Leap Day is not widely associated with bad luck, and in US soccer circles – where Feb. 29 delivered both Taylor Twellman (1980) and Perry Kitchen (1992) – it could be considered a harbinger of good luck
But that may change after this past weekend. In a 24-hour span just three days before his team’s Leap Day match against four-time world champion Italy, US coach Jurgen Klinsmann learned that four of the 21 players he selected for the game will be unable to make the trip.
The jarring turn of events had the US boss scrambling to name replacements, and it capped another frenetic week in the MLS offseason.
With the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals and First Kick 2012 fast approaching, MLS sides lined up for dress rehearsals in Mexico, South Carolina, Arizona, Florida and Hawaii.
There was also a big payday for a longtime star, a green light for the league’s 14th soccer-specific stadium and the return to action of the 2010 MVP after a long injury layoff.
Let’s run through it all again – and hope we don’t pull a hammy.
When It Rains It Pours
The first news from the injury front came on Saturday morning, when midfielder Jermaine Jones, who captained the US in their last two friendlies, pulled out of the Italy match due to a strained calf muscle.
On Saturday afternoon, Pachuca midfielder José Torres (pictured right) and Nürnberg defender Timmy Chandler were ruled out with strained hamstrings. Finally, on Sunday night, LA Galaxy attacker Landon Donovan withdrew from the roster, citing bronchitis.
After Donovan’s exit, Klinsmann summoned FC Dallas winger Brek Shea and Anderlecht midfielder Sacha Kljestan to boost the roster back to 19 players. A third replacement could be announced today.
Going to Disney World
Apart from Donovan, there were three other MLSers on Klinsmann’s initial roster – Real Salt lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando, LA striker Edson Buddle, and Houston center back Geoff Cameron. All three flew to Italy on Sunday after a jam-packed week of MLS preseason play.
The busiest event kicked off in Orlando, Fla., where six MLS teams joined host Orlando City and Swedish side BK Häcken in the 2012 Disney Pro Soccer Classic.
On Day 1, Vancouver blanked Canadian rivals Montreal 3-0, getting goals from rookie Darren Mattocks – who said Montreal “made a mistake” by not taking him with the No. 1 pick in January’s SuperDraft – and new attacker Sébastien Le Toux.
Le Toux buried a penalty kick drawn by striker Long Tan, who went on to draw two more PKs in the Whitecaps’ next Disney outing, a 1-0 win over Houston. Le Toux stepped up to convert the first, but Tan took the second, attempting a cheeky chip that Tyler Deric caught easily.
The big news from the other pool in Orlando was the return of 2010 MLS MVP David Ferreira, who went the full 90 minutes in FC Dallas’s 1-1 draw with BK Häcken. It was Ferreira’s first extensive action since he broke his ankle in April 2011.
Several hours north at the Carolina Challenge Cup in Charleston, new D.C. Designated Player Hamdi Salihi made his presence felt with a lethal half-volley in the second half to give United a 1-0 win over Chicago.
Revolution in Arizona
Of course, these are only preseason matches, which, like the Academy Awards or the NBA All-Star Game, should be taken with a grain of salt. It’s best not to read too much – positive or negative – into them.
That said, New England fans have to be pleased with their team’s showing at the Desert Diamond Cup in Tucson. Midfielder Benny Feilhaber set the tone early, finding the net with a beautiful bicycle kick in the second minute against LA last Wednesday. In the 74th minute, trialist Jeremiah White scored to lift the Revs to a 3-2 win.
Rookie Kelyn Rowe (pictured right) kept the momentum going on Saturday, scoring both goals in a 2-0 victory over a reserve-heavy New York side.
While New England rolled out some new looks, LA’s offense came from a more familiar source: David Beckham’s laser-guided crosses. The 36-year-old midfielder set up Edson Buddle during the New England loss, then connected with Mike Magee for the Galaxy’s second goal in a 2-0 win over RSL on Saturday.
Before the 2011 Comeback Player of the Year delivered in Tucson, the 2011 Most Valuable Player made headlines in D.C., as Dwayne De Rosario signed a new multi-year contract with United last Monday.
If DeRo has thrived on being underappreciated – and looking back at his career, you could make the case that he has – then he’ll have to find a new source of motivation this season: The new deal makes him United’s highest-paid player.
What the deal doesn’t make him, though, is United’s third Designated Player. The team used allocation money to soften the cap hit from DeRo’s new pact.
San Jose Find a Way
From an overdue payday in D.C. to a much-delayed stadium deal in San Jose: Last Wednesday, after an 11-month process, that city’s Planning Commission voted unanimously to reject a local resident’s appeal to have the Quakes’ development permit rescinded.
The decision removes the final obstacle to construction of San Jose’s planned $60-million, 18,000-seat venue. The project can now move forward, with a 2013 opening – the franchise’s longtime target date – still a possibility.