By Ridge Mahoney
Christmas has come and gone but the New Year is the best time for wishing what might transpire in the next 12 months.
Here we’ll not pine for a good U.S. run in the World Cup or other such objectives tied to competitions. Rather we’ll focus on some of the personalities involved in the game on these shores and how their intertwined fates may affect American soccer in 2014.
Thus we wish for:
Full recoveries for Stuart Holden and Steve Cherundolo. Their long-term battles with injuries have forced them to the back of Jurgen Klinsmann’s class of 2014, but more important is that they resume consistent play for as long as they can.
Being forced out of the game early by injuries is among a player’s greatest fear, and it happens far too often. Concussions knocked Jimmy Conrad and Taylor Twellman and Alecko Eskandarian and Ross Paule, just to name a few, out of the game prematurely, and how different the careers of Chris Armas and John O’Brien and Pablo Mastroeni and Kyle Martino and Marcelo Balboa might have been if they stayed healthy.
So for Holden and Cherundolo, we should forget about “racing to get fit in time for the World Cup.” That’s the perspective of journalists and fans who regard the World Cup as the be-all and end-all, which for most outsiders it is. For players, the World Cup is a bonus, a gratuity, a reward, an extra payoff for prospering at the club level, at which they earn their money and establish their reputations.
If the World Cup was all that Clint Dempsey cared about he’d have stayed in Europe; instead, he took the chance to cash a big payday and raise his family in Seattle. His loan spell at Fulham should benefit the Sounders at least as much as the national team.
Very few people belittle Ryan Giggs or George Best because they didn’t play in a World Cup or devalue Zlatan Ibrahimovic because Sweden fell short. But everybody bemoans a career cut short by injury, and for 2014 here’s hope that two stand-up guys of all time attain a clean bill of health whether or not they make it to Sao Paulo in June. They deserve to leave the game on their own terms.
Fulfilling new careers for retirees Danny Califf, Brian Ching, Ramiro Corrales, Kevin Hartman, Pablo Mastroeni, Jimmy Nielsen, Matt Reis, et al. Some players hang up their shoes with the next phase of life already planned out; for many others it’s case of, ‘Well, now what?” As players they lived in contained bubbles of training, travel, and games, and thus find the real world drastically different.
Leaving the playing ranks often means a shift into a different phase of the game such as coaching, yet even those educated types to who depart the game entirely often come back, as did Jay Heaps and Garth Lagerwey (take a bow, Dukies). They left the business and legal professions, respectively, to come back as Revs’ head coach and RSL general manager. For many ex-players the game is all they know and the months and years that follow retirement can be confusing and challenging.
Reis and Nielsen have already jumped into the coaching life; Reis is in charge of Galaxy goalkeepers and Nielsen has signed on as head coach of SKC’s second USL PRO affiliate in Oklahoma City. Ching went straight into the front office as managing director of Houston’s new NWSL team, the Dash. Nielsen and Ching have stayed in their organizations and Reis is going back to the team with which he started his pro career. Their combined decades of experience cannot be manufactured.
Due to youth development programs mandated by MLS and implemented by U.S. Soccer, ex-players who believe coaching is the next step for them have additional options beyond college and club soccer. Yet their institutional knowledge can be valuable in areas other than coaching and broadcasting, and in 2014 we hope these league veterans find ways to continue their contributions as they go forward.
The right partners for David Beckham. The BeckhaMiami saga is already becoming tiresome as periodic reports of this celebrity or that bigwig supposedly attaching their names to the project generate breathless regurgitations of what is already known. Yet there’s good reason to wait, and wait is what the league will do.
MLS believes Miami can work and the allure of partnering with Beckham can certainly attract people who also believe. And along with money and shrewd management and the proper stadium situation, belief is what it takes. MLS executives believe in Phil Rawlins and the Orlando City management group, as well as the rich owners of Manchester City who have bought in with New York City FC, and will monitor the Miami situation closely.
Those who regard MLS in Florida as a lost cause are oversimplifying reality, and geography. Florida is a long state; it borders Georgia to the north and juts into the Caribbean on its southern tip. Jacksonville (don’t forget the relocated old NASL Tea Men from 1980 to 1982) is nothing like Miami, and Orlando is different from both of those cities. Jacksonville starts play in the current NASL next year and as several teams – such as Orlando -- have shown, there’s a method of promotion in American soccer.
The hurdles in Miami are considerable, no question. Having that city in play serves the league in several ways; Beckham and thus MLS stays in the headlines even when little or nothing is happening, the Florida door has already been opened with Orlando, and other budding expansion cities know the competition is stiff. Despite its public commitment to reach 24 teams by 2020, MLS officials can be selective about their business partners, and that goes for Miami even with Beckham already on board.
A Chivas USA solution for Don Garber. This eyesore on the commissioner’s tenure is deteriorating by the day. Though the Board of Governors calls the shots, Garber takes most of the heat, as if a few soothing words spoken or magical management scheme presented to owner Jorge Vergara would make it all go away. Hah!
It may be that legal action is all that can clean up this mess and rescue a vessel rapidly sinking even as a rising tide floats most of the other boats in the harbor.