The rise of the Bundesliga, the return of Donovan, more Mailbag
Lots going on in the world of soccer this week, so The 'Bag is back with answers to your questions. Let's dive in:
Plenty of queries came in about the larger significance of the Champions League semifinal thrashings administered by Bayern Munich against Barcelona (4-0) and Borussia Dortmund against Real Madrid (4-1). Are we seeing a power shift at the top of European soccer? To some extent, the answer is yes. We've been talking for a few years about the Bundesliga as a league on the rise, one that has been producing good young players, drawing the largest attendances in Europe and setting itself up well for the moment UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules truly kick in.
What we hadn't yet seen were absolutely convincing results on the field that showed the German teams had risen to the top of Europe. Yes, Bayern reached the Champions League final last year and in 2010, but it lost both times (including last year on its home field). And while Dortmund has been playing great soccer for a couple years now, last season's Champions League belly flop made you wonder if Dortmund was ready for the ultimate stage.
But when you beat Barça and Real Madrid by a combined 8-1, well, there aren't many more questions to ask. The Spanish teams might be hanging on by the narrowest of threads -- Barça beat Milan 4-0 in the Round of 16 return leg, and Madrid could advance with a 3-0 home win -- but in all likelihood we're going to see an all-German final on May 25. So get used to hearing more than ever about Germany, especially as Pep Guardiola prepares to take over at Bayern next season.
Yet I do think it's fair to ask if the financial gap is too big between Bayern and the rest of Germany, especially in light of the confirmed poaching of Dortmund's Mario Götze for next season and reports that striker Robert Lewandowski might be following him to Bavaria. Bayern has been doing this to its German rivals for years, but it's still a concern if Germany wants to avoid being irretrievably dominated by one SuperClub. Teams like Dortmund and Schalke have the capability of becoming financial powerhouses themselves, but it's going to take shrewd management in the coming years -- and smarter moves from the Bundesliga when it comes to negotiating international TV deals, which is a big weakness in countries like, say, the United States. Which brings us to:
It's a great question. The rise of BeIN Sport in the U.S. has crippled GolTV, which still has the Bundesliga rights through the end of 2014-15 but finds itself disappearing from many providers. (My own system in New York City recently added BeIN but dropped GolTV.) Here's hoping that something happens before the start of next season that will allow the Bundesliga to appear in more U.S. homes.
Nobody is feeling sorry for Pep Guardiola, but I do think it would make things a bit more challenging for him if Bayern sweeps everything this season. As Man City found out this year, repeating the success of a title season is one of the hardest things to do in sports, and Guardiola will have to work his magic to keep Bayern on top. He's done it before, though, with Barcelona, and he'll certainly have the talent on hand to win every trophy that Bayern competes for. But Guardiola hit the ground running in his first season managing Barcelona. Will there be a longer adjustment period in a new league in a different country? It should be fascinating to watch.
It's hard not to be excited about a 20-year-old forward who's leading MLS in goals with six in the first seven games of the season. Give credit to Philly coach John Hackworth for showing faith in the young striker, who might just be the real thing when it comes to putting himself in a position to score goals. They aren't always pretty, but when it keeps happening over and over, you know that McInerney has something special about him. Now in his fourth season, McInerney is showing the value of becoming a pro at age 17, and if he continues to develop he'll start scoring more goals that reveal skills beyond those of a poacher. Calling up Jack Mac for the Gold Cup seems like it would be the obvious move for Jurgen Klinsmann. Get him some reps in a U.S. jersey and see what he can do. (One last thought: while I can see why McInerney is being called The American Chicharito, I happen to think he looks like a young Eric Wynalda. Starting to score like him, too.)
By winning a seat on the 25-member FIFA ExCo, the most powerful board in world soccer, Gulati (who remains U.S. Soccer president) should be able to help the interests of U.S. Soccer. The question is: How much? Gulati has been a FIFA insider and Sepp Blatter supporter for several years now, and that didn't help him win the election that mattered most: The 2010 vote on which country would host World Cup 2022. (Qatar beat the U.S. in the final round.)
Maybe Gulati can now be even better situated to build the relationships that can help the U.S. host World Cup 2026, but that vote is a long, long way off. In the meantime, he has chosen to try and cause change from within at FIFA, serving on the committee that claims to be reforming a system that many view as corrupt. Will he be successful? It's hard to say. There's a reason the committee just lost a member from TRACE International (a leading transparency group) who resigned this week, saying real change isn't happening. Nor does it help that Gulati was extremely close for years to American Chuck Blazer, the man he's replacing on the FIFA ExCo who was just found (via a CONCACAF forensic investigation) to have committed extensively "fraudulent" abuses while serving as general secretary of CONCACAF for two decades.
Long story short: It should be good for the U.S. if Gulati is on the FIFA ExCo. But now he has to actually show that to be the case.
I think it's some of both. We won't know for certain how open Klinsmann's "open door" is until he announces his U.S. squad in May. Has Donovan done enough yet to make himself a slam-dunk selection? No, he hasn't. And so it would serve Klinsmann's interest to make that clear publicly, as he did on Wednesday. Let's see what Donovan can do in MLS over the next three weeks. My guess is he's on the path to getting his mojo back, and unless Klinsmann really has written him off, Donovan will be part of the U.S. group for the June World Cup qualifiers.
Buck-A-Brat night in Columbus is probably the best in league history. But I'm also fond of the "Free Beer Night" that the MetroStars announced once in their early years, only for it to be deemed illegal by local authorities and canceled. (So Metro.)
I had an interesting conversation in Portland on Monday with Merritt Paulson, the owner of the Timbers and Thorns. This was the day after the Thorns had a crowd for a women's game of more than 16,000, which is more than all but two MLS crowds last week. Paulson told me he thinks he has the best women's team in the world, and there are certainly some of the best players on the planet in Christine Sinclair, Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath (who joins mid-summer), along with recognized players like Allie Long and Karina LeBlanc.
I told him that European powerhouse Lyon might have an argument on the world's best women's club team, and I suggested that someone (him? FIFA?) organize a Women's Club World Cup. That's the kind of event that could draw crowds and TV ratings in the U.S., I would think, and be a good thing for the development of the women's game. Judging by the way Lyon has run roughshod over the rest of France and Europe, I'd have to think it would be the favorite to win such a tournament. But I'd like to find out. Women's club soccer is doing OK in Europe, though many of the teams remain amateur and semi-pro. This summer's women's Euro should be good, however. I'm looking forward to attending the women's Champions League final in London on May 23 (with Megan Rapinoe playing for Lyon) and asking her more about comparing and contrasting with the United States.
For a couple reasons. One, when qualifiers take place during European club seasons, it's a long haul to get players out to the West Coast. Two, SoCal demographics mean that U.S. opponents would have large supporting sections at those games, and U.S. Soccer doesn't want that.
Not high. The biggest factor in getting an MLS expansion team is having the right prospective owner who can sit at the same table as MLS's owners, many of whom are billionaires. St. Louis doesn't have that right now. It's too bad, since the city has a great soccer tradition.
This is a great idea. Let's do it!
I think González is ready for Europe, and if he wants to go after completing his contract at the end of this season and has a good situation to move to, then he probably should. Keep in mind, though, the Galaxy only has Robbie Keane under contract as a Designated Player for 2014. An upcoming DP signing (likely Lampard) would be the second, but Donovan's DP deal runs out at the end of this season. If Donovan leaves, that might create space for González as a DP next year. One thing I'd like to see added in MLS: an additional fourth DP slot per team for U.S. players only. I have no idea why it doesn't already exist.