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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Leeds Woes Continue With Yet Another Managerial Change

The drama at Leeds never seems to end after yet another turbulent week for the Elland Road club. It started on Monday when manager Uwe Rosler was sacked following a poor start to the new season. The likeable German only arrived at the club in May following the dismissal of previous boss Neil Redfearn but in the end was only given twelve games to show progress. Leeds 2-1 defeat to Brighton on Saturday which saw them slip down to 18th in the English Championship proved to be the final straw for owner Massimo Cellino who has a growing reputation for wielding the axe quickly and swiftly. It’s the sixth time that he has done so since taking over in early 2014. The colourful yet controversial Italian has dismissed Brian McDermott, Dave Hockaday, Neil Redfearn (twice), Darko Milanic and now Rosler in his search for the perfect manager that can lead Leeds back to the Premiership. Less than a day after Rosler left, Steve Evans was appointed by Cellino who himself hit the headlines again after being banned by the Football League for the second time in under a year.

Sacked - Uwe Rosler (Image from Getty)

Sacked – Uwe Rosler (Image from Getty)

Cellino’s reign at Leeds has been nothing short of disastrous with Leeds failing to make any progress towards stability. The nature of Cellino’s takeover is still under question, whilst his murky past which led him to fail the Football Leagues proper ownership test remains a principal concern. Added into this the nature in which Cellino has conducted himself at Leeds, often speaking badly about the club’s manager, sacking key members of the playing and backroom staff without the managers knowledge and appointing individuals to the club without clarification of role or responsibilities has left the fans dazed and confused. Cellino’s current ban should restrict him from damaging the club further yet the Italian’s tenticles are so entrenched in the club, including appointing his children as directors on the board that decoupling may be trickier than first feared.

Controversial owner Cellino has been banned yet again  (Image from Getty)

Controversial owner Cellino has been banned yet again
(Image from Getty)

To be fair to Cellino, Leeds problems started well before his arrival and their implosion began during Peter Risdale’s period as owner. Risdale, like many owners had dreams of conquering Europe and for a time it looked like that might be possible for Leeds. Under manager David O’Leary, Leeds became a challenger for European honours making it to the semi finals of the Champions League in the 2000-2001 season. That team, which included Rio Ferdinand, Jonathan Woodgate, Alan Smith, Robbie Keane and Harry Kewell would eventually be beaten by Valencia over two legs and that defeat would signal the beginning of the end. To reach that semi final, Risdale had done the unthinkable by taking out huge loans to chase the ultimate dream. When that dream collapsed, so did Leeds who quickly had to dismantle their star-studded team in order to pay  off the debt. As the stars exited, Leeds on field performances began to suffer and eventually they fell into the deepest of slides, one which they still haven’t quite recovered from.

Leeds star studded 2001 team  (Image from Getty)

Leeds star studded 2001 team
(Image from Getty)

From a nostalgic prospective, seeing Leeds in this situation is heartbreaking to most English fans (except perhaps those on the red side of Manchester). Leeds United’s rich history in the English game sets them apart from others as one of the iconic teams of the British game. The belief that the club can recover and return to the Premiership is still there but the harsh reality is that organizationally Leeds are miles away from being ready. There are some glimmering lights however most notably the emergence of several promising players from the club’s youth system. Once a constant source of quality graduates, the Leeds Academy had appeared to have dried up in recent years but the promotion of Sam Byram, Lewis Cook and Alex Mowatt are the first real signs of recovery. Unfortunately for Evans, Leeds will remain as a selling club for the foreseeable future due to the nature of the current game. Holding on to these players will be difficult especially if they continue to impress. If they are to leave for substantial fees the club must redirect the monies raised back into the first team and youth development as that will be the bloodstream of the club going forward. Staying in the Championship is the goal for this season with the hope that stability can be restored in the long-term to the club. Once restored, Leeds can start to plan for the future with some positivity and aim to make it back to the Premiership where they rightly or wrongly believe they belong.

