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.

Why Football is Better Than Soccer

I’m not blaspheming here- I don’t mean “Throwball” or “American Football.” I’m comparing soccer abroad to soccer in the US, and have chosen this morning to blame highlight the media coverage.

The same “rumor” from two sources.  First, CNNSI:

Colombia international Fredy Montero has claimed he has been in contact with Premier League side Fulham. Reports have suggested Cottagers boss Roy Hodgson could bid for the striker, who is currently on loan at MLS side Seattle Sounders from Deportivo Cali.

Next, the genius of The Guardian (UK):

Fredy Montero, who sounds like a minor bookie or middleman in an early 1980s big-budget gangster film who gets killed in an imaginative way – hung on a meat hook, buried in concrete – as a plot device to speed up a climactic gang war, but is actually a striker with coffee bar-based acoustic indie band The Seattle Sounders, wants to move to Fulham.

Football 1, Soccer 0.  Time for Soccerati to steal the torch and raise the bar for Soccer reporting.

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.

European Football (+Mexico) Coming to USA

Chelsea, AC Milan, Inter, and Club America will be playing an exhibition tournament six American cities this July (with several of the games preceded by international friendlies against MLS clubs:

From the NYT:

“It gives us the opportunity to really capitalize on the growing support of the game,” said Peter Kenyon, the chief executive of Chelsea. “It’s utilizing the team — on the back of broadcast — to go and support football development, soccer development, and also allow our fans, who are an ever-growing number, to come and touch the holy grail if you like.”

The teams will play at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.; the Georgia Dome in Atlanta; Atlanta’s MT&T Bank Stadium; Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.; Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Calif.; and the new Cowboys Stadium in Texas. All games will be televised on ESPN or ESPN2, as well as the Spanish-language network, ESPN Deportes, and online at ESPN360.com

Thanks, Steve, for the link.

Fox Trumps ESPN

ESPN just lost the rights for Champions League games in the US to FSC. Frankly there are pros and cons to this development.  With the increased revenue FSC will definitely improve their coverage of the sport.  On ESPN’s side this may force the largest sports channel in the US to focus more on the MLS to fill the soccer hole that now exists in their lineup.  ESPN cannot ignore the growing Hispanic audience in this country and not have soccer somehow on its channel.  Strangely enough ESPN lost out on a bid to televise games in England itself not too long ago.  Wonder if Rupert is putting a full court press on the Bristol outfit.

Brad Guzan: Go American Goalies?

OK, the Liverpool/Villa game didn’t turn out quite as I had hoped. And my “boy” Brad Friedel … well it’s hard to make the argument any more that he’s the best goalkeeper in the EPL after a 5-0 drubbing. But I did find it interesting to see, after he got sent off with red, that Aston Villa’s back-up goalie is also an American … Brad Guzan, who made his EPL debut today with an unsuccessful attempt to block the penalty kick he inherited from Friedel. Hopefully Villa’s understudy has learned a bunch of stuff from Friedel before he started sucking.

Guzan is also a Chicago Polack … so that makes me like him even more.

UPDATE: Of course, he’s a Chivas USA guy! The 24-year-old, in fact, was the 2007 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year … and super-beloved by the fans.

Here’s an official tribute to him from Chivas, celebrating his export to Villa.

And here’s a highlight reel of his saving ability from The Offside:

They Don’t Have Chiva Girls in Liverpool

For some reason this gives me the chills … and confirms why Chivas USA is my favorite non-FC Dallas team in the MLS (and 5th favorite non-International team in the world):

From ChivaGirls.tv

Chiva Girls dancing and pimping their calendar (en Espanol) below:

Continue reading “They Don’t Have Chiva Girls in Liverpool”

Crap, Dallas is Out

Just watching a little MLS … and it turned into playoff action when FC Dallas went down 1-2 to Real Salt Lake (stupid gay name) and needed to equalise to keep their playoff hopes alive. We were making progress on the attack … but alas, RLS scored a third goal in the 86th minute to secure their post-season spot while snuffing out Dallas’ last hopes.

Go Chivas!

UPDATE: Dallas (Pablo Richetti) just got its second red card. Does anyone know … do bookings carry over to the next season?