The inside scoop from MLS camps
Landon Donovan is back, doesn't approve of David Beckham's midseason return
U.S. national-team coach Bob Bradley is scouting for players for Gold Cup roster
Cuauhtémoc Blanco now the biggest star in MLS, but remains prickly to the media
CARSON, Calif. -- It's MLS preseason here in Southern California, and there are several things to report:
The Los Angeles Galaxy are anxiously awaiting David Beckham's arrival in July and will try forget about last year's bad experience.
Several MLS clubs have passed through Home Depot Center in an attempt to capitalize on warm weather and knock out a friendly or two.
With the loss of two Mexican players, Chivas USA looks uncertain.
Having two tournaments to prepare for, U.S. national-team coach Bob Bradley has kept a watchful eye over things on his former stomping grounds.
Yes, it's 2007 all over again. As the preseason nears its end, both local clubs and a smattering of other teams around the league have spent time at Home Depot Center. While it isn't exactly the soccer version of baseball's Grapefruit League, late winter and soccer have become an important part of the year at the HDC. Here are a few nuggets from camp:
One of the most anticipated returns has been Galaxy and U.S. national-team star Landon Donovan, who is back from a three-month loan deal with Bayern Munich.
"I'm not sure I wouldn't have changed if I hadn't gone," Donovan said. "But I'm continuing to grow as a player, a person and a professional. I would like to think this experience helped expedite getting me to where I want to be, so for that I'm very grateful."
Perhaps the most excited person over Donovan's return is his coach, Bruce Arena. Instead of having a bad team with a porous defense that has no shot of competing, Arena now has a bad team with a porous defense that has a little chance of competing.
"In Landon, we have the best player in MLS," Arena said. "So we're absolutely thrilled seeing him on the field. Sometimes you don't appreciate what Landon offers. When he stepped on the field [earlier this week], he was all business, he was all quality and well-respected by his teammates."
The most recognizable figure on the Galaxy, though, is nowhere near the club. Beckham worked out a loan deal so he could stay with Italian giants AC Milan until the end of the Serie A season and is slated to join the Galaxy in July. L.A. and MLS had no control over Beckham's arrival date in '07, but allowed him the chance to stay in Europe. That's not something that would have interested Donovan.
"That isn't a decision I would take," Donovan said. "I personally wouldn't feel it would be fair to this team to show up midseason and have to try to integrate. I would want to be here from the beginning."
Blanco's star shines brightest
With Beckham in Europe, Chicago Fire star Cuauhtémoc Blanco is now the most popular player in the league -- if he wasn't already. As they did in '07, the Chicago Fire spent part of their preseason in Mexico as Blanco is revered there as much now as ever.
He saw some game action at Home Depot Center last weekend in the Fire's 2-1 victory over Chivas USA. There was no real crowd to play up to, but Blanco was at his best, vehemently arguing calls and floating around the midfield line, likely sending shivers down defenders' backs when he held the ball in a dangerous position. He didn't score (but teammate Brian McBride did, on a vicious side volley), but he was the one many came to see and talk to.
Except that he didn't talk. After the game, he strolled to an awaiting motorized cart and sped off, ignoring a sizable media contingent.
Bradley the soccer junkie
U.S. national-team fans should be grateful their coach is a bit of a soccer junkie. Former Chivas USA coach Bob Bradley makes his home in the L.A. area and is frequently out at Home Depot Center, as the only thing that keeps him away is his job as national-team coach and the frequent traveling that requires.
Bradley attended nearly all of Chivas USA's preseason friendlies, likely in search of players to fill out his CONCACAF Gold Cup roster, which is expected to be more of a developmental group since the A team will play in the Confederations Cup in South Africa.
One player whose chances likely went up in smoke was attacker Justin Braun. Whatever minuscule shot he had at catching Bradley's eye was damaged severely when he tried to race into the penalty area on a Chivas USA counterattack against Chicago. The only problem was that Braun forgot the ball, as he lost control somewhere before reaching the box. To make matters worse, Bradley was about 20 feet away.
But Bradley probably was more interested in an on-again, off-again national-team player like Justin Mapp, who has received all but one of his eight caps under the current U.S. coach. The Fire winger didn't disappoint as he scored a goal on Chivas USA.
Chivas USA cornered the markets on Antes this winter. The club acquired the Canadian one, Ante Jazic, to go with its L.A. native, Ante Razov, in an offseason deal with the Galaxy. Jazic was one of a handful of players brought in to try and offset the loss of both Claudio Suárez and Francisco Mendoza.
Like Razov, Jazic spent time with the Galaxy before joining Chivas, but unlike Razov -- whose Galaxy stint ended more than a decade ago -- Jazic was a big part of the L.A. squad just last season. The differences between the two clubs are quite noticeable, he said.
"It's just a different atmosphere in the locker room," Jazic said. "Basically, it's like a blue-collar team; a lot of guys just bring their lunch pails and work hard at work, whereas in the Galaxy, it's more ritzy. I've got lots of friends there, but I'm happy here with Chivas with the great locker room and the good mix between veteran leadership and young players."
And now that he's removed from the Beckham circus, Jazic had some thoughts on the ongoing drama across the hall at the HDC. "When a player says he doesn't want to come back, you're better off not bringing that player back," he said. "But he's trying to make the 2010 World Cup team and he'll have a better chance of making it playing with AC Milan than he will with the L.A. Galaxy."
Varying levels of interest
While the Beckham loan saga played out and captivated the attention of many in MLS, Donovan said things were a little different on the other side of the pond. "The Italian guys, Massimo [Oddo] and Luca [Toni] would always have kind of a say from what their media was saying in Italy and it was interesting to talk to them about it," he said. "Most guys didn't really care, to be honest."