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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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Goal Celebration Ends In Tragedy With The Death Of Player

Tragic - Peter Biaksangzuala (Image from PA)Goal celebrations are a fairly new affair having only started in the past few decades. Previously players celebrated with a hearty handshake or pat on the back but in recent years this has changed into elaborate expressions of joy and exuberance.  Whilst a majority of these new celebrations are risk free, a few players have started to show more dramatic and acrobatic celebrations like somersaults and back flips. Ireland’s Robbie Keane and Portugal’s Nani are two examples of players who use their training from junior years in athletics to dazzling effects. However in a tragic case in India, one such celebration went tragically wrong with the worst outcome.

Nani celebrates a goal whilst playing for Manchester United  (Image from Getty)

Nani celebrates a goal whilst playing for Manchester United
(Image from Getty)

Bethlehem Vengthland midfielder Peter Biaksangzuala died after landing awkwardly while performing a somersault shortly after scoring in a Indian league match against Chanmari West. In the fall he severely damaged his spinal chord and sadly died in hospital five days later. At 23 years old, his death shocked Indian football and has has a detrimental effect on his teammates who are struggling to cope with the passing of their close friend. It was not the first time that Biaksangzuala had performed this acrobatic manoeuvre so his teammates were used to seeing it. However this time as he landed heavily and failed to get back up quickly, they realized something was horribly wrong and called on the medical team to come help him. Despite efforts on the pitch and subsequent treatment at a nearby hospital, nothing could be done with the player slipping away later that week. His club has been quick to retire his number 21 shirt in tribute to their fallen player.

Biaksangzuala's somersault ends in tragic circumstances  (Image from AFP)

Biaksangzuala’s somersault ends in tragic circumstances
(Image from AFP)

His death has prompted questions and debate on whether FIFA could get involved to prevent further tragedies by introducing limitations on what players can do during celebrations. Currently players can be booked for removing their jerseys, covering their faces with a mask or encroaching onto the crowd however as yet no further guidelines have been structured. FIFA has reiterated that any changes to the rules can be submitted by a country’s FA but needs the approval of the International Football Association Board (IFAB).  Enforcing a new policy would fall to the referees but in the case of Biasksangzuala the referee was powerless to prevent such an incident from happening. It may be down to the clubs as employers to enforce a policy in order to protect their assets but as yet it hasn’t become an issue that clubs take note of. Perhaps now though, the tragic and shocking death of such a young and talented player will make them reconsider this and act quickly in order to prevent another player from dying on the pitch from simply celebrating a goal.

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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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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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World Cup Hangover Hands Hope To Europe’s Smaller Nations

Three games played and maximum points obtained for Northern Ireland and Iceland has placed them in a good position in their quest to end their respective hiatuses from international competitions. Having never qualified for the European Championships and possessing only limited exposure at World Cups (Northern Ireland have qualified three times – 1958, 1982 and 1986 whilst Iceland have never made it) both nations are desperate to qualify for France 2016. The startling improvements in both sides over recent years have given hope to their legions of fans who are praying that this is the time that they will make it. Having suffered heartbreak during the last World Cup qualifying campaign by narrowly missing out thanks to a playoff defeat by Croatia, Iceland have once again stepped up and are showcasing  the talents of what many are describing as a new golden generation. Convincing wins over Turkey and Latvia were swiftly followed by a shock 2-0 win over Holland on Monday past that has left Lars Lagerbeck’s side top of Group A, level on points with the Czech Republic. To suggest Holland were off the pace would be accurate with their World Cup heroic’s still heavy on their legs but credit must be given to Iceland who battled hard and created several good chances throughout the game and deserved the points. Whilst Holland licks their wounds under new coach Guus Hiddink, Iceland can prepare for their next game against the Czech’s safe in the knowledge that significant progress has been made in their bid to qualify for France.

