Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Fergie goes Stateside and hints at retirement

Sir Alex Ferguson has heaped praise on the MLS, and hinted that he may not be in the game for much longer.

The United manager is currently in New York promoting the All-Stars game (see previous entry for more details), and attended the press conference alongside Thierry Henry of the New York Red Bulls.

The Scot told journalists that MLS teams certainly aren't pushovers: "We’re finding it increasingly more exciting each time we come here.

"The big change now is that MLS is now developing into a very competitive league, and is producing teams that make it more difficult."

He went on to mention Sporting KC as one of the teams that United struggled against.

"We found last season, particularly in Kansas City, we found that very, very difficult, which is a measure of the improvement of American soccer. And of course the National Team did very well in the World Cup. There is definitely a very good sense of a good future for American soccer."

Although he's lost his rag with the media more than once, he's still got his sense of humour. When quizzed about how he'd deal with Thierry Henry were he to play for the All-Stars, he joked: "We have a special plan to sort Henry out. I’m bringing Roy Keane back."

But when asked about whether or not he'd ever follow Beckham's footsteps in crossing the pond, Fergie was swift in his dismissal.

"No. I'm 69 - crikey!"

And he might not be at United much longer either. "When I'm finished wih United, in a couple of years or so, that'll be it for me."

Mancunians are all too familiar with speculation over Fergie's retirement date though, and they'll be hoping he sticks around for a bit longer. Sitting at the top of the Prem, contesting the FA Cup and the Champions League, he's still the best in the business.

Few things receive Fergie's golden seal of approval, but it seems Major League Soccer is one of them - quite an honour, if you ask me!

Sources: Associated Press & New York Post

Philip Wright-Lewis

Monday, 28 March 2011

United return to face All-Stars

Manchester United, the second-most successful British football club of all time, will face the MLS All-Stars this July.

The All-Stars game takes place every year, and this year will see a repeat of 2010's tie, which ended 5-2 to the Mancs.

Last year's result saw the first victory for a British side over the All-Stars in seven games. Teams who have tried and failed to overcome the MLS side include Chelsea, Fulham, West Ham and Celtic.
Ancient United boss, Sir Alex Ferguson, is hoping for a similar game this time around: "Last year's game was a special occasion in front of a noisy, passionate crowd. Obviously we'll be looking to repeat the performance and the scoreline."

There had been rumours that United's rivals Liverpool could be the team to take part this year, due to the NESV influence after they acquired the Reds.

But instead, fans will be hoping to see United old-boys Scholes and Giggs lock horns with former-team-mate David Beckham, who missed out on last year's game with injury.

Landon Donovan and Thierry Henry could also take part, which would provide more familiar opposition to the Manchester United team.

The game will take place in the Red Bull Arena, New Jersey on July 27th. Expect to see a certain Frenchman with a penchant for karate kicks in the crowd!

N.B: I think the idea of 'All-Star' games is amazing. Especially when you're trying to sustain a relatively new fan-base. I'd certainly love to see a Premier League XI.

Philip Wright-Lewis

What a weekend!

What a weekend it's been for US football!

With some superb high-scoring league fixtures lighting up the domestic game, as well as the US National Team's inspired comeback against the Argies, American footy fans are being spoiled!

In the international friendly, Esteban Cambiasso put Argentina ahead with the easiest goal he's likely to score. Some Messi magic found the ball bobbling around in the US box, only for Inter Milan midfielder to smash it home from about 4 yards just before half-time.

But Bob Bradley sorted things out in the dressing room. The American team that came back out after the interval looked different altogether. Going to their preferred 4-4-2, they looked far more threatening going forward. Super-sub Juan Agudelo knocked in after a deflected free-kick came out to him, sending the fans into a frenzy.

Although the two goals in the international game might not have been the best, Javier Martina's was certainly up there. With easily the goal of the season so far, Toronto's 24-year-old Dutchman opened his scoring account in style.

(Big surprise to hear Robbie Earle back on the telly, by the way! He was famously dropped by ITV after selling loads of World Cup 2010 tickets to a bunch of trim Dutch models working for Bavaria Brewery. LAD!)

