American beauties, the MLS free agency fight, more mailbag topics
On perhaps the best first day ever of the NCAA basketball tournament -- and believe me, folks, I still watch -- the madness wasn't confined to the U.S. side of the Atlantic. As soon as U.S. midfielder
If we're going to measure a goal, we need to take three things into account: How good was the quality of the goal? How big was the stage? And how important was the goal in the outcome of the game itself?
When you add it all up, I'm confident calling Dempsey's strike the finest big-game goal by an American in the history of European club soccer.
Let's break it down. How good was the quality of the goal? Sublime. We may have to wait until Dempsey is 75 years old to know the full truth, but he says he was trying to score instead of hitting a cross, and I believe him. If you look at the way he follows through, it doesn't appear that he's trying to hit a cross. When you take into account all the variables -- Dempsey's back to the goal, the advancing defender, the tiny amount of space, the goalkeeper's position, Dempsey's spot on the field -- the audacity of the attempt and degree of difficulty go higher every time you watch. Fantastic.
How big was the stage? Okay, so the Europa League isn't Champions League. Fair enough. But it's still Europe, and that's still Juventus wearing the opposing shirts. For Fulham to reach the last eight of this competition is a big accomplishment.
How important was the goal in the outcome of the game itself? Not only was it the decisive tally in a 5-4 aggregate thriller, it finished off a remarkable comeback by Fulham. The Cottagers were down 4-1 on aggregate after
Over the years, some Americans (including Dempsey) have scored important goals in European club soccer, and some have scored majestic goals. Here are the ones I can recall:
Got any other suggestions? Send 'em in...
The 'Bag is finally back in the States after an 18-day trip to Europe for pre-World Cup stories. And while it's profoundly odd for me not to be covering the NCAA basketball tournament for SI for the first time since 1997, my visit to Euroland produced some indelible memories. In Greece I got to see the most
So now that I'm back, let's get excited for ... an MLS players strike? Let's dive into the 'Bag...
We're closer than ever to an MLS strike, which could start as early as Monday and scuttle next week's season openers -- from a nationally televised kickoff on Thursday between the Seattle Sounders and Philadelphia Union (think they regret that name yet?) to the New York Red Bulls and Chicago Fire at the fantastic new Red Bull Arena. The player union reps for each of MLS's 16 teams are meeting in Washington D.C. right now, and the main sticking point does appear to be their desire for limited free agency within the league.
Currently, MLS players who play out their contracts are not allowed to become free agents inside MLS and entertain multiple competing bids from MLS teams. The way the owners see it, players can always get competing bids from other leagues, both in the U.S. (as
Everyone does agree on one thing: MLS's lack of internal free agency is designed to keep player costs down. But the league has repeatedly said that it will not budge an inch. It views preventing free agency as a cornerstone of its single-entity business model (in which the owners are all in business together and the league owns all player contracts). Hence the question: If you have a salary cap (as MLS does), shouldn't that be enough of a governor on salaries to at least allow some form of limited internal free agency? (The union argues that players who have a certain league tenure, like Ralston, should have the right to entertain competing bids in MLS.)
I certainly understand the economic theory, but I don't totally buy the quality-of-play argument. For starters, those U.S. youngsters with potential often need years to develop (or they don't develop at all), and it's hard for them to improve the quality of play over a 90-minute game in a way that a veteran making a low-six-figure salary could. What's more, MLS finds itself losing useful "middle-class" veterans such as
The owners' underlying point of forbidding internal free agency is also this: At a time when the league is not yet profitable and the court system has okayed the single-entity model, why should they bid against themselves to raise the salaries of players who aren't getting competing offers from other leagues? But I would argue that if a player has put, say, seven or eight years of sweat equity into building MLS (as Ralston had done), there's value in that long-term service that deserves recognition in the form of free agency once he has finished his contract. The question is whether that's worth striking over, and we're about to find out.
The owners and players have made concessions on other collective-bargaining issues -- including, I'm told, the league's minimum salary, which would go up --but internal free agency remains the main sticking point.
As important as these issues are to MLS players and fans, a work stoppage would be a terrible thing in the big picture. In the grand landscape of U.S. sports, MLS's presence would barely be missed. And, as I've mentioned before, the league's fans can be free agents, too, an option that's easier than ever with more than 50 games from other countries being televised each week in America. MLS needs to be closing the gap that remains between itself and the top foreign leagues, not making it bigger.
Great question. U.S. Soccer hasn't seen a truly ridiculous haircut since
It's currently a four-team race for the last Champions League berth in England between Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, Manchester City and Aston Villa. And while Villa is currently in seventh place with 49 points, I think
I hear where he's coming from, but I do differ somewhat when Howard argues that the 2002 U.S. World Cup quarterfinalists played the exact same way. Sure, that team produced some counter-attacking goals, but I also recall that
In case everyone hasn't heard, ESPN will be using four play-by-play commentators for its World Cup TV broadcasts, and none will have an American accent. I think Tyler should be great, and the other three (
The funny thing is I would guess that Donovan himself would tell you there's some hypocrisy in his stated desire to extend his loan with Everton a year after he criticized Beckham for his loan with AC Milan. It's an inescapable conclusion, to be honest. Why will Donovan get less criticism for it than Beckham did? There are probably a few reasons. One, he's not David Beckham. Two, Donovan never described himself as an ambassador for MLS who's trying to grow the game, as Beckham did. Three, Donovan has put more years into MLS than Beckham. And four, the Galaxy is no longer at its lowest point in club history, as it was when Beckham's loan to Milan was announced. You're right, though: There is a cosmic irony in Donovan going through the same rare situation that he criticized Beckham for just one year ago.
I think you're right on Ramos, who remains one of the top creative players the U.S. has ever produced. To a somewhat lesser degree, I also think '94
That's all for this week. Make sure to send your questions in for the next soccer 'Bag.