Luckily, the MLS allowed all followers of stateside soccer an astonishing precedent this last year with the transfer of Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley; otherwise the latest MLS transfer would be headline news. Jermaine Jones is heading to the MLS and the brash midfielder will be joining the New England Revolution. While this entire article could be comprised about how confusing it is that Jones ended up with his new team, the article where we say the “MLS Continues to Require We Accept Odd Rules,” is not currently in the process. But, why does this newest move have a need for the fan-base to lead with patience?
For the mass of people still decrying the MLS and screaming for it to be the carbon copy of the EPL, this move does (genuinely) show that the American league is still taking steps towards being a legitimate league. Do you remember when the All-Star Game used to just involve a European power beating an MLS to a pulp? The game this season, while one victory can never be justified as a trend, showed that the gulf is no longer as wide as the oceans that separate the MLS from the European giants. While there is no MLS team that could hold their own within the realm of a major European league (perhaps stave off relegation, but nothing else), it now looks like the players actually play a similar level of soccer.
So, this is where the call for patience comes in, and why you can’t allow the success in the recent All-Star Game to cloud your judgment…seeing the MLS on par with other major leagues is still a decade (or more) away. Don Garber and the owners are aware of this and the league is taking small, researched, intelligent steps whenever a situation allows. Looking for relegation? No, as the financial gap between MLS and the next step down would not support it. Looking for the Designated Player slots to disappear soon? No, as the growth of the league has depended on a fair bit of parity within the league itself.
The league is growing. The play is improving. The quality of players that we are seeing within the clubs, the quality of the fan-base with the clubs, and the quality of coverage that we are getting with the league is improving and is showing a continual growth. Understand that the top flight of English soccer has existed for over 100 years and that the MLS is barely over 20 years old! While the dream of the MLS ever eclipsing a major European league is farcical (the U.S.A. has a plethora of major sports leagues to support), the present nature and actions of the MLS seem to point towards a consistent growth. The MLS requires your patience…and your realization that America’s league is a different animal and requires special care.
For anyone that has resigned themselves to sitting at home and watching the World Cup because they would be unable to work their way down into Brazil on their own, McDonald’s may have provided you with the last-second solution. While continuing to show and celebrate their sponsorship of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, McDonald’s are going to send some lucky fans to the third place and FIFA World Cup Final match in a contest that runs from June 10th to June 23rd.
All of this comes on top of the McDonald’s Player Escort program that we covered a few months ago and will continue to raise awareness of soccer and the World Cup within the United States. Customers will find game pieces on the Egg McMuffin, Large Fries, and 10- and 20-piece Chicken McNuggets where they can win Arch Cards (valued at $10/$50/or $100), U.S. Soccer gear, Fanatics.com digital gift codes and free McDonald’s food. As if any of us needed an excuse to snag some McDonald’s over the summer, well…. now, we have one!
All of McDonald’s large French Fry boxes will also be getting Brazil-inspired paint jobs during the tournament, further showing how the massive brand will continue to help build soccer awareness at all levels.
Approximately 11 months ago or so, everyone was proclaiming from the rooftops that Bayern would rule the world for years and that the German giants had not only ended Barcelona’s reign, but they had replaced the Catalan club. A few mere hours after Munich watched their Champions League aspirations get crushed by a titanic Real Madrid outing, it seems impossible that the Bayern steamroller was halted so swiftly and firmly. But, perhaps an even bigger story than Bayern’s sudden failure with Pep at the helm, is this Madrid team THAT dominant? A 4-0 destruction of a team that, at least halfway through March, was still seen as the mightiest squad in the world…what does it all mean?
The scariest part of this Madrid show of power is that the team still feels like there is building to be done. Benzema will, inevitably, be replaced with someone better. Whether it be a Luis Suarez or someone else, the spearhead of the attack will be better. On top of that, Gareth Bale will only CONTINUE to improve and mix into this squad. Chelsea may have shown how to defend compactly and counterattack against Liverpool at the weekend, but Madrid just gave a master class on how to do it best…the difference between a High School diploma and a Doctorate.