Iceland continue to show improvements with a well fought 2-0 win over Holland (Image from Getty)

Iceland continue to show improvements with a well fought 2-0 win over Holland
(Image from Getty)

In Group F, Northern Ireland gave their chances a dramatic boost with three stunning wins over the Faroe Islands, Hungary and Greece putting them top of the pile. Norwich striker Kyle Lafferty has been in exceptional form scoring in all three games but it’s at the back that Northern Ireland have looked so impressive. Roy Carroll has rolled back the years with a series of fine performances in goal whilst Aaron Hughes and Gareth McAuley have marshaled the defense against some top opposition. In the last game against Greece in particular, the Northern Irish backline stifled attack after attack by the Greeks who like Holland have failed to spark under a new manager, Claudio Ranieri. The group is far from over for Northern Ireland with a long way still to go including tough matches against Finland, Romania and Greece to come but manager Michael O’Neill will take much optimism from the performances of his team in their opening few games which has left his side with a strong chance of qualification.

Lafferty sinks Greece (Image from Getty)

Lafferty sinks Greece
(Image from Getty)

The World Cup hangover appears to have affected several of Europe’s top nations including its current world champions. Having gone all the way in Brazil, Germany looked odds on favourites to top their group and progress to the European Championships in France for a shot at winning an historic double. But it would appear that the hangover from the party following their World Cup win has not yet subsided after three below par performances. One win, a draw and a shock defeat to Poland has Joachim Low’s team lying in third place in the group on four points with it all to do. After the retirement of the influential defensive pair of Philip Lahm and Per Mertesacker, Germany have looked less than convincing at the back. Manager Joachim Low has drafted in several potential solutions but none look as convincing as the exiting duo. Germany’s problems are not just limited to the back either with issues upfront as well. With Miroslav Klose finally calling time on his international career and an injury to Chelsea’s Andreas Schurrle, the World champions have struggled to convert the simplest of chances in their last three games. In total Germany created 35 chances in their opening group games against Scotland, Poland and Republic of Ireland converting only three of them. Borussia Monchengladbach striker Max Kruse has been identified as the successor to Klose’s crown but has yet to replicate his goal scoring club form on the international stage.

Kruse has yet to replicate his club form for Germany (Image from PA)

Kruse has yet to replicate his club form for Germany
(Image from PA)

Scotland’s chances of reaching their first international tournament in over 16 years stayed on track with a well fought 2-2 draw with Poland. After losing to Germany in game one and then beating Georgia at Ibrox on Saturday by a single goal, Gordon Strachan’s team travelled to Warsaw to face a buoyant Poland, who had surprised many with their 2-0 win over Germany. The game was ninety minutes full of end to end action with neither team willing to walk away with nothing. In the end a draw was a fair result and leaves both teams in contention for qualification. Next up for Strachan and Scotland is a home match against Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland with both managers knowing that only three points will do in what is becoming an increasingly open group. Having held Germany to a 1-1 draw in their last match (thanks to a 94th minute equalizer by John O’Shea), the Republic travel to Glasgow next month with seven points from a possible nine. After collecting maximum points against Georgia and Gibraltar in the first two matches, the hard fought point against an arguably tougher foe in Germany will give the Republic of Ireland belief that they can beat Scotland in their own back yard. With all time leading goal scorer Robbie Keane back firing at all cylinders, the Scots will need to be cautious next month if they are to gain any points.

John O'Shea scores a last minute equalizer against Germany (Image from BPI/Kieran McManus)

John O’Shea scores a last minute equalizer against Germany
(Image from BPI/Kieran McManus)

Wales too are playing a cautious game after an impressive start to their qualifying campaign. Wins over Andorra and Cyprus plus a 0-0 draw with Bosnia has put Wales top of the group but with a series of difficult matches ahead against Belgium and Israel, Wales are taking nothing for granted. Led by the talents of Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale and Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey, this youthful looking Welsh side hold strong belief that they can reach France 2016 and end the welsh fans misery. Having only ever reached one World Cup (1958) and one European Championship (1976), the welsh fans have been starved of competitive international tournaments for too long and are now looking towards manager Chris Coleman and his new batch of players to correct this problem. Hope is high in the welsh valleys but like the Republic of Ireland, Iceland, Northern Ireland and Scotland there is still a long way to go.

