Tonight in Costa Rica, Major League Soccer’s quest for regional dominance begins anew.
The CONCACAF Champions League is back, and there is perhaps no better team to lead the league into the fray than Real Salt Lake, whose run to the final in the 2010-11 version of the tournament inspired others to believe MLS' first trophy could be just around the corner.
Jason Kreis’ team will take on Costa Rican champions Herediano (10 pm ET, Fox Soccer) on Tuesday to open up their CCL campaign, followed in the coming days by Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders. The LA Galaxy and Houston Dynamo start their group-stage campaigns later in August. (FULL SCHEDULE)
Perhaps no coach puts more of an emphasis on the tournament than Kreis, though, who said after Friday’s victory against Vancouver that his focus and his team’s focus was exclusively on trying to start their journey back to the final on the right foot.
“I’m ready,” he said. “I’m ready right now to go home and scout Herediano and do everything we can so that we are very properly prepared. This is a big, big deal to our club, a big, big deal to our fans, and a huge deal to everybody in the locker room.”
Ownership sprung for a chartered flight for RSL, and Kreis will have the same core group of players at his disposal that nearly won the competition two years ago. One key change from that edition of the tournament is that the group stage is now composed of just three teams – two home-and-away ties per side – meaning there is very little wiggle room when it comes to moving on.
"At the very, very least we need a draw in this very first game," Kreis said. "Not saying we're going to play for a draw, 'cause that's not our style, but we believe that there isn't any room for error."
RSL and all the other MLS participants will have MLS Commissioner Don Garber squarely in their corner. There is no denying that getting over the hump and winning a CCL championship is one of the league’s primary goals.
“We’ve got to try to win that tournament,” Garber told the Sporting News in a recent interview. "We’ve got to try to get to the World Club Championship. That’s got to be a priority."
One team that won’t be CCL bound in 2012-13 stole the headlines on Monday.
With one fell swoop, have the New York Red Bulls taken over poll position as MLS Cup favorites? That’s what many people are wondering after former Everton midfielder Tim Cahill was introduced at Red Bull Arena on Tuesday. (VIDEO)
The deal to bring the Australian to New York seemed to materialize out of thin air and Cahill admitted to reporters that negotiations moved quickly once the possibility of heading stateside became concrete. He will be the Red Bulls' third Designated Player, joining Rafa Márquez and Thierry Henry, who Cahill singled out for praise.
"You can’t think twice when opportunities like this come," he said. "I suppose the waiting list for this club must be pretty big with coveted players from all around the world. We spoke long and hard. But the main thing I look for as a footballer is firstly the football, the professionalism and my family. And those three things checked every single box.”
New York manager Hans Backe said Cahill will likely play 45 minutes on Tuesday in a friendly against Tottenham (7 pm ET, ESPN2), partnering with Teemu Tainio in central midfield. With a glut of forward options, it seems that’s the area of the field in which the Red Bulls could most use the Australian’s grit and determination.
Similarly to Landon Donovan, it seems Cahill hasn’t ruled out the possibility of a return to Everton. He said he wouldn’t play for another Premier League club out of loyalty, but that doesn’t mean the chance of a return to the Toffees on loan is out of the picture. Everton has moved on, for now at least, but one of his former coaches still couldn’t help praising the player who arrived as a “quiet lad.”
One place he won’t be going – and never considered, apparently – is Australia. Cahill wasn’t exactly flattering in his dismissal of the A-League as a possible destination, but added he still hoped to help Australia qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
To help clear room on the depth chart for Cahill, New York sent Mehdi Ballouchy cross country to San Jose on Monday, trading the midfielder for a 2013 international slot and a conditional 2013 draft pick. While the Red Bulls gained roster flexibility, the Quakes got another piece for their own MLS Cup run.
“I’ve seen him for the last seven years now, and he’s starting to really blossom,” coach Frank Yallop said. “Even when he was in Colorado [from 2007 to 2010], we semi-inquired about him. He sees the game a little bit different, plays very, very well in possession and he’ll fit in really well with us.”
He's a player many teams would love to have, but he's not considering MLS at this point in his career. Brad Friedel, who will be a part of the Tottenham squad that takes on New York tonight at Red Bull Arena, suggested age is the factor that will keep him from playing professionally back home.
"I think MLS is a great place compared to what it was and it's a tremendous asset to the country,” he said. “It's going to keep on getting bigger and bigger but being a part of it as a player, time's against it. Let's put it that way."
Another American plying his trade in England made headlines on Monday, as rumors began circulating that Clint Dempsey had refused to join Fulham for training camp in Switzerland, apparently to force a move to Liverpool. Not true, according to a club spokesperson speaking to ESPN.com.
In Olympic action on Tuesday, the US women take on North Korea (12:15 pm ET, NBCSN) in the final game of group play at Old Trafford in Manchester, England. And while the Americans could clinch the group with a tie, the focus remains on Hope Solo, who refused to back down from her comments about Brandi Chastain on Monday.
“It’s not about what made me unhappy. It’s not about one game,” Solo said. “I have my beliefs that the best commentators and the best analysts should … bring energy and excitement and passion to the game and a lot of knowledge, and at some point need to help build the game, and I don’t think Brandi has that.”
According to one columnist, it’s not a healthy distraction for a US team that will be happy with nothing short of gold this summer. To do that, captain Christie Rampone called for the team to be better in possession and strive to improve before the quarterfinals begin.
And although Solo dominates the headlines back in the US, the British women finally have a place in the spotlight in their home country.
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