European World Cup qualifiers are what put asses in the seats, but the football drama seems to be lingering squarely in the middle of the Western hemisphere. Last night, the United States made history with a 0-0 draw in the Azteca stadium. It was, as Jeff Carlisle wrote this morning, only the “second in its history” that the US managed to secure a point at the Azteca in qualifying.
There will be quibbles with the aesthetic of the US national team in their draw, particularly as Mexico managed 19 attempts to the USA’s 1. But that’s the nature of CONCACAF: it’s a dirty, mud and snow soaked horror show right until the dying stages. You watch these things with an upset stomach, not a stimulated mind—why else would DaMarcus Beasley be out there? The US clearly did what they needed to defensively to leave the Azteca hype for another day.
Meanwhile the Hex table speaks for itself, even at this relatively early-ish stage. Panama is first, followed by Costa Rica, the USA and Honduras, all tied on 4 points and separated by goal differential. Meanwhile Mexico is in fifth on three points. This is of course bound to change significantly as the campaign progresses, but is already far from your dad’s Hex.
As for the Brazil-less CONMEBOL, Uruguay’s struggle to compete continued yesterday with a 2-0 loss to Chile, a game that may lead to a lengthy suspension for Luis Suarez for punching Gonzalo Jara in the first half (he’s already out of the next game against Venezuela on yellows). If you don’t think that’s a bad thing, Suarez has been scoring a lot of goals this campaign with a total of 8, tied with Lionel Messi. Uruguay are struggling this time around, two points outside the playoff spot.
It wasn’t the Heat or the Lakers. It wasn’t Georgetown losing in the first round to the fifteenth seed in Philadelphia. The sporting event that captivated non-footy mad Americans around the country was a soccer game. That’s pretty damn special. The U.S.A moved to second place in the Hex, beating Costa Rica 1-0 thanks to a Clint Dempsey goal in the first half. The main story here, however, was the conditions in Denver.
Kudos to the Costa Ricans for playing on in less than ideal conditions. A brief stoppage in the second half ended after protests from both teams.
While those of us in Canada remain hamstrung by beIN Sport’s unavailability, viewers in the United States are enjoying unprecedented access to the biggest games from all over the world. This infographic, via Giltedge marketing (click here for full image) outlines the television numbers from last year. Liga MX’s huge television presence is not a surprise considering American demographics. Also note a lot of these channels are not available on basic cable packages.
On Friday, a typically reputable source of American soccer coverage and commentary dropped a bombshell of a rumor on unsuspecting readers. Per Prost Amerika, Nigel Reo-Coker could be on his way to Major League Soccer—perhaps to the New York Red Bulls or maybe the Portland Timbers—and not just because he’s currently out of contract and could use a place to ply his chosen trade. Reo-Coker, according to the report, could come to MLS because it would give him a chance to play in a World Cup. For the United States of America.
Don’t worry if your brain shut down for a few moments there. It’s understandable. When you get it started again, don’t fret if you’re left gobsmacked as to how a thing like “Nigel Reo-Coker, U.S. international” might be possible. You’re not alone.
The notion that former West Ham, Villa, and Bolton midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker could be MLS bound is, on it’s own, something of an odd possibility. Not because Reo-Coker is particularly above the level of MLS, but because his background goes so against type. Reo-Coker is English, 28, and was good enough as recently as last year to start for a Premier League team. Players like that, without a direct tie to the U.S., don’t come here while still on the south side of thirty. Regardless of Reo-Coker’s contract situation (nonexistent), MLS doesn’t immediately jump out as the obvious next destination for a player who could surely make more money playing somewhere in the Football League.
The additional notion that Nigel Reo-Coker could somehow become a U.S. international verges on the absurd. But it turns out that Reo-Coker does have a direct tie to the U.S.; he married an American last year. That tenuous connection—and a misunderstanding of the state of naturalization laws in 2013—seem to be the basis for the whole strange rumor. Whether it’s Klinsmann himself or another person connected to the program telling Reo-Coker that a place in the national team is waiting for him should he arrive, someone needs a refresher course on the process. Come to MLS, Nigel, but don’t do it because it might mean playing in the World Cup in Brazil next year. Read the rest of this entry »
Landon Donovan’s relationship with soccer is complicated. That’s been true since his earliest days as America’s greatest soccer hope, back when he was winning the Golden Ball at the 1999 U-17 World Cup, but it’s especially true now as he flits across America’s small but intense soccer media landscape, touching down every so often to willingly inform us he’s no longer exploding with soccer passion. In the latest instance Donovan let slip, through ESPN’s Roger Bennett, that he wouldn’t mind some time off to “travel to distant places alone”, “spend a lot of time with family”, “think”, and just generally not be so soccer-focused for a while.
The thrill, as they say, is gone.
Not that any of this is new. Back in May, when the United States was prepping for a series of friendlies and qualifiers in Florida, Donovan admitted to feeling less than enthused about his job. The physical part of it was getting harder, of course, but he also spoke of a distaste for the spotlight. Both in his recent comments and those he made five months ago, Donovan projected the image of a man always unfit for the trappings of stardom finally deciding he’s had enough.
Landon Donovan the person’s proclamations of a waning interest in the sport don’t help to untangle our own complicated relationship with Landon Donovan the player. Already marked a pariah by a vocal segment of the American soccer fanbase for his failure to “challenge himself” abroad beyond two short later-career stints with Everton, Donovan’s recent admission that his fire doesn’t burn as brightly at age 30 will only serve to sharpen his image as the preternaturally gifted player with a debilitating lack of ambition. For some, that attitude is unconscionable, and Donovan’s confounding ability to be content with the status quo an odious crime. We ask our athletes to run themselves into the ground, to only give up when it’s clear they’re not good enough anymore, and to always push themselves to the highest level their talents will allow. Anything less is failure, even if our appreciation of their internal struggles is fleeting. Read the rest of this entry »
The majority of players growing up in Central American nations or the Caribbean islands now see MLS as an aspirational league. For many, reaching a team in Europe is a bridge too far — either due to talent or distance — but the United States is closer, mentally and physically. International club tournaments like the CONCACAF Champions League give them a chance to gain familiarity with MLS teams, players, styles, and facilities, while offering MLS coaches an opportunity to scout talent and make inroads.
The result is more, and better, talent coming to MLS from CONCACAF countries. Last month, Soccer America reported that 68 of the 132 starters on the 12 MLS playoff contenders were internationals. Some of these players hail from non-CONCACAF countries — Colombians make up 4.7 percent of MLS, for example — but plenty are from the region. Which raises two questions: 1) Is MLS making CONCACAF’s national teams better? And 2) How does the affect the U.S. national team?
Davis is a good writer, but I’m not convinced of his answers. On the first, he argues it’s a “yes,” mostly on the back of a quote from US national team coach Juergen Klinsmann in which he remarks that “All of our opponents are better than they were a few years ago.”
First, is Klinsmann the right person to be making this kind of judgment? He’s been at the helm of the USMNT for just under a year-and-a-half, not exactly an enormous period of time in which to make sweeping statements about improved teams. Even if this notion of improvement is true, it doesn’t follow it’s because MLS exists. Davis at least concedes the obvious on the second question: if MLS benefits CONCACAF nations, it definitely benefits the US. I would say the latter benefits outweighs any and all concerns over potentially aiding the enemy.
That said, the whole argument doesn’t hold water. For many central American players, MLS is just one more option among several, and is not the most obvious choice for elite footballers when held up against Mexico, Argentina, or Brazil, and of course, Europe. It’s not even clear that CONCACAF nations have improved that much in the intervening years. If there’s a convincing metric, it wasn’t in this article.