Monday Postgame: Deals, delights and a memorable week
When they write the big book of US soccer history, they need to save a special mention for Week 9 of the 2011-12 MLS offseason.
In the past seven days, the most recognizable midfielder on the planet re-upped with MLS for two more years, an MLS alum made history in England, a Premier League match was broadcast live on US network television for the first time ever and a United States "B" team with four debutants thoroughly outplayed a South American foe.
Beyond all that, the 2012 Supplemental Draft unfolded, an iconic American company became an MLS jersey sponsor and the hot stove continued to glow.
Let’s go another round with a week that punched above its weight.
Center of the Galaxy
David Beckham wrapped up his initial five-year contract with the LA Galaxy by winning the Comeback Player of the Year award, racking up an MLS career-best 15 assists and, most importantly, helping LA win MLS Cup 2011.
He could have (rightly) called his MLS career a success, and ridden off into the sunset.
He appeared headed that way, too, as he entertained a lucrative offer from Paris-Saint Germain in December. But that potential deal fell through in early January, and this past Wednesday, the Galaxy announced that Beckham, citing his family’s happiness in California, had re-signed for two more years.
“I've seen first-hand how popular soccer is now in the States,” said the man who has won titles in England, Spain and the Champions League, “and I’m as committed as ever to growing the game here.”
The Chicago Fire also made a significant, if less high-wattage, re-signing on the same day, coming to terms with veteran Mexican midfielder Pável Pardo. He may not have the global allure of Beckham, but Pardo is at least as important to Chicago’s efforts on the field, and his decision to return, like Beckham’s, is a credibility boost to MLS.
Breaking Bad Abroad
In England, Clint Dempsey continued to be a one-man credibility campaign for the American player. On Saturday, one day after being named US Soccer Athlete of the Year, Deuce became the first American ever to score a hat trick in the Premier League.
His outburst lifted Fulham to a 5–2 win over Newcastle and gave the 2004 MLS Rookie of the Year 15 goals in 30 appearances across all competitions this season.
It took a performance like that to outdo the other former and current MLS players lining up abroad this week: Beckham’s Galaxy teammates Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane both excelled, with Keane scoring two terrific goals to lead Aston Villa to a 3-2 comeback win over Wolves, and Donovan helping set up Everton’s goal in a 1-1 draw with Blackburn.
In Scotland, 2007 MLS Rookie of the Year Maurice Edu scored one goal and nearly added a second in Rangers’ 1-1 draw with Aberdeen.
While US national-team mainstays sparkled abroad, many of their MLS-based understudies auditioned for roles in Jurgen Klinsmann’s side during a friendly against Venezuela on Saturday night.
With four players—Bill Hamid, A.J. DeLaGarza, Graham Zusi and C.J. Sapong—making their international debuts, the inexperienced American team put Venezuela under constant pressure, dictated the pace of the game, and created numerous chances.
In other words, they did everything Klinsmann asked for in his call to create a high-pressure, up-tempo style for the US team—except put the ball in the net.
Teal Bunbury, Brek Shea, Jermaine Jones and Chris Wondolowski all came close, but a 0-0 draw seemed imminent until Ricardo Clark, making his first US appearance since August, nodded in a corner from Jones deep into stoppage time to deliver a 1-0 win to the Yanks.
Two players who appeared in the US game, Wondolowski and Jeff Larentowicz, began their pro careers in the MLS Supplemental Draft, the 2012 version of which went off last Tuesday.
There’s obviously no telling if this year’s group included any future US national teamers, but there were undoubtedly some interesting selections, from top pick Evan James of UNC Charlotte to Arsenal youth product Jason Banton to Japanese J-Leaguer Kohei Yamada. Also chosen were Tim Pontius and Justin Davies, brothers of former D.C. United teammates Chris Pontius and Charlie Davies.
Heat up the Stove for Oatmeal
It’s fitting that in a week full of milestones for US Soccer, an iconic American brand should get on board with MLS: On Tuesday, the Quaker Oats company announced an agreement to be the official jersey sponsor of the Chicago Fire. See the new kit here.
The week also saw the usual crowded complement of imports and exports, including potential moves to Bolton by Red Bulls defender Tim Ream and Philadelphia attacker Sébastien Le Toux.
But the most interesting hot stove item involved former D.C. United attacker Santino Quaranta, who decided to come out of retirement to play in … India. Quaranta will reportedly join the likes of Fabio Cannavaro, Hernán Crespo and Robert Pires in a new six-team venture called Premier League Soccer.
John Bolster writes the Monday Postgame each week for MLSsoccer.com.