The wonderful thing about being a soccer fan, particularly one based in the United States, is that no matter the time of the year, there’s always a soccer season. There’s no quiet period, even in the week and a half leading up to Christmas, where all that you really have going elsewhere is regular season NBA (the horror) and the final quarter of the NFL season (the ridiculously over-scrutinized). Soccer provides no such respite, no such calm after months of the turbulent (the pre-bowl college football break being the most preeminent of American sporting examples). There’s typically a slowing of the pace, as the FA Cup is yet to begin in England, MLS is a month in the rearview stateside and the Champions League is on break, but even that is difficult to notice this year, as quite a bit has been happening this week worth discussing.
There is a bit of custom to this discussion. Usually the week and a half before Christmas involves discussing a busy portion of the Premier League season, wildly speculating about the January transfer window (hardly a buyer’s market, historically), and mulling over the Round-Of-Sixteen Champions League Draw. That said, this year is even more interesting for a few reasons. First, one of the greatest players in the universe is threatening to quit for family reasons…something that well, to be frank, is shocking to most but old hat to your Florida Gator alum writer. Second, an American this week won one of the more coveted awards handed out by the English media, and I don’t mean a British Actors Guild Award or a Claret Jug for an Open Championship or a Wimbledon Championship (in the States’ we affectionately refer to the “Ladies” trophy as the Venus Williams Memorial Trophy). No, I mean a soccer award—a real live “footie” award—you know, that clever little game they invented with the round ball where ten folks are not allowed to use their hands!! Finally, a soccer club recently purchased by an American (or rather, purchased by a group of American venture capitalists) has lost more matches I one season than it has in nearly a half-century and the season is not quite at the halfway mark. As such, I’d argue this is a definitively busy time, even for a period commonly thought of as one of soccer’s quieter periods. Here are my musings on those and a pair of other issues, starting of course as The Yanks Are Coming tends to do, with the American headlines.
CLINT DEMPSEY’S AWARD: As mentioned above, an American won a coveted English (British, if we’re slicing hairs) sporting award Monday, and yes, it was a soccer award. The Fulham midfielder/forward, featured in this two-part piece over the past couple of weeks right here at The Yanks Are Coming, was named the recipient of the BBC’s 2010 Sporting Moment of the Year award. In America, the equivalent would be an ESPY for moment of the year, or Sports Illustrated coupling Drew Brees’ Sportsman of the Year award with a separate award for Saints defensive back Tracy Porter for his 74 yard interception that sealed Super Bowl XLIV for Brees’ New Orleans Saints. Most of you don’t need to guess what Dempsey’s award-winning moment was, but in case you have lived in a cave for the last year and somehow missed Clint’s tie-winning magical goal against Italian giants Juventus in the Europa League, watch it here. Congratulations to Clint. We at The Yanks Are Coming are beaming with pride. By the way, the United States won its group in the World Cup. England was in the group. It is now acceptable for you to weep if you are a grown man.
HOLDEN’S HEROICS: Stuart Holden, one of the best US Soccer stories of 2010 (and that’s saying a great deal!), continued his marvelous run-of-form at Bolton this weekend with this incredible chest-and-volley goal in the waning moments against Blackburn Rovers. The goal handed Owen Coyle’s side a 2-1 victory and kept them very much in good position for a run at European football next season. It was the kind of goal, and it has been the kind of year, that ask questions about whether or not Holden will remain with the Trotters much longer. I’ve written before I think he would be a tremendous fit at Manchester United, as he is a box-to-box player with a fine passing touch who defends and appears at times to have three lungs. He’s also from Aberdeen, and Sir Alex has fond memories of that time in his life, and even if that is irrelevant, what does matter is that United are weak in the center of the midfield. Ji Sung Park scored a thrilling goal to best Arsenal Monday night at Old Trafford but Holden could only help matters for a side that continue to run out Darrin Fletcher and Michael Carrick despite firm evidence that they simply aren’t good enough to win the Champions League with alone. Ji Sung Park has been absolutely essential this season for United, but if one doesn’t look at Holden and think—here’s a guy who possesses all of Park’s strengths and is also a better crosser and finisher who is four years his younger—than one probably isn’t really paying attention. I’m not arguing that the two are interchangeable, just that Holden could vastly improve the Red Devils’ lot in the midfield.
