'Ballboygate,' Klinsmann's strong comments, more Mailbag
There's plenty going on in the soccer world as always. Mailbag time. Ready, set, go:
What's your take on the Eden Hazard incident?
The Swansea ballboy who fell on the ball to waste time had plenty of reason to apologize, but I wish Hazard simply would have said: "Forget the ball boy. I messed up. I should never have kicked at a ballboy. I'm sorry. Period." Instead, Hazard gave the kind of qualified apology that we so often see in sports -- and, let's be honest, in life. Unqualified apologies are the only way to communicate that you're truly sorry for something, and someone in Hazard's position should have done that.
Is the hiring of young, former MLS players as coaches a fad or the trend we should expect going forward?
With the surprise hiring of Mike Petke as the new head coach of the New York Red Bulls on Thursday, 12 of the league's 19 teams now have coaches who played in MLS at some point, and six of those coaches are 40 or younger: Petke, D.C. United's Ben Olsen, New England's Jay Heaps, Portland's Caleb Porter, Salt Lake's Jason Kreis and Toronto's Ryan Nelsen. I do find it revealing that Kreis was the first one of these young ex-MLSer hires, and in my mind his success (winning an MLS Cup in 2009) has accelerated the trend as MLS owners and presidents try to find their own version of Kreis.
As for New York choosing Petke, the club had to do something after several prospects turned down gigs with the team, including Paulo Sousa, Gary McAllister and Claudio Reyna. That said, I'm surprised that Europhile Gérard Houllier signed off on hiring an American after it was clear that he didn't want one. The question now is whether Thierry Henry will be a de facto coach and influence things behind the scenes in the way that David Beckham did with the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007 and early '08. That didn't work out too well. At the same time, Petke knows how MLS works, and he bleeds for the club. Let's see how he does.
Any word of negative player responses to Jurgen Klinsmann's latest interview?
No, and I'm not expecting any, at least not publicly. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Klinsmann said, among other things, that Clint Dempsey "hasn't made s---" in his club career. The context softens it a little bit if you read the story, but that's harsher than anything Klinsmann has said publicly to this point, and my guess is Dempsey wasn't happy to see it. That said, I think it is fair to wonder why the U.S. has yet to produce a genuine soccer superstar. Klinsmann knows that part of the reason he was hired was because unlike previous U.S. coaches, he has a playing resume that allows him to ask: What have you really done? Whether he's successful in this strategy, though, depends on how much his players are really tuning him in. There's always the possibility this approach could backfire.
Is it safe for U.S. soccer fans to attend the U.S.-Mexico World Cup qualifier at the Azteca?
-- Russell Marks
It's not for the faint of heart, but you should be safe. U.S. fans have their own section high up in the stadium, and they're usually protected by police in riot gear. We're definitely talking about a Rough Guide type of fan experience, but we've also never seen a U.S. fan seriously injured in the Azteca.
What are the odds that Brek Shea ends up in the EPL before the transfer period ends, and what are the most likely destinations?
I don't think Shea is moving this month. It came out last week that Stoke City had made a bid on the 22-year-old Dallas winger, and Stoke manager Tony Pulis went so far as to say Shea would be traveling to Stoke this week so they could see how he had recovered from recent foot surgery. If Dallas had given Shea permission to travel, that suggested to me that the deal was about to get done. But on Monday Shea was still in Dallas, and the word was that MLS had stepped in to prevent Shea from being sold for what it felt was too low a price. Shea was terrific in 2011 but struggled in 2012, and this looks like another case where a young American prospect is worth more to MLS than he is on the open market internationally. My guess is Shea will be more likely to move in the summer when he might go for more money.
Who are your favorites to win the Africa Cup of Nations?
I picked Ivory Coast to win it all before the tournament. It's time for Les Éléphants to finally take the trophy after underachieving for so many years. Ghana would be my second choice, and I still think the host, South Africa, could take advantage of being on home soil. Then again, I may not have any more successful predictions in me after I told a Dutch outlet before the tournament that Cape Verde's Ryan Mendes would be a breakthrough performer -- which, so far, has been the case. Picks aside, I think it's great that people in the U.S. are for the first time able to see all the AFCON games easily thanks to ESPN3.
With EPL TV rights in the U.S. heading to NBC, do you expect to see an online streaming service set up by NBC next fall (similar to Fox Soccer2Go)? It will be difficult for those without cable to watch EPL otherwise.
-- Dustin House, Dallas
NBC Sports has already said that viewers in the U.S. will be able to see every Premier League game if they want to and are willing to pay for a streaming service. That's great news -- and a continuation of the policy Fox Soccer has used. You can see a lot more live Premier League games in the U.S. than you can in England, which is kind of crazy when you think about it.
Let's say Mexico wins the Confederations Cup. Would it be fair to brand them as World Cup contenders?
I already list Mexico as one of my six top contenders to win World Cup 2014 with Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Spain and Germany. But I'll be looking forward to Confed Cup to see El Tri in a tournament with Brazil, Uruguay, Spain and Italy, among others. With all the success Mexico has had at the U-17, U-20 and U-23 level, we shouldn't be surprised when the senior team does well in Brazil.
If FIFA is so dead set on stopping match fixing, why does it allow clubs to sell shirt sponsorships to casinos and betting houses?
-- John Jagou
From my discussions with FIFA security people, FIFA doesn't have a big issue with legal betting, but rather on illegal betting and, especially, the match-fixing that we all know exists in the game. I'm not sure preventing betting houses from sponsoring jerseys would have that big of an impact on things.
As I read an article about the richest clubs in the world today, I noticed that the club I support, Newcastle United, has climbed back into the rankings at No. 20. However, all of the other clubs that comprise this list seem to be doing fairly well, while Newcastle sits in the bottom half of the EPL table. Can you offer any insight as to why Newcastle seems to struggle to turn their financial success into a flourishing product on the pitch? They have finally made some moves to improve, but the 20th-richest club in the world should not be fighting a relegation battle.
-- Andrew Gerbosi
Good question. In one way I think it's a show of the overall strength of the Premier League that a team taking in that much money would be near the bottom of the standings. Newcastle has been on a yo-yo in recent years, getting relegated not long ago, winning back promotion immediately and finishing near the top of the league last season before struggling so far this time around. I happen to think the Magpies have made some great deals over the past couple years, getting good value out of French (and French-speaking) acquisitions in particular. But let's be honest: Newcastle shouldn't be in a relegation battle by the end of the season, and if it is a lot of the blame will go on coach Alan Pardew (and a slew of injuries this season).