If it seems that the soccer world is spinning faster than ever, that’s because it is.
Just think about what has happened in the month since Portland beat Columbus in the 2015 MLS Cup final, and we won’t include the announcements of Targeted Allocation Money and other league matters announced prior to or after the game.
So fast is the world changing one doesn’t really need to look back on all of 2015, as memorable and poignant as that year was. The last month has been busy enough.
FREE AGENCY MAKES ITS MARK. It is tightly restricted financially and conditionally, but finally certain MLS players have freedom of movement within MLS.
Only players at least 28 and with eight years of MLS service are eligible to set out in their own direction if their contracts have expired or options not renewed. Justin Mapp (Montreal to Sporting Kansas City), Drew Moor (Colorado to Toronto FC), Corey Ashe (Orlando City to Columbus) and Chad Barrett (Seattle to San Jose) have changed teams from this original class of 27, and Ricardo Clark has decided to stay in Houston.
What moves are made before and after the MLS SuperDraft, to be conducted a week from Thursday, and which players decide to stretch out the process into the preseason may alter considerably what the opening-day rosters look like when MLS kicks off its 21st season on March 6.
WAMBACH WAVES FAREWELL. Among many other retirements by U.S. women’s players, the departure of Abby Wambach in mid-December signaled another generational shift.
She started her U.S. career in 2001 a decade after a decided band of pioneers won the first world soccer championship staged for women, and in those 14 years she scored a record 184 goals in 255 appearances. In that time the U.S. won a third Women’s World Cup and three Olympic gold medals, continued to draw huge crowds domestically and abroad, and raised dramatically the profile of the women’s game.
Along with that of fellow retirees Shannon Boxx, Lauren Holiday, and Lori Chalupny, as well as many other veterans still on the scene, Wambach's zeal and determination maintained the tradition of triumph established by Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Julie Foudy, Carla Overbeck, Joy Fawcett, Michelle Akers, et al, first established when they won it all in 1991.
BLATTER FINALLY FALLS. Formed in 2012, the FIFA Ethics Committee quickly took on the reputation of toothless body established strictly for show, but its growing power and importance prompted the banning of disgraced president Sepp Blatter and UEFA president Michel Platini for eight years.
After 40 years at FIFA, Blatter was toppled by a $2 million payment made to Platini four years ago for work done in conjunction as a special adviser from 1998 to 2002. Swiss law permits such payments made without a written contract but stipulates they must be made within a five-year period. Blatter has vowed to fight the ban but since the Ethics Committee was initiated and empowered by him, he can’t really file an appeal except with himself.
It’s impossible to predict where FIFA and the world’s game are headed, nor what will happen with Concacaf and Conmebol, the two regional associations most deeply scarred by arrests for bribery and corruption. Regardless, the New Year signals the dawn of a new era utterly unlike anything seen before and Blatter’s fall is one more facet of a December to remember.
CHELSEA AND REAL MADRID MOVE ON. Two managers who won the European Champions League a year apart, Jose Mourinho and Rafael Benitez, have been dismissed despite guiding their most recent teams into the round of 16.
A terrible start to the Premier League season and several bizarre incidents, including a stupefying dispute with the team’s trainer, prompted Chelsea to boot Mourinho for the second time. Real Madrid, which sits third in La Liga, cut loose Benitez, who had been in charge for just 25 matches, 17 of which Real won.
For Mourinho, the signs of burnout kept recurring after he sparred with Eva Carneiro, though suspicions persist that some severe behind-the-scenes turmoil triggered the poor performances of several key players. Despite his brash outspokenness and acrimonious departure in the past decade from clubs as prestigious as Inter Milan and, yes, Real Madrid, Mourinho has only been fired in-season by Chelsea. Twice. He’ll need to find another big club if he wants to win a third European title to accompany his 2004 triumph with Porto and 2010 title with Inter.
Benitez captured the European crown in 2005 when Liverpool rallied from three goals down to beat AC Milan, but since leaving the club five years later he’s been with Inter, Chelsea, Napoli and Real. In November, Barcelona inflicted a 4-0 humiliation at the Camp Nou, and two weeks later the Spanish soccer federation disqualified Real from the Copa del Rey for using an ineligible player in a 3-1 defeat of Cadiz.
Former Real president Ramon Calderon told the Daily Mail that Real’s first choice to replace Benitez was Mourinho, who turned down the offer. Instead, Real promoted former French international and Real star Zinedine Zidane, who since 2014 has been coaching its ‘B’ team in the third division. His four sons play on Real youth teams.
So what has the past month taught us? Tighten your seat belts, enjoy the ride, and don't blink.