Recruiting

On Sunday night, I watched an MLS game, Galaxy at DC United. Part of it was a need for some Proper football to help ease my hangover from the World Cup. Part was a burgeoning desire to support the league more fully and to learn about (and see) some of the young players I’d been reading about. Specifically, for this game, 17-year-old United midfielder Andy Najar.

Najar came to the U.S. three years ago from Honduras and was spotted by a United official who brought the youngster into the club’s Academy. He’s been a regular this year and generated a lot of chatter for his fearless play and undeniable skill.

For example:

Najar impressed v. Landon Donovan and Co. as well. He scored United’s only goal in the 2-1 loss, beating USMNT striker Edson Buddle to power home a header off a free kick (Najar is generously listed at 5’7″). He showed tremendous work-rate up and down the wing and even displayed a willingness to defend, an awareness lacking in many young players.

Naturally, the big question surrounding the kid is, “Which national team will he play for?” I found myself furiously looking for clues online. I didn’t find the answer. What I did find is everyone else is wondering the same thing.

As mentioned, Najar hasn’t tipped his hand one way or the other. He remains a Honduran citizen, but has a green card in the U.S. (he’d need to secure citizenship on these shores before he’d be eligible for the Nats). His “no comment” is especially impressive considering this article, where a Honduran journo presses the issue no less than five times (my favorite being where he asks who Najar’s favorite Honduran player is and follows that up with, “Well…what if HE asked you to play for the Catrachos?”)

Najar’s case points to a trend among the powers that be at the United States Soccer Federation. With the high-profile “defections” of Guiseppe Rossi and Neven Subotic, USSF officials are going to great pains to track down and recruit young players with dual nationalities. Qualifying for next year’s U-20 World Cup gets underway shortly and the U.S. player pool has expanded world-wide.

There are a few forces at work here. One, U-20 Coach Thomas Rongen was widely blamed for Subotic’s choice to represent Serbia after the coach snubbed the defender, so it’s in his best interest–that of continued employment–to beat the bushes with new-found thoroughness. There’s the U.S. youth soccer club system, which is generally for affluent suburbans who can afford the time and travel. The system fails to identify and recruit urban talent–often the children of recent immigrants–who feel more allegiance to their parents’ homelands and have contacts with family and leagues in foreign countries where they are more likely to be given tryouts. Former U.S. captain Claudio Reyna has recently been tapped as Youth Technical Director to help expand the opportunities for these players. There has been, until recently, a reverse bias against U.S. soccer teams, long though to be short on invention and world-class talent, not to mention their low-profile in the media.

The last has surely changed after the World Cup, which should serve as a powerful marketing tool for the U.S. as a soccer nation that has arrived. On the field and in the papers and in the pubs.

Andy Najar’s decision will draw plenty of attention and his will not be the only saga played out on message boards (but hopefully not during one-hour specials on ESPN) as future National Teams take shape. One thing is for certain, for American soccer, we’re gonna need a bigger melting pot.

Toros Rojos de Nueva York

If various reports are to be believed, the New York Red Bulls are all about assembling a team of galacticos, with the club being mentioned in pursuit of Thierry Henry, currently retired Italian demi-god Paolo Maldini and, the latest, Real Madrid’s Raul.

raul1

Hey, it worked for the Cosmos, didn’t it?

So what are the odds of these types of players continuing to blaze the path of Juan Pablo Angel and Becks before them? Personally, I think Beckham’s initiation into MLS (dodgy pitches, mediocre teammates, opponents hacking him down regularly) has had a chilling effect on aged stars considering a move across the pond and that these flirtations amount to little more than a negotiating ploy with the deeper-pocketed–and not league-owned–teams in the Old World.

Becks Tough on New Zealand’s Economy

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I don’t really get this story, but according to ESPN Soccernet, David Beckham cost the people of New Zealand $1.46 million. Apparently an exhibition match between Beck’s LA Galaxy and the Oceania “All-Stars” (yeah, those guys) failed to generate enough revenue, and now Kiwi taxpayers have to foot the remainder of whatever it cost to put on the game.

“The decision to promote the L.A. Galaxy event was made without a formal business strategy or a clear policy about the level of commercial risk that the council was willing to assume,” said New Zealand Auditor General Phillippa Smith. “We conclude that, despite the efforts of the council officers involved, the loss occurred because the L.A. Galaxy/Oceania ‘All Stars’ match was in essence the wrong event, at the wrong time, for the wrong price.”

And in other news, some Italian chick grabbed Beckham’s crotch. Video below:

Beck Ball Touch

The Weekly Dump

Manchester United - Leeds FA Cup

Jermaine Beckford, Leed’s United, celebrates after scoring against Manchester United at Old Trafford Stadium (AP Photo/Jon Super)

Manchester United crash out of FA Cup – A result that brings joy to a lot of (non-ManU) supporters. Not only did they lose to a third division club, it was the once mighty Leeds who did the deed.

And Sir Alex is pissed,

“The preparation was good but I was shocked at that performance. We didn’t start right and Leeds did. They fought like tigers but you expect that from any team coming to Old Trafford. It’s a disappointment. Human beings can always surprise you but I didn’t expect that. I don’t think any of them can say they had a good day. We never got going and the quality of passing – the whole performance – was bad. Leeds had a far better appetite for the game than us. You need luck and they got it but they deserved it because they played really well.”

Portsmouth again unable to pay their players – This is the third month Pompey players watched their payday go by with nothing to show for it.  The club is facing dire financial times but officials promise the players will be paid.  The Football Association is taking Pompey’s television revenue to pay past debts to other clubs.

News Flash: Liverpool stink, players fault – Joe Speaker’s beloved Scousers are doing their best imitation of an MLS club.  Steven Gerrard blames the players, “We are in this position for a reason and it tells us that we really haven’t been good enough, and the players have to take responsibility for that.”

President of the Iranian Football Federation said “Happy New Year!” to Israel. Then quickly apologized while he still had breath to do so.

The U.S. Men’s National Team kicked off their winter camp and our very own Joe Speaker tell us what to expect.

Finally, it seems Landycakes decided to make a run south of the border to pick up a Mexican Lottery ticket.

Donovan & Beckham: So You’re Telling Me There’s a Chance…Or Not

 

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Following up on an early Soccerati post, looks like that little book on David Beckham (the aptly titled The Beckham Experiment) might cause some serious relationship issues for the LA Galaxy.

In the book, LA team-mate Landon Donovan calls out Becks’ commitment to the Galaxy and the British international’s leadership skills.

“Maybe he’s not a leader, maybe he’s not a captain,” LD says. “Fair enough. But at minimum, you should bust your ass everyday. That hasn’t happened. And I don’t think that’s too much to expect. Especially when he’s brought all this on us.”

Oh no he didn’t!

The damage control on Donovan v. Beckham should be fun to watch.  Stay tuned for more.

Bet on Relegation

It’s getting near that fun relegation time in the EPL season … one of the things that, frankly, got me hooked on soccer. Though I know it will be a while before MLS and USL are ready for that element, can you imagine how exciting baseball would become — major and minor league — if they had relegation?

Here’s a good article on wagering the end of the season for the bottom of the table.