No matter who Madrid catch in their sights for the Champions League final or their final La Liga fixtures, it feels like everything is rolling downhill for Madrid right now. Ronaldo is back in Ballon D’Or form, Di Maria actually lets us forget how one-footed he is, Modric finally fits, Bale is actually working towards his transfer fee value, Casillas AND Diego Lopez are playing fantastically, and the rest of Madrid seems to be following suit. Heck, Sergio Ramos just scored a brace!
There is very little about what Madrid did in Germany that was not amazing. To shut down Bayern Munich is just as impressive as scoring 4 against them on their own turf. If it was not for the quick reaction of players to constantly surround the referee at all times, they might even be likable. This is now a team to be feared, and a team that will remain largely unchanged once the next campaign rolls around.
The craziest part of this story is that Madrid could be this dominant and still not take the CL or La Liga title home this season! If Atletico stay on top and do not surrender points (even their last match against Barcelona does not seem like a likely drop of points), Madrid will miss La Liga. The two teams remaining in the Champions League feel like the only teams with the know-how to challenge Real (Real Madrid dwarfs them both exponentially in talent though). To imagine such a remarkably talented team missing out on major silverware makes for a fantastic storyline…so which story will still be written? No matter what, we are witnessing the pinnacle or might from this Real team…just ask Bayern…they will probably be having nightmares for months!
Banned for the first five games of the season and seen as a piece that was teetering on the edge of being more “problem” than “solution” for Liverpool, Luis Suarez seemed destined to depart his English club for greener/Champions League pastures at the end of the 2013/14 season. With the attitude of the whiny Uruguayan during the summer having most speculating that his performances for Liverpool would be poor, it seemed unlikely that Suarez would be seeing Champions League football provided by Liverpool and his sale would be forced through.
Now, thirty goals and an impressive number of assists later, Suarez has been the catalyst that has pushed Liverpool back into the competition that Anfield demands and actually has Liverpool fans hoping (albeit hoping that City stumbles more than Liverpool succeeds) for a possible Premier League title. His work effort as a striker is second to none and he is, easily, the hardest attacker for Premier League defenses to keep track of for 90 minutes. While Sturridge and other Liverpool attackers have also been finding the back of the net with impressive regularity, it takes very little courage to say that Sturridge and the others would probably have their goal totals slashed in half without teams having to also focus on El Pistolero and without Suarez providing them with so many promising chances.
While there have been other impressive players in the Premier League this season, Suarez would probably be flirting with 40 league goals this season if he had not been absent for the first five matches of the season. It is also difficult to add-in the club’s accomplishments with a player when deciding who should win this award, but Liverpool’s jump from the second-best club in their own city to one of the best clubs in all of England (maybe even Europe?) this season has to be attributed to the other-worldly level play of Suarez. Considering the amount of goals that Liverpool have allowed this season, they would probably be battling for Europa League spots (at best) if Suarez was not playing at this level.
If his conduct remains as impressive as it has been this season and he keeps up any semblance of the form he is currently in, he has the ability to become one of the greatest players that Liverpool (and even England) will have ever seen. The only thing that should scare Liverpool fans would be that his stellar play will have caught the interest of clubs with the resources available to tempt the sale of Suarez. Still, from that perspective, Suarez’s play this season (and his new contract) will have increased his transfer fee by incredible amounts. If Liverpool are to experience any type of CL success and remain in Champions League contention next season, the Uruguayan forward will be absolutely pivotal.
In parting, if Suarez is not (at least) on the shortlist for the upcoming Ballon D’Or…then somebody has messed up. If the striker is able to carry his form into Brazil this summer, underestimating Uruguay would be at your own peril. Suarez deserved this award, and he has made it where Liverpool deserves Champions League football. Impressive for a man that was only seen as a cannibal and racist around one year ago…very impressive…
A discussion in my household about the MLS rarely strays far away from my wife’s beloved Portland Timbers and her constant desire to see the “fish gutted” in their current campaign. However, after the beginning of the season has shown serious doubt on whether the Timbers can return to last season’s heights, even my “RCTID” wife realizes that there are some serious pieces of the MLS that are broken…and need fixing.
