All signs point upwards for MLS (cont.)
This is the official debut Planet Fútbol, my new soccer column that will appear every Wednesday on SI.com (set your calendars!), and each week I'll put out my quick-take thoughts on the soccer world. Let's dive in:
1. Look for Bob Bradley to be coaching the U.S. against Brazil on Aug. 10. A U.S. Soccer source tells me that Bradley will definitely coach the U.S. in the high-profile friendly in New Jersey (as long as he doesn't leave of his own accord to take a club job elsewhere). Bradley has now met with U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati and general secretary Dan Flynn in ongoing discussions about his future with the national team. Considering that most European teams have started their preseasons, the most likely potential club destination for Bradley appears to be Fulham, but Bradley does not appear to be the top candidate for the Fulham job. Other possibilities could be in Scandinavia or MLS. (Vancouver has yet to hire a coach yet, and some MLS teams might be quicker to let their coaches go if they could get Bradley.) Bradley's contract with U.S. Soccer runs through the end of the 2010 calendar year.
2. A couple of people in U.S. Soccer have told me that the U.S. is planning to bring its best team for the Brazil friendly. A roster is expected to be announced next week. It is a FIFA international date, after all, it's Brazil, and the hope is that the U.S. players' club managers will feel better that the game is on a Tuesday, allowing for one less day to be gone from their clubs. It is not expected that the game will sell out the new Meadowlands stadium, though a crowd of 50,000 to 60,000 is possible. Brazil announced its roster earlier this week, a youthful, exciting group that includes domestic starlets (Neymar, Ganso, André) and European-based stars like Alexandre Pato and Dani Alves.
3. I'm curious to know more about Bradley's relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson. I knew that Bradley and Sir Alex were friends and that Bradley had spent time studying how Manchester United works first-hand over the years, but Sir Alex's effusive support of Bradley this week makes me wonder if they might be even tighter than I realized. Not only did the Man United manager say that Bradley would do well at Fulham ("I don't think it is beyond his boundaries at all"), but he unloaded what might be the quote of the week: "I'm surprised the USA have not sprinted to his house and given him a new contract." Granted, it may be Coaches Union stuff, but it's never bad to have one of the game's legendary managers on your side.
4. I do think Bradley could be well-suited to coaching in European club soccer. This is in part because he's more of a European-style coach than, say, Bruce Arena (who's American through and through). That said, I'm still leaning toward the notion that Gulati won't extend Bradley's contract. That's going mainly from what Gulati said after the U.S. was eliminated in South Africa, in particular that the U.S. didn't meet his expectations. Gulati also knows that for all of Arena's success -- he got to the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals, farther than Bradley did in 2010 -- things got pretty stale under Arena by the end of his eight years on the job. If Gulati makes a change, though, he had better be sure that he has a good option to replace Bradley, whose U.S. teams have performed rather well when he's had all of his best players (2007 Gold Cup, '09 Confederations Cup and World Cup qualifying, '10 World Cup).
5. The Galaxy's debacle in the Champions League. There were a lot of stunned looks at an MLS media gathering here on Tuesday night as we watched Los Angeles get housed by Puerto Rico 4-1 in CONCACAF Champions League on a big-screen TV. The Galaxy may have been playing without goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts and defender Omar González, but that was Donovan, Edson Buddle and many other starters out there for the embarrassing drubbing at home. The word is that MLS wants to be the best league in CONCACAF in the next five years. That's a tall order, considering how rich the Mexican league is (richer even than the Argentine and Brazilian leagues), but the only way to reach that goal is to start winning the CONCACAF Champions League.
6. The transfer market for U.S. national teamers. Several U.S. national team players may yet be on the move at club level before the start of the European season. The list includes Jozy Altidore, Jay DeMerit, Benny Feilhaber, DaMarcus Beasley and perhaps Donovan. Spain's Villarreal is unlikely to keep Altidore, who has been linked to teams in Turkey (Besiktas, Fenerbahce), the Netherlands (Ajax) and England (Fulham). DeMerit is out of contract, having left Watford, as is Beasley after departing Glasgow Rangers. Feilhaber may yet leave Denmark's Aarhus, which was relegated after last season, and Donovan may yet have offers come in for him to leave MLS.
7. Diego Maradona is out. I'll miss Maradona's entertaining press conferences now that he's out as the coach of Argentina, but I'm surprised that there was even a question about whether he would stay in the job. As a coach at club level and now with the national team, Maradona has not performed well results-wise. You need to be more than a motivator, and Maradona's decision to yank Juan Sebastián Verón from the lineup early in World Cup 2010 revealed a coach who just wasn't sound tactically. I'm curious to see what comes next for El Diego. Personally, I'd love to see him start a reality TV show with his good friend Mike Tyson.
8. Marquee MLS clash. Some real buzz is starting to build for a regular-season MLS game, which isn't something you ordinarily see. The showdown between New York and Los Angeles at Red Bull Arena on August 14 is already a sell-out. You've got the league's two biggest markets. You've got first place in the West against second place in the East. You've got a brand-new $200 million stadium. And you've got Landon Donovan, Thierry Henry, Juan Pablo Ángel and maybe Rafael Márquez. Should be fun.
9. One U.S. player who didn't make the World Cup team is off to a good start at his new European club. Former Chivas USA player Sacha Kljestan scored for Belgium's Anderlecht in its Champions League qualifier victory against The New Saints of Wales on Tuesday. Kljestan has been playing regularly in the preseason for Anderlecht, which won the Belgian league last season. It could be a springboard for a rejuvenated national-team career for Kljestan, who's still just 24.
10. This week's Movie Rec: If you read my old college basketball Mailbag, you'll know that I'm a movie buff, particularly when it comes to indie movies that deserve more attention. This week's pick: The Kids Are All Right, starring Julianne Moore and Annette Bening as a lesbian couple grappling with the news that their high-school-age kids have tracked down their biological father (Mark Ruffalo). Plenty of well-done, funny dialogue here--and a nice departure from the usual brainless summer fare.
11. Another big name in MLS? I have some solid new sources in Brazil thanks to my trip there for an SI magazine story in April. They're telling me that Ronaldinho may yet come to the Los Angeles Galaxy, but it wouldn't be until at least 2011.
See you next Wednesday at Planet Fútbol ...
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