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Scotland Take Aim For France And Euro 2016

Tom Hanks stars in Saving private Ryan (Image from Getty)In 1998, Tom Hanks starred in the hit movie Saving Private Ryan about a team of men on an almost impossible mission to rescue Matt Damon (Private Ryan) from deep within Germany. Their journey was long and treacherous with several heartbreaks along the way but eventually they made it to their goal and recued Ryan. 1998 was also the last year that Scotland qualified for a major international tournament – the World Cup in France. Like Saving Private Ryan, Scotland has been on a long journey that has seen eight heartbreaking attempts to qualify ending in failure. They have lost managers along the way (seven in total) but still they have persevered. After all Scotland’s goal is to finally end their 16 year hiatus from the international stage and make it to one of footballs premiere events. Now bossed by Gordon Strachan, optimism was high ahead of their new campaign – Euro 2016, with pride and belief firmly back in place. That was until the draw was made which has placed Scotland in one of the toughest groups, facing up to World Champions Germany, Poland, Republic of Ireland, Georgia and Gibraltar.

Scotland's last appearance was at France 1998  (Image from DailyRecord)

Scotland’s last appearance was at France 1998
(Image from DailyRecord)

With the German’s favourite to claim top spot, all eyes are focused on the second automatic qualification spot (now in effect since UEFA changed the number of teams competing in the finals from 16 to 24). Qualification won’t be easy especially given the teams Scotland has to face. Poland, inspired by their captain Robert Lewandowski will be no push over’s as they showed against England in the last World Cup qualifying sections. Despite having an aging squad, Scotland will face a strong Polish side that are highly organized and like to attack on the break. The two teams are schedule to play each other in a friendly in March which will help them both to eye up potential weaknesses or hidden dangers. How much will be on show is unknown as both managers will be mindful to keep their cards close to their chests ahead of the qualifying games that actually matter.

Dangerman - Robert Lewandowski  (Image from Reuters)

Dangerman – Robert Lewandowski
(Image from Reuters)

The Republic of Ireland have been reborn with a new manager in Martin O’Neill, supported by the fiery Roy Keane, and will be looking to make Euro 2016 after failing to clinch a place at the World Cup this summer in Brazil. With a host of exciting youngsters like Seamus Coleman, Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick coming into the team, O’Neill is building for the future. The need for freshness has never been greater with talisman Robbie Keane, Andy Reid, Richard Dunne and Shay Given reaching the twig light years of their careers. Keane in particular has yet to commit to another campaign which could come as some welcome news to Scotland. The Los Angeles Galaxy striker has lead the line for Ireland for well over a decade now and has been their biggest threat. But general wear and tear plus a desire to prolong his career in the USA could force the former Inter Milan and Spurs striker to call it a day. With or without Keane, Ireland still pose a realistic threat to Scotland’s chances of qualifying and Strachan is well aware of this.

O'Neill and Keane look to mastermind Ireland's qualification  (Image from Getty)

O’Neill and Keane look to mastermind Ireland’s qualification
(Image from Getty)

Whilst Georgia and Gibraltar are outsiders in the group to qualify, both are out to prove something which could spell trouble for Scotland. Georgia continues to build their reputation on the international stage and under former Newcastle and Georgia legend, Temuri Ketsbaia they are making significant strides. He has built a side for the future with Rostov’s Jano Ananidze and Fortuna Dusseldorf’s Levan Kenia notable stand outs. Their biggest problem has been upfront where they have failed to fill the boots of former Rangers striker Shota Arveladze but the so far uncapped Giorgi Iluridze, who plies his trade with Hakduk Spilt, may provide the answer. Gibraltar will embark on an historic campaign when they kick off against Poland in September. It will be only their fifth ever match and their very first qualification game after being granted UEFA membership early last year. The team is made up of mostly semi professionals but will be out to show that they are not just there to make up the numbers.  Like San Marino and Andorra before, they will likely defend in numbers in the hope of pulling off a draw, much like they did against Slovakia last November.

