pr stunt. His job was never quite articulated so many wondered what the former dutch internationalist would be doing day-to-day and with little to no connection to Chivas before the appointment, why he was going in the first place. Cruyff was not lacking opportunities with both Liverpool and Tottenham apparently keen on hiring him as director of football. Neither did in the end, but Cruyff’s next role, at the age of 65 was more likely to be closer to his homes in Spain and Holland than across the Atlantic in Mexico. Nevertheless, the legendary figure accepted his new role in February 2012 from owner Jorge Vergara, in an apparent response to the clubs poor run of form that season.

Chivas for those who aren’t aware are the most successful club in Mexico, having won 11 league titles and numerous cups since its foundation in 1906. It’s current first team contains some of Mexico’s brightest prospects like midfielder Marco Fabián and striker Erick Torres, both of whom are being watched carefully by a host of European clubs following Mexico’s surprise victory in the London Olympics this summer. Despite the positive feelings about the club and its booming youth setup, Chivas has its fair share of problems. Since Jorge Vergara took over at the club in 2002, he has not been far away from controversy. In 2003, whilst attending an MLS conference, he publicly announced that the league would have a Chivas expansion team in it – Chivas USA, which indeed happened the following year. Whether that was as planned by the MLS or more forced upon them is anyone’s guess. Chivas USA has done well in the league since its inception, embracing the US style of play, growing its fan base and even introducing its own cheerleaders, the Chiva Girls. Vergara has other expansion plans and has been proactively looking for further ways to extend the Chivas brand to anyone who listens but so far has been unsuccessful.

The Chiva Girls take centre stage during half time

The Chiva Girls take centre stage during half time

Meanwhile back in Mexico, Vergara’s patience for managers is well-known to be minimum. Chivas has churned through its fair share of managers in his time in charge, growing similarities to a well-known British club with a russian billionaire of the same ilk. When Cruyff was brought in earlier this year, his first job was to find a new manager so the legend turned to fellow Dutchman John van ‘t Schip as the man he wanted. Hired in April, his task was simple – to win but so far the Dutchman has had limited success which may have ultimately led to his countryman’s dismissal earlier this week.

On Monday the club released a press statement stating that Cruyff no longer had a position at Chivas and had his contract terminated with immediate effect:

“The club has decided to terminate the services and consultancy with the company of Mr Johan Cruyff. This is because of not meeting the outcomes and objectives that have been established since the beginning of the contractual relationship. The coaching Staff will not be affected, therefore technical director, trainer and technical assistants will continue to work with the club. The club thank Mr Johan Cruyff for the support and collaboration he has provided.”

This was news to Cruyff who found out of his sacking by various news sources and social media sites. He hasn’t been able to speak to the club to confirm it, but the release by Chivas leaves little grey areas around what they are trying to say. Cruyff is understandably confused and upset by the recent events and spoke to a dutch newspaper yesterday about his apparent dismissal:

“I don’t know anything about it, I’m finding out about it now. I’m trying to find out what’s going on”

Chivas owner Jorge Vergara sacked Cruyff

Chivas owner Jorge Vergara sacked Cruyff

Whether Chivas were right to terminate Cruyff’s contract will be in the hands of his lawyers and no doubt FIFA but from the clubs prospective, they felt they brought him in to do a job which he had failed at. Chivas are not ready to get rid of their manager and are keeping faith with John van ‘t Schip, for the time being at least. However if Jorge Vergara’s record is anything to go by, Van ‘t Schip may be following Cruyff out of the revolving door at Chivas shortly.