XI: The Weekend of July 20th

photo credit: calciostreaming via photopin cc

photo credit: calciostreaming via photopin cc

-James Rodriguez appears to be on his way to Real Madrid for a silly amount of money. The 23-year old Colombian was the breakout star of the World Cup, claiming the golden boot, and now is on the verge of joining the European champions for a transfer fee of $120 million. That’s a lot of money to spend for a player who scored just nine goals in Ligue 1 last season, but that is also the Real Madrid way. Rodriguez isn’t needed; Real already has incredible amounts of attacking talent. But Madrid loves star power, and no one’s star is brighter right now than James Rodriguez.

-Also getting paid: Matt Besler and Graham Zusi are staying in Kansas City after signing designated player contracts over the weekend. Besler had been getting attention from European clubs since the World Cup, notably Fulham and Sunderland, but opted to stay with his hometown club. Zusi’s performance with the USMNT drew less foreign interest, but keeping him is good for both Sporting and the league. These moves might frustrate some fans of the USMNT, but I don’t see it. Both players are 27; how much more development can they reasonably do with a low-table European team? DeAndre Yedlin, at 21, is a different story. But if MLS is to improve as a league, these are the sorts of moves it has to make.

-SKC celebrated their big signings by defeating the Galaxy 2-1 in front of a record crowd at Sporting Park. Sporting has been praised for their off-field turnaround, with rebranding and a beautiful stadium producing crowds like that for the first time in the club’s history. But winning certainly helps, and right now they find themselves atop the Eastern Conference. That, despite a season littered with injuries and absences, is very impressive.

-Besler and Zusi will both be on the MLS all-star team when they play Bayern Munich in early August. Their teammate Dom Dwyer, however, wasn’t selected for the team despite being second in the golden boot race. He’s the biggest snub from the roster, which features every American who was on the World Cup squad, save for Brad Davis. Other selections include Jermain Defoe, Bradley Wright-Phillips, and Erick Torres.

-Right behind SKC in the east are DC United, who won 3-1 against Chivas USA on Sunday night. United are just a point behind Kansas City with a match in hand, but in context that is remarkable. Last season, they finished last in MLS by a significant margin, winning just three games. But they also won the U.S. Open Cup, which earned them a spot in the upcoming CONCACAF Champions League. With bonus allocation money available, and continental play calling for a deeper squad, United have made a rapid turnaround. Their success is a testament to MLS’s parity.

-Speaking of teams in need of new stadiums, New England keeps on losing. Tesho Akindele sealed the Revs’ seventh straight loss with a late goal in FC Dallas’ 2-0 win. Nothing is going right for Jay Heaps’ club right now, and a season that started so brightly is on the verge of tailspin. Meanwhile, Dallas hasn’t lost in five, and they currently sit in second place in the Western Conference.

-Despite that 7-game losing streak, the Revs are still 5th in the Eastern Conference; if the season were to end today, they would be in the playoffs. This speaks to a few things. One, the Revs were in first place when this crisis began. It feels like forever ago, especially with the World Cup break, but the Revs were on a five-game winning streak and atop the Eastern Conference. Secondly, the Eastern Conference isn’t that great. The west’s sixth place Whitecaps have more points than third-place Toronto in the east. The Union could have overtaken New England this weekend, but only managed a draw against Chicago. Last but not least, too many teams make the playoffs in MLS. I understand the need for playoffs, but 10 teams from 19 is too many, and ultimately devalues the regular season. When the league expands in the next few years, I hope the playoffs don’t.

-Toronto FC played two games last week, and got just two points. They drew 1-1 against Vancouver on Wednesday night, and had to come back twice to earn a point in Houston. They have games in hand on everyone in the east, but so far this season haven’t quite clicked. It feels like they have to discover another gear if their big offseason is going to truly pay off on the pitch. TFC’s busy schedule continues with a friendly against Defoe’s old club on Wednesday night. Tottenham Hotspur began their summer tour with a 3-3 draw in front of more than 55,000 fans in Seattle on Saturday.

-1-1 draws were the theme of the weekend: Real Salt Lake drew Vancouver, New York stumbled with a draw at home against lowly San Jose, and Philly drew in Chicago. Penalties were scored in all three of those matches, most controversially in Vancouver’s favor. While RSL is upset with the ref, the Red Bulls have only themselves to blame. Wright Phillips, who scored his 17th goal of the season on a first-half penalty, had multiple chances to add to his golden boot lead. The Red Bulls eventually paid for not extending their lead when Steven Lenhart equalized in the 85th minute.

-Las Vegas inches closer to approving a retractable-roof soccer stadium, with MLS in mind. A development group has unveiled renderings of a planned 24,000-seat stadium ahead of an August 20th meeting with Las Vegas City City Council. Justin Findlay, who heads the group, is confident that Las Vegas will get into MLS if the stadium gets approved. Now, Don Garber has made no mention of Sin City, while he has acknowledged Minneapolis and San Antonio as potential expansion cities. I believe that Las Vegas would be a big risk for a league that doesn’t need one, and I think Garber and those atop MLS are smart enough to know that. The league has better options.

-Liga MX began its apertura season over the weekend. Sometimes MLS fans overlook the league to the south, in part because it isn’t shown in English, but perhaps that’s a mistake on our part. It’s the most-watched soccer league in the U.S., and its teams consistently knock MLS sides out of the CONCACAF Champions League. Eventually, if MLS is growing in quality, that will have to change. For now, there’s no harm in knowing thy enemy.



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