Replacement needed for Shota Arveladze  (Image from Reuters)

Replacement needed for Shota Arveladze
(Image from Reuters)

This may be Scotland’s best chance of qualifying for a while with two automatic spots up for grabs and a best placed third spot available too. They will need full points against Georgia and Gibraltar and a minimum of two wins from four against Poland and Ireland to stand a chance. They will also need Germany to do a clean sweep of the group to make it an even playing field and a three horse race. Strachan will not be expecting much from the two games against Germany but given recent history where Scotland have shocked the likes of France and Holland with victories, maybe snatching a point or three against Joachim Low’s team is not necessarily out of the question. If they can reach the twenty point mark, qualification to Euro 2016 could be within their grasps. The irony of a return to France has not been lost but there is still a long and treacherous journey ahead before they can achieve their goal.

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LA Blues As Galaxy Crash Out Of Champions League

It’s a hard pill to swallow when you come so close to a final that you can taste it but this season’s CONCACAF Champions League final will not feature an MLS team after its last participant, Los Angeles Galaxy were knocked out over two legs by Mexican side, Monterrey. Having narrowly lost the first leg 2-1 at home, LA travelled to Mexico with optimism in the hope that reaching the final was still in their hands. With a solid backline and a formidable strike force of Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, LA knew they had the team capable of winning the game and progressing. But instead it will be an all Mexican final as Monterrey progressed to face Santos Laguna later this month after they beat Los Angeles again, this time by a solitary goal, which meant a 3-1 aggregate score and elimination for Galaxy.

Donovan was unable to find his stride  (Image from  Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)

Donovan was unable to find his stride
(Image from Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)

In a hostile environment, LA performed admirably but their efforts were in vain as they could find the finishing touch that has been with them this season in the league. At the back, the duo of former Monterrey player Omar Gonzalez and his defensive partner Leonardo held together a somewhat nervous back four but managed to shut down every opportunity that Monterrey had. The Mexican side, who have won this tournament for the past two years, looked dangerous in the first half, creating a series of good chances but Gonzalez was up to the challenge and shut them out. Galaxy too had chances in the first half, the best of which fell to Gonzalez, who was supported at the game by his family, found himself in space in the box but was unable to poke the ball past a confident Juan De Dios Ibarra in the Monterrey goal.

MaGee's exclusion baffled many  (Image from Getty)

MaGee’s exclusion baffled many
(Image from Getty)

The second half started much as the first half had finished with a frantic pace to it and several chances falling to either side. Carlos Cudicini looked solid in-goal for Los Angeles, which historically has always been a weak area of their team. The Italian used all of his experience to get down well early in the second half to block a de Nigris effort, keeping the game tied. With the minutes ticking away, Galaxy pushed forward and created two goal scoring opportunities with efforts by Juninho and Donovan were stopped well by Juan De Dios Ibarra. With nine minutes left the deadlock was broke but unfortunately for Galaxy, it was Cudicini that was picking the ball out of his net after a De Nigris strike crept past him to put Monterrey ahead by 3-1 on aggregate. LA heads didn’t drop, much to the delight of coach Bruce Arena but were unable to find a way back into the game before the final whistle blew.

Goalscorer Aldo de Nigris celebrates (Image from AP Photo/Alfredo Lopez-JAM MEDIA)

Goalscorer Aldo de Nigris celebrates (Image from AP Photo/Alfredo Lopez-JAM MEDIA)

Galaxy started the match with optimism, with the return of captain Landon Donovan, making his first appearance this season. He did manage to play the entire game but whilst Donovan is a tireless worker and runner, he is highly predictable and was easily stifled by the Monterrey players. Keane, so often the focal point for LA, couldn’t find the space he needed to perform some of his special brand of magic and left the field frustrated and annoyed by his own performance. Arena took a bold move at the start of the match by leaving Mike Magee on the bench, which was somewhat of a surprise to many, most notably Magee himself.

Whether the midfielder would have been able to give the team anything more than they had on the pitch  from the start will be for the analysts to decide but realistically, the tie was lost at home some weeks ago at home in Los Angeles. Monterrey will go on from here in hope of a hat trick of Champions League trophies whilst Galaxy head back to the drawing board. They will get another crack at the tournament this summer when it kicks off again in earnest but before that they must now travel to Texas to face an inform Dallas side looking for blood. Bruce Arena will be delighted with that prospect after his team gave it all under tricky conditions in Mexico.