Elsewhere in the league, LA Galaxy received a 4-1 spanking at the hands of Real Salt Lake, and Chicago Fire managed a 3-2 victory over Sporting Kansas City. Here are the rest of the weekend's results:

Toronto FC 2-0 Portland
Columbus 0-0 New York
Philadelphia 1-0 Vancouver
Chicago 3-2 Kansas City
New England 2-1 DC United
FC Dallas 0-2 San Jose
Real Salt Lake 4-1 LA Galaxy
Chivas 0-1 Colorado

N.B: Just before I started this blog in January 2011, I asked a few people who'd seen the MLS what it was like - in terms of standard of football and support. The common answer seemed to be "Rubbish: the equivalent of League 2 in English football."

Even after watching just a few games this season, I can see that's far from the case. As far as I'm aware, the games have a good pace and the fans are loud. As anyone who watched the World Cup is aware, the National Team isn't to be underestimated, and for me, the MLS standard is decent.

Philip Wright-Lewis

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Beckham to captain Galaxy

David Beckham will wear the captain's arm-band for the first time since 2008, when he leads LA Galaxy out against Real Salt Lake tonight.

The 35-year-old was originally given the captaincy in 2007 when he signed for the club, by then-manager, Frank Yallop. But after spending loads of time at AC Milan on loan over the next couple of seasons, the arm-band was given back to the man who had it before Beckham's arrival, Landon Donovan, by current gaffer, Bruce Arena.

Becks has been handed the responsibility due to Donovan's participation in the US National Team's friendly against Argentina this evening. (It's quite alarming that the USMNT organised a friendly game not only mid-season, but on the same day as domestic fixtures were taking place. Imagine the uproar if the FA decided to hold friendlies on Premier League weekends!)

The former face of Brylcreem told the press he was honoured to have the captaincy back, even though it's just for one game.

"Bruce has asked me to wear it, and I'll be proud to wear it," he said.

The issue of the Galaxy arm-band has been a hot one, famously causing a feud between Donovan and Beckham. Reacting to Beckham's extended stays in Italy, the US captain questioned the Englishman's commitment, drawing attention to his extortionate wages. Understandably, he was peeved at being asked to relinquish the captaincy to someone who seemed more interested in playing elsewhere.

They've kissed and made up now though, and Donovan will skipper the club after he returns from international duties. Still, Galaxy fans have remained suspicious of Beckham, who is constantly being linked with a move back to Blighty. It must be frustrating for your top-earner to seem so distant, loyalty-wise. Although he remains a fan-favourite in England, Becks has every chance of returning with a blemished reputation Stateside. And rightly so, we think.

Galaxy currently sit at the top of the Western Conference, with 4 points to their name. Aside from the oddly-placed international, here are the other fixtures to be played today:

Toronto FC vs Portland
Columbus vs New York
Philadelphia vs Vancouver
Chicago vs Kansas City
New England vs DC United
FC Dallas vs San Jose
Real Salt Lake vs LA Galaxy
Chivas vs Colorado

Philip Wright-Lewis

MLS: Major League Stoners?

Former Toronto FC winger, Rohan Ricketts, has revealed that a number of his former league-mates used to smoke cannabis.

Ricketts now writes for the online magazine, Sabotage Times, and made the claims in his column: 'Diary of a Pro Footballer'.

The one-time Tottenham and Arsenal player was reacting to Kolo Toure's failure of his recent drugs test, when he said:

"When I played in MLS, there were loads of young players straight out of college who liked to smoke weed. They were just carrying on their campus lifestyle even though they were now pros. One guy I played against got caught but the whole affair was swept under the rug which seemed a little unfair when just six months later two New York Red Bulls players Jon Conway and defender Jeff Parke got banned for taking performance enhancers. I guess it’s all about who you know…"

Rohan is 'well-known' for being the first British player to ply his trade in Moldova, where he joined FC Dacia Chisinau, after an unsuccessful stint in Hungary.

Currently, he is playing for German fourth-tier team, FC Wilhelmshaven, who he joined on this year's January deadline day.

Talk about globe-trotting, eh? Even so, it seems as though he's far more interested in pursuing a media career these days, and he lists himself as a 'TV/Radio personality' on his Twitter account.

I think a great place for him to start garnering some media attention would be right here at MLS Blighty. If you're reading this Rohan, be sure to give us a shout on Twitter! We'd love a chat!

N.B: Apologies for the recent quietness of the blog. My final-year work is piling up at Uni, and I've been making a lot of plans for my trip to L.A next week. Next excuse, my dog ate my notes...

Philip Wright-Lewis

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

And they're off! Seattle Sounders 0 - 1 LA Galaxy

LA Galaxy opened the 2011 MLS season with a narrow win over Seattle Sounders last night.

