The Michael Ballack-to-MLS drumbeat is getting a little bit louder now, it seems.
Goal.com is reporting today that the former Germany captain is in discussion with the league to bring him to MLS this season, citing unnamed sources from both sides of the negotiation. The article lists five teams that would be interested in Ballack's services: Chicago, Montreal, New York, Philly and Seattle.
Based on comments from the player himself, though, it seems that his most likely destination is the Red Bulls.
Fans in New York shouldn't be leaping for joy just yet, though. For one, even players that have shown a legitimate interest in the league have been known to spurn MLS (see: Anelka, Nicolas). Secondly, even if Ballack does sign, his contract with Bayer Leverkusen doesn't end until June 30, and his agent, Michael Becker, said that he won't be leaving before the Bundesliga season is done.
The Philadelphia Union -- in particular, manager Peter Nowak -- have taken a few hits this offseason. Understandly so, considering some of the messy player transactions, such as the sudden flight of goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon and the bizarre Sebastien Le Toux situation. I'm still not clear whether Le Toux was forced to go to Bolton or if he just failed and tried to pass the buck. Either way, he's with Vancouver now.
This all comes on the heels of a late overseas training stint for Danny Mwanga, Kyle Nakazawa's trade to LA, Veljko Paunovic's retirement, and the loss of Justin Mapp in the expansion draft. Plus, don't forget the explanations given by Nowak about Carlos Ruiz's transfer to Mexico.
But there has to be a method to the madness, right? Nowak seems sure. He tweeted this out on Monday in response to a fan's question:
“@Doug_Cutaiar: "I don't need details. Can you just assure me you guys know what you're doing with these moves this off season?” Yes.
— Peter Nowak (@Peter_Nowak) February 14, 2012
That response -- "Yes" -- is so perfect. So simple. So Nowakian.
Lest any of the second-guessers forget, Nowak and the Union are still on the correct trajectory for a club born just two years ago. That is, in Year 2, they improved over Year 1, and even made the playoffs.
So despite the departures and the confusing aftermaths, at some point, everyone needs to have a little faith and give Nowak the benefit of the doubt. After all, he's succeeded everywhere he's been. And so far, he's succeeding in Philly.
En nuestra última edición del podcast Tiro Libre tuvimos el placer de platicar con el volante colombiano de San Jose Earthquakes Tressor Moreno, quien jugó para la selección Colombia como #10 entre el 2000 y 2008. El volante aseguró que aún espera con tener un llamado al seleccionado nacional y esto me puso a pensar: ¿será Tressor el mejor mediocampista colombiano que tiene la MLS actualmente?
Después miré los nombres y me di cuenta que la respuesta no tan simple. En 2011, Diego Chara brilló con los Portland Timbers y es el único jugador colombiano en la MLS en haber sido llamado a la selección de su país en los últimos años. Joven, fuerte y preciso. Puede que él sea el mejor...
Pero, ¿y David Ferreira?
El ‘torito’ de FC Dallas fue, indudablemente, el mejor jugador de la MLS en 2010. Una dura lesión lo marginó de las canchas en 2011, pero se espera que regrese este año. Seguro que este señor jugador tiene que ser el mejor… yo ya ni se. Eso sin contar la maestría del emblemático ex capitán del Millonarios Rafael Robayo (ahora con Chicago Fire) o el también seleccionado colombiano Jaime Castrillón, proveniente del Independiente Medellín (ahora con Colorado Rapids).
La pregunta es fácil, pero la respuesta no: ¿Quién creen que es el mejor actualmente? Al final de la temporada 2012 veremos si la mayoría tuvo la razón.
It's been a frustrating few days for Union fans.
As has been well documented here at MLSsoccer.com, Philadelphia parted ways with 2011 stalwarts Faryd Mondragon and Sébastien Le Toux this week. From the very start, neither move went over particularly well – a massive understatement – within the club's core fanbase, which has been making plenty of noise online and elsewhere in the wake of losing their offensive and defensive MVPs from last season.
Particularly frustrating for MLS fans in the city of Brotherly Love was the way Le Toux characterized his treatment by the club. The Union's reponse was simple: They are building for the future and Le Toux was in the final year of his contract. The trade was simply a calculated business move with Danny Mwanga and Jack McInerney waiting for their time to shine.
The following tidbit from manager Peter Nowak didn't exactly endear him to fans attached to Le Toux, though – “feelings are not included in my job description.”
Feelings are certainly a large part of Union fans' job description, however, and they've apparently been giving Nowak an earful (monitor full?) on Twitter today.
So much so that Nowak felt compelled to clear the air a little bit. The following tweets are Nowak's response Wednesday afternoon. Clearly, some people are having a hard time keeping their emotions in check.