The MLS claims parity…and yet, sadly, this is not how a league grows. A league needs dominant forces…it needs constant underdogs…and it needs to breed hatred toward the teams that can spend freely and a love for the teams that are successful on a tight budget. Although Beckham’s idea is probably motivated by a fair amount of selfish greed, the Miami man makes some serious sense here.
The MLS will never grow as fans are unable to flock to a “bandwagon” team. Look at the EPL and La Liga as newborn fans are able to herd themselves towards Chelsea, Manchester United, City, Real Madrid, and Barcelona because of the success that new fans are able to immediately experience when they discover European soccer. Although LA Galaxy can be a fairly safe bet, the simple view of the early season fixtures show that the MLS is devoid of the type of constants that help build a league.
The NBA grows as new fans can flock to LeBron or a team with a wealth of history, the NFL never fails to see success from one of the old firms and failure from the constant punching bags, MLB will always be dominated by the Yankees and other juggernauts that see fans roll in by the thousands, and even college sports are full of constant story-lines that draw fans in. The MLS has very little in common with these ever-growing sports. No major powers able to outspend opponents (and draw the ire of “purists”), the playoffs have a different feel every season, and the MLS almost forces you to relearn everything about the league at the beginning of every season.
Toronto FC spent a ton of money this season, and, while money never really guarantees success, there is no telling what it could ever mean for Toronto this season. Seattle failed miserably at the tail-end of last season, but the tides of Cascadia have turned without any real change in terms of personnel or administration. The MLS preaches parity…but the best leagues in the world are successful because of the LACK of parity…
While Beckham’s ideals might be simply to bring big names to Miami, the league needs the stories that a lack of salary cap would bring. There needs to be a team that new fans or curious eyes can be drawn to…there needs to be teams (outside of a particular rival) that new fans can immediately hate or love because of how they do business…and the league needs the ability to overspend and bring in big-names without having to worry about the Designated Player rules.
Please – for the good of the league and the future growth of domestic football, get rid of the salary cap. While Beckham has never been one of my favorite legends, he might have a serious point on getting rid of the cap. As someone that really wants to see the MLS succeed, it feels like this might be the right time.
Player Escort program gives 25 children in U.S. once-in-a-lifetime trip to Brazil, grants to benefit local youth soccer organizations!
McDonald’s USA is giving young soccer enthusiasts the opportunity to meet their soccer heroes competing for the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ trophy in Brazil this summer and also secure a $1,000 grant for a local soccer organization of choice.
Having started recently, McDonald’s Player Escort sweepstakes will give 25 super-lucky kids ranging from the ages of 6 to 10 the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to head to Brazil and walk out of the tunnel with some of the biggest names in the sport! Not only will they be attending a 2014 World Cup match, but the kid (along with a parent or guardian) will enjoy a four-night, five-day expedition to Brazil! In order to enter the contest, parents or guardians will need to visit www.McdOneGoal.com before April 6th to enter for the sweepstakes, with the winner going to Rio de Janiero and leading players onto the pitch in either Rio, Natal, Manaus or Recife.
The senior VP, global relationship officer of the McDonald’s Corporation, Dean Barret spoke of soccer’s growth in the U.S. and what his program hoped to acheive by saying, “Our Player Escort program aims to fuel kids’ passion for the game and inspire active play, while also giving twenty-five lucky U.S. winners an unforgettable experience with players.”
McDonald’s is continuing its partnership with U.S. Soccer for this year’s Player Escort program to motivate young athletes and help increase the popularity of soccer in America. In fact, McDonald’s has long been acknowledged by many in the U.S. National soccer set-up as being a huge contributor to the growth of the game at the youth level.
Globally and locally, McDonald’s will select 1,408 children from 70 countries including Brazil to serve as Player Escorts and support their country’s players during the month-long competition, which starts June 12 and culminates with the final match on July 13. During their time in Brazil, Player Escorts and their parent or guardian will experience the thrilling atmosphere of the FIFA World Cup™ and the lively surrounding culture.
