LA Galaxy: Is the Club Close to Losing Two of Its Best Players?

Posted in World Football on July 31, 2012 by sportinsider67

The LA Galaxy have been one of the most dominate teams in MLS over the last year. A big part of that is that they have all three of their Designated Player spots filled up with world class players. These players are Landon Donovan, David Beckham and Robbie Keane.

All good things must come to an end, and in the case of the Galaxy, this is also true. The core of world class players will eventually have to break up, and today I’ll be examining what the future has in store for each of the big three.

David Beckham has been with the Galaxy since 2007 and signed a two-year contract earlier this year. He will be 38 when the contract expires. After deciding not to take up any offers from Europe, citing that his family loved SoCal among other things, and stayed in LA. It’s unlikely that when he’s two years older that he will turn around and leave the Galaxy. He’ll either stay in LA or retire after his contract expires, but with his quality and love of the game, I think he’ll stick around a few more years.

Landon Donovan’s situation is a bit more interesting. Arguably the best US player of all time, he has never been successful outside the confines of MLS, bar a couple of loan deals with Everton. About two months ago he expressed the desire to return to Everton permanently, but the Galaxy were at the bottom of the Western Conference table and it looked like things were on the downturn.

However, the trio of Galaxy DP’s have all hit fine form and the team has risen up the table to the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. If the Galaxy continue to do well, Donovan may want to stay and see if they can win another MLS Cup or the CONCACAF Champions League. However, as long as MLS doesn’t make the asking price high and Donovan still approves, I think that it’s very likely he could be a permanent Evertonian within a year.

Robbie Keane came to Hollywood roughly a year ago and the striker has had a good goal return, scoring 10 goals in 18 appearances. The 32-year-old also went on loan toAston Villa and impressed, averaging a goal every other game. However, he was not so impressive during Euro 2012, unable to find the back of the net as the Republic of Ireland failed to get a single point.

Out of all the Designated Players, I think Keane is the most likely to leave. He still has much to offer to EPL clubs and probably should be playing at the highest level possible, needing to be sharp as Ireland start their World Cup qualifying campaign. I would be surprised if Keane stays in MLS any longer than next summer.

2014 FIFA World Cup: Why CONCACAF and CONMEBOL should merge

Posted in World Football with tags , , , , , , , on July 25, 2012 by sportinsider67

As the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers heat up, I have a proposal to make that would make future qualifying campaigns better and more entertaining. Let’s combine CONCACAF and CONMEBOL.

CONCACAF has a reputation of being an easy region to qualify in, and if the United States ever fails to qualify in North America, where it is by far the largest country, it would be no less than an utter disaster. The only other side in the North American region that is considered world class is Mexico, who at the moment has one of the top teams in the world.

CONMEBOL is a completely different story, generally regarded as the toughest region to qualify in, behind only Europe. The South American Football Confederation boasts some of the greatest national sides of all time, including Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. Almost every qualifying game is unpredictable, as evidenced by Argentina’s, first ever, loss at Colombia. In South America, futbol is a way of life and the environments that the matches are played in can be extremely hostile to opposing teams and require even the best sides in the world to have to dig deep to get all three points.

However, both regions would see advantages from combining the two qualifying regions. For South America, it would be a much needed change of pace. There are only a measly 11 countries in the region, so you can imagine how often the same teams end up playing each other over and over again. This would allow the sides from South America to play in completely new places and against different styles of play from the ones they face on their home continent.

As for North America, it would provide a MUCH NEEDED rise in quality, especially for the US and Mexico, who consistently dominate the smaller Central American and Caribbean countries. While the US and Mexico generally do very well, the third team that qualifies usually doesn’t, and if another North American country was to qualify, it would have earned it by showing its metal against the top South American sides. In some cases, teams can qualify in CONCACAF without gaining even a point against the US or Mexico. If the two groups were merged together, then the quality of teams going through to the World Cup would be better, and they would probably fare better in the competition.

As for the top sides in the North American zone, the US, Mexico and possibly Canada, they would all get the experience of going to a hostile environment in Venezuela or a packed house in Brazil, which would inevitably provide a greater challenge and make them better. Frankly, CONCACAF is weak and I would be interested to see how their top sides would fare against quality CONMEBOL opposition.