 

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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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.

Donovan To Leave Under The Cover Of Beckham

Landon DonovanYesterday’s MLS Cup final saw the end of David Beckham’s MLS stay. The former England captain made the call in advance of the final so it was only natural for the attention of the day to be focused on golden balls himself. However someone else may be following Beckham out of the LA door, that would send bigger shock waves across the US. Landon Donovan is idolised by the LA and US fans. He is their David Beckham and has been the poster boy for US soccer for the last decade. A product of the US youth Soccer development program, Donovan has it all – the skills, the looks and the lifestyle. But in recent months Donovan has seemed out of sorts.

For most US-based players, when the regular MLS season ends at the start of December, they look towards loan deals to Europe for three months to keep their fitness levels up. Donovan has twice done this, going on loan to Everton in the English Premiership, and having impressed both times, David Moyes was keen to make it a hat trick. But Donovan rejected the approach saying instead that he would rather spend time with his family and travelling. A mid-life crisis for a player turning 31 next march? Maybe, but it’s also time for reflection for a player who has been through a lot in the past 10 years.

Landon started in Germany with Bayer Leverkusen

Landon started in Germany with Bayer Leverkusen

Donovan started his career in Germany with Bayer 04 Leverkusen, firstly in their second string team then breaking into the first team a year later. However he struggled to fit in and gain a regular place, so was loaned to San Jose Earthquakes for the next four seasons. Donovan impressed in San Jose, leading them to the MLS Cup championships in 2001 and 2003, scoring 32 goals along the way. His spell in the MLS helped to catapult him to stardom, becoming the pin-up boy for the league. Donovan won the U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year three years in a row, the first player to do so which is a record he still holds today. He also made his full international debut for the US whilst playing for San Jose, the first of many. His success in the US led his parent club Bayer Leverkusen to recall him for the 2005 season. This time he would get playing time but only managed to play 7 times, twice as a sub before expressing his desire to return to the US. Bayer didn’t want to sell the young american as they realised his potential was there to be explored but relented and eventually sold him to Los Angeles Galaxy in 2005.

Donovan and wife, Bianca Kajlich in 2010

Donovan and wife, Bianca Kajlich

His return to the MLS and LA in particular only helped to build the Donovan brand. In his first two seasons, Donovan scored 24 times and was the team’s star player helping the club to win the MLS Cup and be named  to the MLS All-Time Best XI after the season. His personal life was going well too, finally getting married to Rules of Engagement actress, Bianca Kajlich in December 2006. But all that would change the following season with the arrival of David Beckham to LA. Now no longer the focal point and losing the captaincy to the new signing, Donovan struggled to get along with Beckham in the early days and the two had various public spats that only really effected Donovan’s poster boy image. The two have never really become close with Donovan saying that Beckham was a poor captain and leader in 2009 but they still formed a formidable partnership for LA as they pushed for success. In 2008, Donovan had probably his best season with 20 goals but off the field things weren’t going well as Donovan separated from his wife. To escape the US press, Donovan moved on loan to Germany with Bayern Munich but again found playing time limited to only 6 games. This would become a trend for Donovan as he tried to distance himself from personal events by going on loan to Everton twice in 2010 and 2012, again during the MLS off-season.

Donovan + Beckham never saw eye to eye

Donovan + Beckham never saw eye to eye

But after this season, things are different. Beckham is leaving, Robbie Keane is the new poster boy for LA and Donovan seems disinterested. Despite taking part in yesterday’s 3-1 victory and scoring from the penalty spot, Donovan looked to have his mind on other things. Questioned after the match on what his plans are, he was reluctant to out fans at ease and reassure them he would be back, as he has done time after time. So if he is to leave, what will he do?

