The next few days promise to be big ones in US professional football. Major League Soccer has proven this summer and into the fall to be the most compelling and competitive first division the English speaking world. The MLS season comes down to the next few nights of football: every match in the final weekend has an impact upon the title race, unlike the final weekends in most European leagues.
Further down the US football pyramid, The United Soccer Leagues representing divisions two through four as well as major youth and amateur clubs is in flux. I have been informed by a source very close to the situation that the dispute between the Team Owners Association (TOA) and USL will be resolved one way or another, within the next 48 hours. Both the USSF and MLS have intervened in the proceedings and I am told by a source close to the TOA, that MLS Commissioner Don Garber, in particular has been insightful and helpful in the process.
Back to MLS: On Thursday, Chivas USA has an opportunity to take control of the Western Conference race at Toyota Park against Chicago. The Fire have been poor at home for the best part of two seasons now under Denis Hamlet, and with Preki’s team hitting its stride and Zach Thornton playing lights out, I fully expect Chivas to walk away with something.
Congratulations to the Columbus Crew who achieved a result against the woeful and embarrassingly outclassed Puerto Rico Islanders in Bayoman on Tuesday. The Crew’s result coupled with Saprissa’s loss to Cruz Azul puts Columbus through to the knock out stages of the CONCACAF Champions League.
As far as the Islanders are concerned, they have failed miserably both in USL and CONCACAF this year, despite the single achievement of knocking Toronto FC out of the tournament. Colin Clarke’s increasingly negative football and head scratching squad choices make me wonder if he got the most he could get out of this team during the 2008 calendar year and should have moved on.
Puerto Rico’s failure also calls into question whether the Caribbean region is being given too many teams in the Champions League. The Islanders were far from the best team in USL this year and did not win a group stage match in CONCACAF. Yet, they were given easy passage into the tournament as one of the few truly professional teams in the region they qualify from. Granted the Islanders were impressive in the 2008-09 tournament, but easy qualification plus being grouped with the embarrassingly bad Toronto FC pre Julian De Guzman in the play in stage made the Islanders road to the group stages as easy as possible.
The news last week that Avram Grant was approached by Red Bull New York should be encouraging for MLS fans. This sort of move to bring in a technical director and a manager who has actually accomplished something on the club level and international level, (previous Red Bull/Metros managers like Carlos Alberto Parriera, Carlos Quiroez and Bora Milutinovic all had been away from the European/North American club game for a while when hired.) should be emulated across the league.
The standard of management in MLS is still woeful, despite what many of the league’s defenders may claim. Simple tactics and in game adjustments often times are lacking from MLS matches. Unfortunately, this often carries over when players from the league feature at the international level.
It has been my intention to tape a podcast with United Mania’s Chris Webb for the past several days. Chances are we will still tape a show this week, but our schedules have clashed and I had some painful dental work the other day which also complicated matters.