I understand why everyone is upset , but please have faith we're doing what's best for the club. Sometimes tough decisions need to be made
— Peter Nowak (@Peter_Nowak) February 1, 2012
I do ask that you please stop sending curses to my Twitter account . My daughters and family read them and it is crossing a line. Thank you
— Peter Nowak (@Peter_Nowak) February 1, 2012
Philadelphia fans who are up in arms over the trade that sent Sebastien Le Toux to Vancouver are missing the big picture.
As if it wasn't easy enough to notice, the Union are managing their club very differently from every other side in the league. And it's the right way: building on youth.
It's not merely the obvious transfer fee opportunities that come with grooming quality young professionals. There will be handsome rewards in this department, no doubt.
But youth is the way to go in a league structured around a salary budget. The younger the player, typically the less onerous is the salary hit that accompanies him. Younger players are also more attractive trade bait when a team is ready to offload them.
And going young gives a team maximum flexibility in a league in which roster management skills are severely put to the test. A young squad allows a coach the luxury of time to make a more informed decision on which players are worth the long-term investment.
Union fans will see this happen with the commitment the club is set to make to 20-year-old Roger Torres and 21-year-old Sheanon Williams, who manager Peter Nowak wants to reward with a better contract. Williams and Torres earned it based on performance, not based on their resumé.
Yes, a 28-year-old Le Toux will score goals and run his heart out for the Vancouver Whitecaps. But the cash received in exchange for a player entering the final year of his contract will help further Philly's youth movement.
Sure, Union management could perhaps be a little more forthcoming in specifically addressing how the move impacts current contracts or future acquisitions. But fans can have faith that there is a plan the team is sticking to.
Keeping Le Toux would have been nice. But it would likely have meant Danny Mwanga and Jack McInerney riding the bench for yet another season. Wouldn't Union fans have been just as upset at that scenario?
Obviously this is not what Vancouver's lineup will actually look like in 2012 but with the addition of Sebastien Le Toux Vancouver suddenly become one of the most offensively-blessed sides in MLS. And think about this for a second: there are 3 more forwards on the roster and even rumors of Robert Earnshaw coming in to add to the embarrassment of attacking riches.
And as the image above illustrates, they are lacking a little something in the defensive end of the midfield.
Maybe I should I try to get the CBC on the phone because Survivor: B.C. Place would be a great reality show. If someone's going to get cut --and there will most certainly be cuts before First Kick-- you may as well televise it. My money is on a Francophone alliance between Le Toux, Hassli and Chiumiento.
The deal that brings Sebastien Le Toux to Vancouver appears to be done, if you're asking Le Toux. More details to come...
Just got traded to Vancouver !Saddest day for me in my Philadelphia Union story.... Still can't believe it
— Sebastien Le Toux (@SebastienLeToux) January 31, 2012
Tim Ream sealed his long-awaited move to Bolton this week, but it doesn't appear Sébastien Le Toux will be joining him.
A report from Sportinglife.com on Friday included a quote from Bolton boss Owen Coyle that made a transfer that was once considered likely to go through appear dead in the water.
"Sébastien came in for a couple of days, and to be fair to him he hadn't trained for four or five weeks," Coyle told Sporting Life. "He did fine and that's where it is. We'd have probably needed a longer look."
By the sounds of it, Le Toux won't get that look, which is probably a blessing in disguise for Union fans loathe to lose their talisman.
Le Toux has been one of, if not the most, productive strikers in MLS during the past two seasons, but it was always going to be a huge challenge for him to walk onto an EPL training field and show much of anything when he hadn't played for weeks, especially against players in the meat-and-potatoes portion of their season.
Has there been a more compelling storyline in 2012 than the intrigue surrounding the Philadelphia Union forward corps?
When Peter Novak drafted UCLA striker Chandler Hoffman in the SuperDraft a lot of people either scratched their heads or surmised that Danny Mwanga was on his way out of Chester. But then Sebastien Le Toux turns up on TV one morning seated next to Tim Ream behind the Bolton bench and just like that opinion shifts to Le Toux being the one with his bags packed.
But like any good drama, take HBO's A Game of Thrones for instance, there has to be a plot twist to keep it interesting, keep everyone on their toes. Today we received two of them: Bolton boss Owen Coyle signaling the end of his interest in Le Toux and news that Mwanga is off on what seems like an oddly-late training stint with Aston Villa.
I love the intrigue, I really do, but what's really going on in PA? Is it that Philadelphia is no longer big enough for the two of them? Is there a tactical switch on the horizon that requires some personnel shuffling? Maybe Novak is ready to throw Hoffman into the deep end?
I can't say what's going on in the heads of the Union technical staff but that shouldn't stop you from taking a guess at what they're thinking; let us know your thoughts on Philly's Game of Forwards in the comments below. I'll go get the popcorn, let me know if anyone gets the Ned Stark treatment while I'm away.