At the present moment, CONCACAF holds three qualifying spots and one playoff,  CONMEBOL holds four qualifying spots and one playoff and Brazil is hosting the cup and qualifies automatically. So if the two regions were to combine, there would be roughly eight qualifying spots, as there can’t be more than one playoff coming out of a region.

There would be an ample amount of qualifying spots for the Americas, and it would provide additional entertainment value as well. Could you imagine having Brazil or Argentina coming to the US every qualifying cycle? It could greatly drive up interest in the national side.

As for the smaller North American countries like El Salvador and Honduras, they would find out what it’s like to be a solid team stuck in the whirlpool of talent that is Europe.

Summer EPL Transfers: The Top 3 Clubs for Clint Dempsey

Posted in World Football with tags , , , , on July 25, 2012 by sportinsider67

Clint Dempsey is coming off of the best season of his Fulham career, finishing fourth in the Barclays Premier League in scoring and becoming Fulham’s all-time leading EPL scorer with 50 goals to his name.

Fulham were able to utilize him by making him the central striker and building their attack around him, which paid huge dividends. There has been speculation as to where he might end up at the end of the transfer window, with several clubs showing interest.

Another layer was added to this speculation when he told Sports Illustrated‘s Grant Wahl that he wanted to play for a Champions League club. After doing some research and speculation of my own, I’ve made a list of the three teams that I think would be the best fits for the Texan.

3. Liverpool

The Reds’ boss Brendan Rodgers has already expressed his interest in the American striker, and Fulham seem to be ready to sell him for a good price (7.5 million pounds), so he could very likely end up here.

He would bring much-needed versatility to Liverpool after the departures of several key attacking players—Maxi Rodriguez, Dirk Kuyt and soon Andy Carroll. He can play as a attacking midfielder, winger or striker, but he seems to do best when he’s closest to goal.

Although Liverpool aren’t in the Champions League, they have a fairly strong squad and large budget. One of the original Top Four sides could very well qualify in this upcoming season, and Clint Dempsey may be in Merseyside when that happens.

2. Arsenal

Clint Dempsey would only have to move across town to join the Gunners. They have qualified for the UEFA Champions League, and with the departure of Robin van Persie imminent, Arsene Wenger will be under a lot of pressure from Arsenal supporters to sign several high-quality players.

Dempsey would slide in to Arsenal well as an attacking midfielder to supplement a big center forward like Nicklas Bendtner or van Persie for the time being. The only issue would be a possible lack of playing time in a squad packed with speedy, creative midfielders and wingers.

In the end, I think this move would suit both Arsenal and Dempsey as long as he continues his top form.

1. Malaga

After Malaga was taken over by a Qatari businessman in 2010, the Andalusian club became one of the richest in the world. The newfound money paid its first dividends last year when the club finished fourth in La Liga and gained a place in the UEFA Champions League.

The manager pictured above, Manuel Pelligrini, has stated that he wants to sign around five world-class players for the Champions League campaign. Dempsey would fit in well as a relative bargain (10 million euros or less for the fourth-best scorer in the best league in the world) and also be able to play against some of the best players in the world weekly.

The one worry for me about Clint leaving Fulham is that he could go from a superstar that a West London club built their team around to a second-team player. With the big European clubs, that’s always a possibility.

3 Ways to Make MLS Better

Posted in World Football with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 24, 2012 by sportinsider67

MLS has come a long way since its inception in 1996, as support for the league has grown. It has also attracted more and more world-class players, albeit they are generally past their peak. Having said that, the league still has a ways to go before becoming level with the great leagues of Europe.

There are many ways to improve the league, such as keeping younger talent longer in the MLS and attracting players from Europe and South America before they are long past their primes.

While many of the necessary changes will be difficult to implement, I will share three very easy ways that the MLS can improve its infrastructure and continue the momentum that has been created in the past 16 years.

Create Two Stable Divisions

One of the best things about the beautiful game, in my opinion, is the idea of promotion and relegation.

What you need in place in order to implement promotion and relegation is, obviously, a stable second division.