Donovan is an accomplished striker with an international pedigree that David Beckham would be proud of (144 caps for the US and rising). But his options are limited. A move to the Premiership makes sense with several clubs, including Everton keen to take him. A native german speaker would make a move to the Bundesliga an option if it weren’t for his unsuccessful years there and his apparent homesick. Which leaves the MLS. Could Donovan leave LA to move to another team like NY Red Bull? Even that looks unlikely so it’s not certain where he will end up. He may just need time to get his head back in the game and return to LA to pick up where he left off. With Beckham gone, the chance to become the focal point increases but he will still have to compete with Robbie Keane and Beckham’s touted replacement, Frank Lampard for that honour. At only 31, Donovan still has a few good years ahead of him so he knows he needs to make the right decision on where he plays next.

New York Braces For Another Storm

A storm is brewing in New York City and it’s not Hurricane Sandy coming round for another swing. The city that never sleeps is about to be hit by another storm after the MLS revealed it is looking into opening up another franchise in New York. Competition is heating up in the city to become the second MLS team to represent the Big Apple, along side the New York Red Bulls. Prospective owners from across the US, Europe and Asia have expressed an interest as the MLS looks to expand its existing offering. The league, which has been in operation now since 1993, has progressively grown in stature over the past decade, now becoming one of the most watched leagues in the world. With attendances on the rise, star players arriving like Thierry Henry and Robbie Keane, US soccer growing as a core sport and advertiser interest increasing, the prospect of owning the 20th franchise in the league is looking more and more appealing by the day. For the owners of two of the wealthiest clubs in the world, Manchester City and PSG, it’s a mouth-watering opportunity to extend their brands to a yet untapped market. Both owners, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nayhan (Manchester City) and Nasser Al Khelaifi (PSG) have engaged with MLS representatives about purchasing the place for a potential new team. At a cost of a mere $100 million, it would be a drop in the ocean for the two billionaires.

Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nayhan is examing the next opportunity in New York

One team hoping to upset them and grab the place is the New York Cosmos. As of next year, the Cosmos will be back playing in the North American Soccer League, one division below the MSL but have aspirations to eventually return to American soccer’s top table. The Cosmos, who set the NASL alight back in the late 70’s/early 80’s , have risen from the ashes of their former self. The story of the New York Cosmos, founded in 1971, was brilliantly captured in the book ” Once in a lifetime “ by Gavin Newsham (also now a motion picture), is a fascinating one. Funded by Warner Communications President Steve Ross, the Cosmos built a dream team of the world’s best player’s like Brazilian forward Pelé, Italian striker Giorgio Chinaglia and the West German sweeper Franz Beckenbauer, attracting them to New York with high wages and the glitz and glamour of New York in the 1970’s. The franchise took off and dominated the league over the next 10 years before financial mistakes, player greed and lack of coordination on the part of the NASL eventually led to the demise of the league. After the league folded, the Cosmos brand lived on in youth teams until it was purchased by former Tottenham Hotspur vice chairman Paul Kemsley with the long-term vision of resurrecting the team. He onboarded a host of successful businessmen and football icons such as Eric Cantona as Director of Soccer, former US internationalist Cobi Jones (Associate Director of Soccer) and of course Pele as Honorary President to help run the new club. They have secured their place back in the US soccer setup but the holy grail is the MLS so the franchise opportunity comes at a perfect time.

Pele and Eric Cantona are the faces of the new look Cosmos

The MLS remained tight-lipped on where the franchise would be based for a long time before revealing that New York had been chosen, piping cities like San Diego, Detroit, Baltimore and Las Vegas to the post. All had expressed an interest in becoming the latest US city to host a team but were eventually disappointed. After chosing New York, MLS commissioner Don Garber announced that the focus for the MLS was only securing the land to build the new stadium, not on who would be the potential owner.

“We want to ensure that when this project is complete that we have the perfect site for a stadium. We’ll take the time — as long as it takes — to ensure we have the right site. That’s how important the second New York team-project is. When the stadium’s done, there’ll be no shortage of owners who will line up and want to pay $100 million for our 20th team in New York,” – MLS commissioner Don Garber

MLS commissioner Don Garber remains tight-lipped.