McDonald’s Player Escort program began in 2002 at the FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™. Since that time, McDonald’s has given more than 6,000 children from around the world the chance to lead a player onto the field. Additionally, McDonald’s has been a supporter of soccer at both the global and grassroots levels for more than 25 years. The Company has served as an Official Sponsor and the Official Restaurant of the FIFA World Cup™ since the United States Tournament in 1994, continuing for each FIFA World Cup™ through to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
One last reminder, here is the website to enter the contest: www.McdOneGoal.com
For more info on McDonald’s, visit www.mcdonalds.com, or follow them on Twitter and Facebook for updates on business, promotions and products.
And, for more information on the growth and other sides of soccer in the U.S.A., visit www.ussoccer.com.
McDonald’s and Player Escort are registered trademarks of McDonald’s Corporation and its affiliates.
Brian McBride. Kristine Lilly. Bob Bradley. We all know these names. These names are special – really special. These three soccer-stars are this year’s National Soccer Hall of Fame Class of 2014.
Brian McBride was the face of US Soccer during the late 90s and early 2000s. As one of the most notorious players to ever grace the USMNT, he is 100% deserving of his Hall of Fame induction. Having scored 30 goals for the USA – third highest all-time – McBride set high standards for American Soccer as we know it today. As a mentor and a leader, McBride’s positive energy on and off the field filtered throughout an entire program.
McBride earned 96 caps as a member of the USMNT. He was the first American player to score at two World Cups, and he has the third most World Cup goals for the USA, with three. McBride also led the program through the 2008 Olympics, serving as Captain – even though he retired two years prior.
It’s that kind of spirit that qualifies McBride for the 2014 Hall of Fame.
The 1999 Women’s World Cup Team paved the way for many young girls playing soccer. It wasn’t until 1999 that the USWNT became a common subject, and players, including Kristine Lilly, became household names.
Among Lilly’s many accomplishments, she has scored 130 goals – third highest of all-time for the women, just behind Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach, she was the first woman to compete in five World Cups, she’s a two-time world champion, competed in three Olympics, and has the title for most capped player in the history of the sport. That’s right, with 352 caps, no man or woman has more than Kristine Lilly.
After retiring in 2008, Lilly has stayed very relevant in the soccer community, helping to operate camps with Mia Hamm and Tisha Venturini and serving as the assistant coach for the Boston Breakers since 2012.
Lilly’s success and leadership has not only served to inspire young women like Alex Morgan and progress even her younger peers like Abby Wambach, but it has also earned her a much-deserved spot in the Hall of Fame.
We all know Bob Bradley. After the disappointing 2006 World Cup finish, Bob Bradley took the USMNT to a second place finish in the 2009 Confederations Cup. Shortly thereafter, Bradley took his team to the 2010 World Cup.
The USA team faced a strong group in 2010, with matches against Algeria, England, and Slovenia. Though all games were hard fought, the United States topped the group, going 1-0-2 during the group stage. Unfortunately, the USMNT lost to Ghana in a 2-1 heartbreaking defeat in the second round.
After the World Cup, Bradley led the USMNT to the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Finishing second to Mexico, the team did very well only losing to Panama along the way.
After the Gold Cup, Bradley went on to manage Egypt’s National team. Now he’s coaching Stabæk Fotboll in Norway. He is the first American Manager to coach in a Premier European Division.
Though his reign with the USMNT was but a chapter in his 33-year-long and prosperous coaching career, the infamous coach is the epitome of the National Soccer Hall of Fame.
With all of our favorite European seasons starting to enter into the home stretch, it also means that the Champions League is starting to get back on track. One of the most intriguing aspects of this Champions League competition will inevitably be that fact that several teams will have the entire season outlook riding on their CL performance. Teams like Manchester United and AC Milan that are struggling mightily within their own league, yet CL glory could erase any woes (i.e. Chelsea last season). Then, there are teams that will be hoping that their Champions League journey will be coupled with domestic success so that the team can enter the off-season with the ability to draw the best players in the world. How did teams fair? Let’s take a gander…
The easiest story of these fixtures to convey will be how Paris Saint-Germain completely dismantled Bayer Leverkusen. As a team that is built to bring home French league titles with little difficulty, the Parisian giants will have moved their gaze to Europe’s biggest prize some time ago. Although the emergence of AS Monaco in France makes life slightly more difficult for Zlatan and co., it will definitely be a hollow success if they are unable to couple Ligue 1 with the Champions League title.