On-loan Brazilian Juninho hit a gorgeous strike from outside the box, to seal the game in the 58th minute.

A record attendance of 36,433 managed to sustain a scintillating atmosphere in the Qwest Park even after the Sounders had conceded. But it wasn't enough to spur their team on, and despite some added pressure in the final few minutees, Galaxy hung on to clinch the three points.

Both teams had a number of chances, with a lot of the shots on goal coming from optimistic midfield drives. Landon Donovan had the chance to double LA's lead on 65 minutes when he smashed against the woodwork.

But it was Juninho who stole the show with his goal that silenced the Sounders fans. His shot had just enough swerve to deceive Kasey Keller. The former Spurs and Fulham keeper managed to get across to make a touch, but wasn't strong enough to deny Juninho.

Without taking anything away from the strike, it's goalkeeping like this that condemned Keller to a back-up-only during his time in the Prem. He'd done the hard part by getting across, and a strong palm would have prevented the strike. Maybe a couple of hours down the gym and a few spinach butties would sort out old Kasey's case of chronic flaily arms.

I watched the game on ESPN, and although the commentary was very good, I couldn't help but laugh at some of the build-up! Sky Sports have recently started showing the players approach the camera during the line-ups just before kick-off, and that often gets a few laughs in the pub. But that's nothing compared to this, which is more reminiscent of the 90s Saturday night TV classic, Gladiators.

Shortly after the game, part-time Evertonian Landon Donovan had a bit of verbals with a fan over Twitter. After a Sounders supporter boasted about her team's support not being hinged upon signing David Beckham, the LA skipper stung back with the playground-esque Tweet: "at least we win games". What next? 'At least my dad's harder than your dad!'?

For highlights and comedy line-ups, give this a gander:

Philip Wright-Lewis

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Exclusive Interview: Scott Sandalow, Chicago Fire Staff - Part 2

Following on from the previous section, we were keen to speak to someone in the know at an MLS club about their thoughts on football in America in general.

Scott Sandalow, a member of the Chicago Fire communications staff, talks about MLS's links with Europe, the return of the New York Cosmos, and the future of American soccer.

The USA has seen a number of big-name European stars move to the MLS recently. Is it a good thing that the league can attract that pedigree to America? Or do you ever worry it might overshadow the kind of work you’ve mentioned in the youth academies?

Any attention it can garner for the league is a good thing. Take Freddie Ljunberg for instance, who was in the twilight of his career when he was in the MLS. He was still a very effective player for us, but if he can bring out some of the best in our younger players, I think that’s a fantastic thing. If these older players can show some of our youngsters what they can be if they fulfil their potential, it’s fantastic.

You mentioned Freddie Ljunberg – what did he bring to the team?

Well he was only with us for half a year, but even in that time, he showed the players what it’s like to perform at the top, top level. In off-field terms, he brought a lot of attention with him, and gave them something to aspire to. He understands the responsibility of being a star off the pitch, but also to focus on what he’s doing when he’s playing. So I think he set a great example while he was here.

Are there any plans for Chicago Fire to sign any more big continental names soon?

I’m not completely sure what our plans are, but in the future I’m sure we’ll definitely do it. A city like Chicago can attract these top stars. I know Freddie loved being in Chicago, and being from here, Brian McBride, loved the city too. So I don’t think we’ll have any trouble attracting top players – Chicago is an international city.

British interest in the MLS is growing at the moment. Would you like to see more connections with European football and American soccer?

Well I think it’s great that there’s a growing interest! I’ve heard the rumours of Sunderland and Liverpool coming over here soon, and it’s great when teams come and establish a connection.

But one thing that has to be considered, that people often miss, is that the MLS definitely has its own style. As long as we stick to what we’re good at, I think we can establish good connections but we shouldn’t forget where we’ve come from and how it’s moving forward. It is great to establish those relationships though.

How do you feel about the return of the New York Cosmos?

I think it’s really exciting! If you’re talking about Europe, I think the one team European fans would know about in U.S. soccer is the Cosmos. The fact we’ll see the first inner-city rivalry within the MLS is super exciting for me, because that’s something European fans can grab on to with the derby connotations.

Obviously with Pele and Cantona involved it would be special for any team, but for the MLS this is very exciting.

You mentioned Cantona there – he recently mentioned the United States could win the FIFA World Cup within 20 years. Is he on to something?