MLS seems to be expanding quickly and could very well reach 20 teams by next season. Although almost every other major American sports league has more along the lines of 30 teams, MLS should stop at 20 and have remaining franchises trickle into the second tier, the NASL.

Once there are 20 teams in each league, a system of promotion and relegation could be increased, which would allow teams from smaller markets to play against top teams from the US and Canada, then more and more tiers could be introduced.

The population and land in the US and Canada holds seemingly infinite possibilities soccer club locations.

Get MLS Aligned with the FIFA Calendar

MLS is one of the few leagues in the world that is not aligned with the FIFA calendar.

The league is played from March to November, instead of August to May.

While a winter break may be needed to cope with cold temperatures in places like Toronto, Chicago and Boston, the move would be worth it for several reasons.

By aligning league play with the FIFA calendar, it would not interfere with major international competitions like the World Cup and CONCACAF Gold Cup. The offseason would fall at the same time as the major European leagues, so transfers would be more easily completed.

Additionally, MLS clubs would be well into the season when the CCL knockout stages came about, which would give them a much needed advantage in fitness compared to starting the knockout stages sometimes before the MLS season starts itself.

While it may take fans a while to adjust up north, it actually would also combat the hot summers in the States, especially down south in Houston.

Also, if the league really wanted it, could keep the US Open Cup as a summer tournament, like an international tournament.

Get Rid of the Playoffs

This is a suggestion that gets a lot of heat from American and Canadian supporters who are used to playoff systems in their respective sports.

Before brushing me off, hear me out.

By getting rid of the MLS Cup Playoffs and cutting the tournament off at the end of the regular season, there will be, obviously, more of an incentive to finish first in the table (which by this point would ideally be one table with no separate conferences); and so, all of the emphasis would be placed on the regular season—for top teams to win it all and for bottom sides to avoid the drop.

As always, feel free to disagree!

I love having a good discussion about the game with anyone and thank you for reading.

2012-2013 CONCACAF Champions League: How Each MLS Team Will Fare

Posted in Soccer, World Football on July 17, 2012 by sportinsider67

In just over a month the first matches of the 2012-2013 CONCACAF Champions League group stage will take place. Many are wondering if this will be the year that an MLS side will finally be crowned champion of North America or if the Mexican domination of the league will continue.

All five (except TFC) of MLS’ representatives are capable of hoisting the trophy this time around.

The LA Galaxy have several world-class players and with their veteran experience they know how to navigate a tournament of this caliber.

The Seattle Sounders know how to win cup competitions—they are three-time defending US Open Cup Champions going for four this year—and have some crafty players offensively and solid players defensively.

Real Salt Lake were in the final two years ago and were one goal away from winning it, so they have more experience in this competition than any other MLS side.

Houston Dynamo have a defense which can keep them in games against the best of teams.

As for Toronto FC, they have picked up form recently but being drawn with Santos Laguna ends any realistic hope of silverware from this competition.

With a spot in the FIFA Club World Cup on the line, there is plenty at stake in this cup. The road to the final always provides plenty of entertainment, and I will try to provide you with how each MLS team will do in the group stage of this crazy, unpredictable competition. So without further ado, let’s begin.

Group 1 consists of Santos Laguna, Toronto FC and Aguila.

Santos Laguna, champions of the winter season in Mexico last year, made it to the final by beating this very same Toronto FC side comprehensively 7-3 on aggregate.

American Herculez Gomez found new life with Santos and led the team in scoring while setting personal highs in scoring as well.

The Key: How well TFC defend. If their defending is strong, they have a chance.

Group 2 is made up of Herediano, Tauro and Real Salt Lake.

Herediano ended a streak of 22 years without a league title by winning the Costa Rican league this past year.

Tauro are experienced, having been here four times, but the side from Panama City have never progressed past the group stage, and I think that will continue this time around.

Salt Lake made it to the final of this competition just two years ago, and I think that their depth will be the difference as they prevail and win a difficult group.

The Key: How RSL fare on the road. They will be traveling to two hostile environments, and if they can get positive results in each, they should go through.

The three teams in Group 3 are Olimpia, FAS and the Houston Dynamo.