They certainly have one of the most potent attacks in world football, and you can never feel safe when Ibra gets in the mood for scoring. While they may still be a year or two removed from their best chance at the European crown, PSG could definitely still be one of the teams in the mix when we get down to the last four squads. This 4-0 destruction in Europe’s elite competition will certainly sound the warning bell for the rest of the teams…and PSG will hope to continue this type of run. As we approach the summer transfer window, we are already hearing rumors about the long list of stars that will be tempted by a big contract and a trip to Paris. There can be no doubt that PSG will grow stronger as every transfer window passes until they obtain their ultimate prize.
The other game on 2/18 was Barcelona attempting to prevent Manchester City from creating some European history to match with their recent growth in English stature. For 53 minutes, Manchester City proved that they are reaching the level necessary to match up with the best teams in Europe. A season ago, the Citizens seemed unprepared for the level of play that met them in the Champions League as they went out of the competition with almost a whimper. However, this game seemed to be the perfect opportunity for City to finally announce themselves. Then, with Messi attempting to break through on goal, City defender Martin Demichelis brought down the amazing Argentine.
A red card, an extremely questionable penalty (a free-kick seemed more appropriate), and the following Messi goal made them (unsurprisingly) start faltering. It is difficult enough to chase Barcelona with 11 men, but chasing their passing style with 10 men is nigh on impossible. It is easy to see how Barca were able to double their tally in the 90th minute and Manchester City will have a huge mountain to climb when they visit Camp Nou. If Barcelona march on, City will definitely feel that they had their Champions League campaign cut off prematurely. Having been one of the few teams to be on the winning side against Bayern Munich for the past few seasons, the momentum certainly seemed to be riding with the Citizens. However, Barcelona (especially in light of recent struggles) will definitely have a hard time convincing anyone that they are a potential CL favorite…it truly seems like their invincible mystique from a few short years ago has genuinely worn off.
The Champions League is almost like Christmas every single time that it comes back around. For me, the product on the field would have to be amazing in order for me to put up with so many Heineken commercials. From this set of games, Barcelona escaped, Leverkusen already look beaten, PSG are growing into the behemoth we have always been terrified of, and City will feel hard done by their result. Even though the World Cup is looming, the Champions League still rules the roost. Plus…I never grow tired of that anthem…goosebumps every single time…A CHAMPIOOOOOOON!
Considering that AC Milan are staring down the barrel of a Serie A finish that provides them with absolutely zero European football next season, there is serious importance riding on how they progress in the competition this year. As the game against Atletico Madrid got started, it was obvious that the Milan players were also aware of the club’s need to make an impressive European run. Milan were definitely the superior side for the opening half, but their inability to finish their chances could be their fatal undoing in the CL. Even after the half, despite looking a little more energetic, Atletico still seemed to be the second best side on the pitch. However, Atletico have the insanely in-form Diego Costa…and an 83rd minute header means that Atletico will be returning home with an away goal in hand.
Although Milan do still (and will always) command significant respect, will any marquee player truly want to join Milan over some of the other options that will certainly be available if Milan crash out of the CL and fail miserably in Serie A. It was already surprising that Keisuke Honda chose his big club destination by joining, what seemed to be, a sinking ship…but, AC Milan do not seem to have the same situation ahead of them as when Liverpool started to experience the same situation. Milan do not seem to be having a large influx of money coming in at any point to help them try and rejoin Europe’s elite and they also seem to have an amazing inability to choose a competent manager…failing at this point could have repercussions that are felt in Milan for years to come.
Over in London, Arsenal had to face last year’s champion and the club that is easily the early favorite to be celebrating once the last Champions League fixture has been played. The biggest news before the first whistle was Arsene Wenger sticking with his impressive attackers from their recent victory over Liverpool and keeping Olivier Giroud on the bench. But, with the pace of the Arsenal front-line seeming to actually unnerve the German giants in the opening minutes, it seemed that Arsenal might complete the bounce back from their Liverpool thrashing with a great showing against the biggest scalp (currently) in Europe. It seemed destined to be Arsenal’s night as Ozil stepped up to take a penalty after only 8 minutes of play…but the German’s spot-kick was too tame for a keeper of Neuer’s talent and it seemed to deflate the English team.