While a Holden move out of Bolton is purely speculation, and it isn’t even likely Owen Coyle (who can’t stop heaping praise on the young American) would even let him go for a price deemed reasonable, what is certain is that Holden’s emergence asks questions of Bob Bradley and what he’ll do to see that Holden sees the field for the USMNT often in 2011. It is becoming clear that Nigel de Jong’s red-card tutorial, shameless malevolent challenge that broke Holden’s leg prior to the World Cup was a costly injury for the United States, who missed out on an in-form version of the midfielder and were forced to mix and match in his stead. That’s not the case now—and Bradley will have to find him a role. Jen Chang thinks one solution is to play five midfielders, or if that doesn’t suit Bob, to choose between MB 90 and Jermaine Jones in one holding spot and let Holden play his Bolton role alongside the choice for the USMNT. Fascinating stuff.
CARLOS TEVEZ: Forgive me if I’m cynical on the matter—my alma mater just lost its legendary, top five in the business American football coach so he could “spend time with his family”, all while he was still in his coaching prime at age forty-six. Given that Urban Meyer has done this twice in two years—let’s just say I’m not wholly ready to embrace the “family card” as quickly as some other writers have been. It isn’t that I don’t believe Carlos—I do—it’s that I just don’t think he’ll be able to walk away quite yet—and the place he would go—his beloved Boca Juniors, can’t afford him. Word on the street is Manchester City, if they even agree to a transfer at all, would demand 47 million pounds for him. That’s way beyond Boca Juniors’ pay-grade of course and really leaves out most everyone except Chelsea (which is in England and as such a non-starter) and Real Madrid. Tevez can’t stand Garry Cook and he can’t stand Brian Marwood—and since those are two key City executives—we probably begin to understand why he’s rejected a contract renegotiation and stated the situation is “beyond repair.” But he must at least be somewhat aware (and by that I mean his agent has told him) that he has limited options, and if a deal to Madrid isn’t acceptable, he’ll essentially have to go on strike until City accepts a much smaller fee that perhaps (HEAVY EMPHASIS) sends him back home.
As for the family time—I’m hopeful it works out for him if that is the case but I’ll be brutally honest—I’m not sure it is wholly the case. It isn’t as if Boca Juniors play a less-demanding schedule or travel any less, even if they are based in Argentina. And it is hard to feel sympathy for someone who, like Meyer, has made so much money that retirement that young is feasible. Twenty years ago Tevez would have had to move his family to Manchester, put his head down and gone to work. Same for Urban Meyer. Economics of sport being what they are—this is no longer the case—but we’ll see what happens with Tevez. He’s the first player in a long time in the midst of his prime who is fully capable of walking away financially. If he’s serious about the family stuff, perhaps he will.
LIVERPOOL’S STRUGGLES AND THE NEW ENGLAND OWNERSHIP: It is too early to criticize new Liverpool owner John Henry for the struggles he and the New England Sports Ventures capital group that bought the distressed club inherited, but they sure are playing terrible soccer some of the time. Gerrard is aging, Torres’ struggles are diminishing but not altogether gone and the side backs are simply awful. Roy Hodgson has now managed to lose more matches than the club has in a campaign in over a half-century and as mentioned above, it isn’t even Christmas or the halfway mark yet. Things need to be done. Problem is there probably isn’t a great deal of money to fix things absent an improvement in form. One principal Henry and his investors adhere to is that each club they own must sustain itself—that is to say—what they make for themselves is what they can spend on themselves. This is why they can afford Carl Crawford for too much money and Adrian Gonzalez for too many years. Sure—those two make them prohibitive favorites in the American League next season with Cliff Lee off to Philadelphia (again), but they also are guys the Sox could bring in because they made the money (even coming off a non-playoff season), to do that. It’s the opposite of the old adage “ya’ gotta spend money to make money.” Actually, it isn’t the opposite, it is a modification: Make money. Then spend money to make more of it. As such, the solution for Henry seems to be to monitor the Liverpool situation closely, and if there is no improvement in the short-term—sack Hodgson before a European spot is in grave doubt. Liverpool simply can’t afford to lose that revenue stream.
FINALLY, A SHOUT OUT TO THE AKRON ZIPS, AND THE NOTRE DAME IRISH!!! Congratulations to the Zips’ men, who rode a Scott Caldwell goal to a 1-0 victory over Louisville, capturing the school’s first-ever national championship in soccer (or any other collegiate sport, for that matter) at the Men’s College Cup.
Also, a big Yanks Are Coming salute to the Lady Irish of Notre Dame, who snapped Stanford’s 22 game winning streak and defeated the Big Trees 1-0 in Cary, North Carolina a week prior to the Men’s Championship. The winning goal by Adriana Leon, an Irish freshman and U20 Team Canada prospect (seen in this interview by Touchline), was a thing of beauty and handed the Irish their third women’s title. It was a great run by the Cardinal, who have now lost only twice in two seasons, but will take little solace in both of those championship game defeats.
Neil W. Blackmon is Co-Founder and Associate Editor of The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow him on Twitter at @nwb_usmnt.