Feasibly, there’s no reason it can’t happen! It would’ve helped if we’d have got to host in 2010, but I think we’ll get it in 2026. There’s a definite road map, and we know what we want to do. We’re establishing a really good path of how we’re gonna get there.

So the future’s bright for football in the States then?

Definitely. As long as we can keep cultivating the youth, there’s a ton of potential. We’ve got new stadiums being built exclusively for soccer teams – that’s unheard of. I recently read that MLS is still in the top ten or fifteen leagues in the world for attendance. The crowds are definitely getting bigger! Things can only get better.

Special thanks again to Scott, for taking the time to speak to us.

N.B: During the interview, Scott mentioned that he was an avid Leeds United fan. As I was going to the Leeds press conference the next day, I asked manager Simon Grayson to give him a shout-out, which he duly did:

Simon Grayson's Best Wishes by ScottSandalow

Philip Wright-Lewis

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Exclusive Interview: Scott Sandalow, Chicago Fire Staff - Part 1

As the start of the MLS season approaches, MLS Blighty has a chat with Scott Sandalow, who works in Communcations at Chicago Fire Soccer Club.

Although not very famous on this side of the Atlantic, they are one of the most passionately supported clubs in the Major League. With their very own Ultras, they seem to have much in common with the teams we all know and love.

In the first of a two-part interview, Scott gives us a background to the Fire, their fans, and tells us why Brits should pick Chicago as their second footballing home.

Most Brits are aware of clubs like New York Red Bulls and LA Galaxy, but don't know much about Chicago Fire. Tell us a little bit about your club.

That’s kind of a shame! I think a lot of the teams in England, particularly northern England, have a very working-class background to them. That’s definitely what we’re about. We’re never gonna be as flashy as the Red Bulls or the Galaxy, but the tradition we’ve developed through the strong, dedicated fanbase is pretty spectacular.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with our fan group, Section 8, but they display that proud, working-class ethic so much. They deserve to be called Ultras, most definitely. I think what makes them so special is that they’re very knowledgeable. We as a club have developed a great relationship with them to make them a real part of the club. Our partnership with Section 8 is part of what makes this club special.

Aside from your fiercely loyal support, you’re also famous for your youth development system. Is that a reputation the club enjoys?

Yeah, I think we’ve had some very strong players. Players like DeMarcus Beasley and Carlos Bocanegra, who’ve played at the top level. We’re still cultivating that now. We just signed our first academy player late last year, Victor Pineda. He’s from the neighbourhood and he’s really gonna stand out. That was a huge step in the right direction for us.

I think that a lot of people in England don’t realise that there is a very established, well-crafted youth system in the MLS and especially in Chicago.

You missed out on the
play-offs and only finished 4th last season. How drastically do you have to improve to do better this term?

First of all I should start off by saying that personally, I am very confused by the play-off system in the MLS. I think that going through a two-conference system (whereby we were playing in a Western Conference final two years ago) that it’s such a confusing system.

Especially for people new to the league, like those reading your blog. They’re bound to be confused as to why it’s structured the way it is. I’m not even sure myself! It would make the most sense to go to a single table. It would be a greater reward for who won the Supporters’ Shield as well.

For us as a club, we have to improve. The team’s a lot younger, a lot more athletic and the guys have a lot more to play for. These guys are very hungry.

For any Brits looking to pick a team to follow in the MLS, why should we go with Chicago Fire?

We’re the team British fans can find the most in common with. This is a team where you can establish a connection and get to know the guys – unlike any other team in the league. We’re a club that really reflects the city, unlike a team like the Galaxy, which really can’t reflect a city like L.A; the Red Bulls can’t reflect a team like New York.

The players and the staff are a perfect reflection of the city. And that makes us one of the most genuine teams in the MLS. It should be very familiar for you guys. Most fans in England aren’t just Manchester United or Chelsea; they support their city. They’re proud of where they’re from, and what their team has accomplished.

What we’ve done is great. For a team to win the double in their first year is an amazing feat. Coupled with our home-grown talent ethic, this is something that I think English fans could really pick up on.

...You mean a strong national identity within the squad?

Yeah definitely and you won’t find that with most teams in the league. All these are great reasons why I would love to English fans identify with the Fire.


Coming up in part two: Scott gives his views on Europe's connections with the MLS, the return of the New York Cosmos, and the future of football in America.

Special thanks to Scott for his participation.

Philp Wright-Lewis