FAS didn’t win any trophy this year but made it in to the Champions League because El Salvador gets three spots in the league and they had the best aggregate record.

Houston was able to make a surprise run to the MLS Cup Final where they ran into an LA Galaxy side that seemed destined to be victorious.

FAS were able to win both the fall and spring leagues in Guatemala.

Houston is currently not doing very well in MLS and I think that Olimpia will be able to put all of their resources into this competition to top the group at the expense of FAS and the Dynamo, who seem to have a lack of depth at the moment.

The Key: If Geoff Cameron is transferred. There are many rumors that he will be leaving for Europe this summer.  If not, he could be the reason the Dynamo are able to advance to the knockout stages. He is so strong at the back and gets them out of so many messes that he may prove to be the difference.

Group 4 contains Marathon, Caledonia AIA and the Seattle Sounders.

Caledonia AIA were crowned the best team in the Caribbean this year and will look to make some noise in their first time at the tournament.

Marathon are here for the fourth time, but haven’t won a domestic league title in four years, while arch rivals Olimpia have won several. T

he Seattle Sounders have been untouchable in the domestic cup, but they’ve never made it past the quarterfinals in this cup. I think Seattle are undoubtedly the best side in this group and should win it easily.

The Key: Caledonia are major dark horses here, but if they can play well and pick up some points against the other two sides then they could alter the table and be the deciders in who goes through.

Group 5 has been chosen as the Los Angeles Galaxy, Isidro Metapan and the Puerto Rican Islanders.

Metapan have been here five times and are consistently good performers, coming off of another championship win in El Salvador.

The Galaxy finally won that coveted MLS Cup with several of the world’s best players, but came crashing out of the CCL against Toronto FC in the quarterfinals.

The Puerto Rican Islanders are the best team in the NASL, but it’s the second tier in the American soccer pyramid and they will be hard pressed to do much in this group.

The Key: How seriously the Galaxy take the group stages. If they rest their top players for MLS play, they could very easily finish second or third with an inexperienced core of young players. If they have all their top men in the game, however, they should win this group comfortably.

Out of all the MLS teams in this year’s competition, I feel like RSL has the best chance. They have the veteran experience and have been to the final before, and I also feel like they have the most depth.

While LA Galaxy have several phenomenal players, I feel that their overall starting XI and substitutes could get beat up by a strong Mexican team, especially if David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane aren’t on form.

Seattle has some chance at going far based on pure talent, but even as a Dynamo fan I feel like it’s too much for the Houston side to balance MLS and CCL play.

And as for TFC, they just don’t have the squad to compete.

I predict that Santos Laguna will be the champions after getting to the final last season, but maybe an MLS side can surprise me and finally get that trophy that has long been sought after.

While Aguila did win the winter league in El Salvador and TFC have been playing pretty well as of late under new coach Paul Mariner, Santos Laguna are too strong and deep and should win this group easily.

 

Time to Move On: Why Dempsey and Donovan Need a Change of Scenery for USMNT

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on May 29, 2012 by sportinsider67

Several months ago I wrote a story about how Landon Donovan should permanently sign with Everton, which you can read here: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1033832-usmnt-why-landon-donovan-should-sign-permanently-with-everton.  At the time, Donovan was in the middle of a fantastic loan spell with Everton.  The fans loved him, and he fit into the club’s system and way of life beautifully; while David Moyes mentioned wanting to sign him permanently many times.  He returned to the Galaxy, however, and has not looked sharp in the first trimester of the MLS season.

Earlier this week, Donovan said that he would like to return to Everton; and I say, why not? Watching him score a hat trick in Saturday’s 5-1 stomping over Scotland, I thought to myself, where have I seen this player before, roaming around and creating havoc for opposing defenses?  The most recent time that came to mind was during his loan spell with Everton.  He loved the club, and he seemed so rejuvenated there; playing with a seemingly free mind.  With LA these past few months, he has looked like he doesn’t really enjoy playing; in accordance with some comments he made this past week. 

