This article was co-authored by Brian Mechanick and Matthew
With the Spain’s hoisting of that gleaming golden trophy, a four-year waiting period for the World Cup begins again. Those captivated by this year’s edition will deal with the absence different ways: some will go back to not caring about soccer, some will divert their attention to their favored Premiership club, and some will start getting excited for Euro 2012.
But for all those Americans who were drawn into the beautiful game with Donovan’s game-winner vs. Algeria, there is a pretty fantastic domestic season happening here in MLS.
• Los Angeles and their All-Galaxy Dominance
Captained by the USMNT’s best player Landon Donovan, the Galaxy are off to a blazing start, earning 36 points in only 16 games. The Real Madrid of the MLS in both jersey design and worldwide talent, the Galaxy ‘s success is predicated by a complexion of players that fall into three healthy categories: (1) Former internationals with high level league time (Eddie Lewis, Gregg Berhalter, UEFA’s Champion’s League winning Jovan Kirovski, Chris Klein, Clint Mathis), (2) premium MLS stars (Donovan, Edson Buddle, and Donovan Ricketts) and (3) largely indisputable future stars (Omar Gonzalez, Sean Franklin, Tristan Bowen, Juninho, Michael Stephens, A.J. De La Garza, Leonardo).
It’s borderline unfair. For goodness sake, “Steady Eddie” midfield cog Chris Birchall is a former starter at English Championship League side Coventry City and is a member of Trinidad & Tobago’s national team. He’s only 26-years-old by the way.
Looking for the Galaxy’s reason for success? We just told you….well all that and a coach who’s been around the block who players respect in Bruce Arena.
This is a team that nearly went all the way last year and their missing, of course, their orchestrater in David Beckham.
Los Angeles has the top talent, the top goal scorer and a backline that makes Catenaccio sound like a pasta. The dominance of the Carlos Ruiz and Cobi Jones-led 2002 Galaxy squad is about to be tested.
• Men are from Mars….rather Defenders are from America; Attackers are from Everywhere Else
Fans have seen some great debuts already during the 2010 season, whether it’s 19 year-old phenom Bill Hamid, the most advanced teenage American goalie talent since Tim Howard or New York Red Bulls’ rookie Tim Ream, who has fans drooling for a 2014 or 2018 partnership with another center back on the other coast, Omar Gonzalez of Los Angeles.
Whereas a player like Jay Heaps was a mainstay for Bob Bradley at Gold Cup 2009, the 2011 USMNT Gold Cup seems to have names–MLS names–like Gonzalez, Ream, Opara, Alston, Franklin penciled in already in the back. All with seemingly enough potential to take their careers much further.
However, the three players that seem to have garnered the most press stateside during this World Cup don’t come with a typical U.S. upbringing: Philadelphia Union’s Florent Malouda-clone (and Congolese) Danny Mwanga, the hope of D.C. United and Honduran Andy Najar, and Samuel E’to compatriot Tony Tchiani.
Heck, even Teal Bunbury is Canadian.
While American passports dominate the U.S. defense, will USSF be picking more it’s future talent in the midfield and at forward from those that may eligible are U.S. passports?
(Though Brian Ownby is going to challenge that notion in 2011.)
• Which Thierry Henry Are The Red Bulls & MLS Getting?
Thierry Henry is expected, by Steve Nash and nearly everyone, to be issued a Designated Player pass by the New York Red Bulls shortly and officially be named a team member.
Coming off a season that saw him be no more than a bit contributor for Barcelona, how much “respect” will Henry–who has professed his love for the New York metropolitan area’s magneticism–give the fans of New York and other around the league?
Will he show up and take a year to calibrate like David Beckham or will he take the humble and hard-working approach that 35-year-old Guillermo Barros Schelotto did in winning the MVP award as a member of the Columbus Crew?
At stake here are a few things: (1) the reputation of the league to sign clout-based former European stars to legitimize the league abroad (2) justification for signing these Euro-based, downward sliding stars as oppose to arguably cheaper and proven better alternatives from the Americas (Valderrama, Etheverry).
And, in a nod to long-standing big-city-little-city sports parallels and with a third designated player allowance in their back pocket, are the large coiffer New York Red Bulls on their way to creating a juggernaut laden with talent or will they ebb in the direction of the New York Cosmos?
One thing seems sure at least. More stars.
Mista has signed with Toronto and DC United grabbed Montenegro international Branko Bošković while Seattle acquired Blaise N’Kufo, a starter for the World Cup Swiss team. Expect even more “gray-haired” stars to follow suit, with perhaps big names like Raul, Patrick Viera, Gilberto Silva, and Rafa Marquez.
• How will MLS build off the World Cup?
Are any teams poised to be the bloody mary to the World Cup hangover?
On July 4th, you saw ESPN feature the best candidate, the Galaxy versus the team from soccer’s hottest bed, Seattle.
Which teams–are teams prepared?–to market effectively to the casual fans drawn in by the World Cup?
Do casual fans care….or will they merely start taking in the Premiership games that start in less than two months on ESPN2?
The key players here are ESPN, MLS, and Mr. America Landon Donovan who’s future abroad likely hinges on how the league wants to market itself through the end of 2010.
What to look for? We don’t know yet.
• It’s Champion’s League Time…..in CONCACAF
Twenty-four of the best teams in North America compete for the title of the best team above the equator and left side of the Atlantic. Stars Cuahtemoc Blanco, Clint Dempsey, Bryan Ruiz and Wilson Palacios all participated in this tourney.
How about this? No MLS team has won the competition in 10 years. As the competition in CONCACAF heats up, especially south of the border with Mexico’s youngsters and their Copa American invite, here’s the lone opportunity outside of the Gold Cup to get some bragging rights in North America.
It’s time that MLS teams geared themselves for the tourney and set a public goal of winning it.
• How’s that player development going?
Tinged in an interview with his new club, Belgium’s storied Anderlect football club, was a veiled dig by Sacha Kljestan equating Anderlect to a real club and Chivas USA to being a rung below.
Kljestan also levied a little bit of criticism as the MLS establishment for seemingly kiboshing his move to the Scottish Premier League and Celtic 18 months ago.
While Kljestan’s comments may be that of a seemingly spoiled player who is only now leaving his comfort zone of Southern California, it brings to a light a very interesting question.
How does MLS intend to grow, market and profit its up-and-coming players? Landon Donovan may garner the headlines, but take a player like Donovan’s teammate future star Juninho who two or three years down the line may be looking to make his own jump to La Liga or elsewhere.
Not only will MLS and clubs need to manage their fan expectations accordingly, but each team will need to keep a robust pipeline of players that can fill the void on the pitch and in the marketing collateral.
With MLS starting to churn better and better players (Kljestan, Jonathan Bornstein, Stu Holden, Ricardo Clark) and those players looked on favorably now by clubs overseas due to potential American revenue dollars by association and the cheaper rate that an American player can come by, it’s at once an exciting time for MLS, but one that needs to be managed appropriately.
How are teams prepared for player movement this summer and during 2011′s January transfer window? Was Houston prepared this year when they lost Ricardo Clark and Stu Holden and seemed to have little in the way of a Plan B?