On June 27th this year. plans to build a new soccer-specific stadium in Queens, New York were made public by the MLS. The new stadium would have a seating capacity of 20,000–25,000 and be located near the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows. Now that the land is secured, the real race for the new owners begins. With the bidding process under way, a decision from the MLS is expected some time next year, but as yet no indication has been given around the favourite to win that race. Whether it be Man City, PSG or the Cosmos, football fans in New York are bracing themselves for the addition of yet another sporting franchise.

Beckham’s MLS Dream Almost Over

The sun is almost set on David Beckham’s USA dream. The player announced yesterday that his intentions are to leave the league at the end of this season and take on a new challenge elsewhere. The 37-year-old former Manchester United, Real Madrid and England star has spent the past five years at LA Galaxy, transforming the focus on the league from a fresh upstart to a now global brand. Beckham’s influence on US soccer cannot be taken lightly, despite what the player thinks. He has never thought about the effect his own brand would have on the 5th sport of the United States, even down playing it when he arrived:

“I’m coming there not to be a superstar. I’m coming there to be part of the team, to work hard and to hopefully win things. With me, it’s about football. I’m coming there to make a difference. I’m coming there to play football … I’m not saying me coming over to the States is going to make soccer the biggest sport in America. That would be difficult to achieve. Baseball, basketball, American football, they’ve been around. But I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think I could make a difference.”

But the news grabbed the headlines across the globe and with it, brought attention to the US soccer for the first time since Pele graced the same shores some 20 years previously. The league has blossomed since Beckham’s arrival and whilst he was not the core reason, he played a huge part on where it is now. It expanded across borders to Canada, firstly with the Toronto FC franchise and now more recently with teams in Montreal and Vancouver. Big names also arrived, following Beckham into the league – first a host of US internationalists like Claudio Reyna and Brian McBride returned home to finish off their careers then later foreigners like Freddie Ljungberg, Thierry Henry, Rafael Márquez and Robbie Keane made the transition to the USA as well. TV companies in the US, Canada and across Europe have started to take note and now show a majority of the league and cup games to an ever-growing audience. Brands have started to add commercial dollars to a sport once viewed as an after thought. Fans are growing in all 19 franchsies (teams) with crowds at home matches climbing at a steady pace, with further franchises planned. The league can be thankful it has had the benefit of the Beckham effect, even if they haven’t seen the best of Beckham himself.

The former England captain has never quite stunned the league with the skills and flair he showed at Manchester United and Real Madrid. Yes; there have been flashes of brilliance from his trademark free kicks, precision crosses and selection of goals, one scored direct from a corner none the less. But Beckham is older now, slightly slower and sometimes disinterested, or so it may seem to the press who cover his games. They argue that for the money he is being paid by LA, reportedly US$32.5 million in total over 5 years or $6.5 million per year, they expected more. A god perhaps that could turn games around with the drop of the shoulder and a perfectly weighted cross or shot. But Beckham is not Messi nor is he Cristiano Ronaldo. Nor has he ever been that. Beckham is a guy who worked for hours after hours perfecting his free kicks, working on his technique and staying as fit as he can so he could play football for as long as he could at the highest level. And he certainly did.

Many people dislike David Beckham, not because of the player he is, but the person they think he is. A celebrity football playing dad who is over paid and over hyped but Beckham has a right to look back on his career with pride. Not many people can boast a career that has spanned 20 years across some of the greatest clubs in the world – Manchester United, Real Madrid, AC Milan, LA Galaxy and Preston NE (the last one Beckham went on loan for 5 games in his early Manchester United days). Not many players have won 115 caps for their country, 59 as captain. Not many players have a global brand that has spawned computer games, movies, clothes, perfume, books, soccer schools and much more. The Beckham brand is now as instantly recognisable across the globe as Nike and Pepsi are.

As Beckham bids a fond farewell to the US and embarks on his next challenge, whether that be in Australia or China as the press are speculating right now or if Snopp Dogg gets his wish at Glasgow Celtic, he can look back fondly over his time spent in LA. He may not have played the best or won as many titles as he had hoped, but his legacy that he leaves behind is more than he could have imagined. He will leave the MLS in a stronger position than it was it 5 years ago, safe in the knowledge that the league will continue to grow and flourish even without David Beckham in it.