In the 37th minute, another English squad in the Champions League would suffer a red card and the deflation that is associated with losing a player. Arsenal’s keeper Wojciech Szczesny brought down Arjen Robben in the box and, despite some impressive antics from Arsene Wenger and a bit of embellishment from the Dutch winger, the red card to Arsenal’s keeper would begin the downward spiral for the Gunners. Amazing work from Philipp Lahm and a great game from Toni Kroos would be tough to handle with a full complement of players, and Arsenal were helpless to watch as the might of Bayern started to crash down upon them. Considering the might of Munich, Arsenal will believe that a 2-0 scoreline will have been the best result that they could have hoped for after Szczesny went off and, despite the impressive nature of Munich this season, there is still hope remaining in London.
Two teams from England played in their Champions League fixtures this week…and two English teams received red cards. Two teams from Spain played in the Champions League fixtures this week…and two Spanish teams walked away victorious. Although, as soon as you start to think that the Champions League is the least bit predictable…it will knock you for a loop. That is the beauty of the Champions League and the reason why we will all be tuning in every time that anthem plays and every time the fixtures kick-off. (cue Champions League anthem)
It’s going to be an interesting next few months for United States strikers. With only 4-5 open spots on the roster for forwards, no one envies the decisions that Jurgen Klinsmann has to make. We’ve got three vets that will be top prospects for Klinsmann this year: Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson, and Jozy Altidore. That leaves two potential spots… and no guarantee on who’s starting… for Team USA.
While Gomez also has years of experience under his belt, the 31 year-old forward was limited by a knee injury this summer. He’s entering 2014 healthy and ready to go, though it seems he’s had a rocky start upon return. With younger, healthier guys coming up as the future of the USMNT, one can’t help but wonder if Gomez is the right choice for the squad.
The 22 year old Icelandic-American is a goal-scoring machine. In the 2013/2014 season thus far, Johannsson has already scored 20 goals for AZ Alkmaar. With a recent minor injury setback, we are interested to see if Johannsson can keep up the scoring power he’s been packing. If not, it could cost him a potential spot on the USMNT roster when they head to Brazil.
Boyd has really come into his own, particularly in club play over the last two seasons, scoring over 40 goals (combined) thus far. Unfortunately, he hasn’t seen much international play with the US squad. What’s great about Boyd is that he knows how to finish it himself, but he knows when to set it up for someone else. He’s a tremendous hold-up player, and an equally solid distributor. Could he be the one to get the job done this summer?
While Wondolowski didn’t start the year off as a favorite for Brazil, he’s quickly letting his goal-scoring do the talking. He’s no rookie to the game, but he’s as committed as he’s ever been. He is a hard-worker and he gets the job done. It’s easy to see that Wondo is hungry for a visit to Brazil, and he’s not giving up his spot until that roster is finalized.
While you may think this kid doesn’t have the experience it takes to step up to the Tournament just yet, you may want to reconsider. His recent stints in league play prove that he’s not only ready, but he’s also hungry for the World Cup. While it doesn’t seem likely that he’s going to be Klinsmann’s first pick, if injuries continue to plague US strikers at their current rate, he wouldn’t be a bad Plan B.
Injuries have been huge this season. With Dempsey, Altidore, Gomez, and Johannsson suffering injuries, we can’t help but wonder if that will affect their play come June.
Dempsey. Altidore. Johnson. These guys are strikers. They’re the playmakers. But are they making plays? With the Sounders, Dempsey hasn’t marked near the goals he did with Fulham. Altidore is tough to gauge. Sometimes he’s hot, finishing everything that comes his way. Other times, he’ll go games without one mark. Can Johnson – though proving himself to be a solid choice for Brazil– continue his streak? Who’s going to get the starting position?
This is Klinsmann’s first World Cup with the United States. He knows that the country is looking to him to get this team out of the “Group of Death” and into the second stage. That puts all the more pressure on his decision and why he is going to pick who he’s going to pick.
We’ll pick five. We’re calling Dempsey, Johnson, Altidore, Johannsson, and Wondolowski. How about you?