After all, how much more can Donovan do for MLS?  He’s a been a star in the league for the past 10 years, and played a big part in creating an environment that both helped develop young domestic talent and lure international talent—namely the likes of David Beckham and Thierry Henry But now he’s done maybe as much he can for the league; and going to play in the best league in the world will undoubtedly make him a much better player and, in turn, will help the USMNT.  Also, the more Americans who make names for themselves in the big European leagues (ex. Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, etc.), the more the big clubs will look to sign American players.  Donovan really only looks like he’s having fun with Everton and the USMNT, anyway.  If Donovan wants to make this move, however, he better do it soon, because the clock is ticking.

Now on to the animal that is Clint Dempsey.  The striker netted 23 goals for Fulham this past season, with 17 of them coming in the EPL.  I know that many people say that this is the perfect situation for him—with a team that is centered around him—but I disagree.  For him to really gain valuable experience, scoring goals against the best defenders in the world in short competitions where this is no room for error, he needs to be playing in the Champions League.  While he has improved greatly during his tenure in West London, he needs to be playing against the players he would face in the quarterfinals, seminfinals or even finals of the FIFA World Cup.  Beyond that, he has publicly stated he would like to play in the Champions League before his career is over.

While these players are both doing well in their current situations, I feel they could be doing much better by advancing their respective careers in terms of domestic football.  This would not only benefit their performances for the national team, but raise the bar for American players in the top European leagues.  The performances of Americans around the world get better each day, and these two moving would only further that trend.

Feel free to disagree in the comments section below.

Panama v USA: The 5 Biggest Questions

Posted in Soccer, World Football with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 25, 2012 by sportinsider67

As the US are prepared to take on Panama in Panama on Wednesday, there are many of questions surrounding this fixture.  Which players will step up? What tactics will both teams try to use? After an exciting game against Venezuela, one can only hope this game will be exciting as the last one.  Without further ado, here are the 5 biggest questions heading into this international friendly.

 How will the US respond to a tough environment?

This will be the first time that Jurgen Klinsmann will take his side in to a tough Central American environment.  This is very important because the USMNT will inevitably have to go to some very difficult environments during World Cup qualifying.  The Estadio Rommel Fernandez is a tough place to play and it will be interesting to see if the crowd is able to rattle the young United States squad or if it will pump up the Panamanians.  If the crowd does get to the Americans, they could end up hitting their achilles heel: conceding in the first fifteen minutes.

 Will Panama be up to the occasion?

This will be the first time that Jurgen Klinsmann will take his side in to a tough Central American environment.  This is very important because the USMNT will inevitably have to go to some very difficult environments during World Cup qualifying.  The Estadio Rommel Fernandez is a tough place to play and it will be interesting to see if the crowd is able to rattle the young United States squad or if it will pump up the Panamanians.  If the crowd does get to the Americans, they could end up hitting their achilles heel: conceding in the first fifteen minutes.

 Where will the goals come from?

The US did win against Venezuela, however, they left it late.  Until the 97th minute, to be exact.  The US can’t wait that long to score a goal this time if they want a result.  The question is, where will the goals come from? The US were disappointing in the final third on Saturday, especially in the first half.  Brek Shea was really disappointing, and none of the attacking players had very impressive performances. Teal Bunbury was encouraging at times, but I thought the best threat was Chris Wondolowski.  He came on as a sub as energized the attack while getting a couple of shots on goal.  Ricardo Clark played poorly until that goal rescued his performance.

Who will make their imprint on the national team?

There were several players with strong performances on Saturday night.  Geoff Cameron had great distribution and always seemed to be in the right position.  Jeff Parkhurst also had a solid game in the back, making sure nothing got past the defense (I’m not sure if Venezuela got a shot on goal all night). Benny Feilhaber had a good game, making some nice passes and opening up the field without stretching it too much, which really benefited the US.  If these or other players who have not had many chances with the national team turn in good performances, they could make their mark on the fans and Jurgen Klinsmann for a long time to come.

Will the United States get a win?

This is the question that everyone wants to know the answer to.  You would have to say the US controlled the run of play against Venezuela, but they were disappointing in the final third and lacked that drop of creativity to completely open up the attacking game.  If they play like this against Panama, they would be lucky to escape with a win.  However, I think Klinsmann will make the necessary changes and they will get the win.  My prediction: Panama 1-2 United States

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