Feeding the Fire

August 7, 2010

One of the most common criticisms that players and clubs hear during tough spells is a lack of effort. A team losing isn’t showing  pride in their team, their city, and so on and so forth. A team goes one-nil down and they don’t possess enough heart.

For D.C. United fans, they are about to put this old sports cliche under the litmus test. Curt Onalfo after a poor run of results in the league has been dismissed as D.C. United manager. In the last six league matches for D.C. United they’ve only scored two goals, both of them by 17 year-old Andy Najar. Players like Santino Quaranta have been unable to make the impact they are expected to, and the root cause in many people’s eyes including the front office of D.C. United is a lack of passion.

That worry shouldn’t be a problem with newly appointed interim head coach Ben Olsen. There’s no questioning Olsen’s pride and love of the game and especially D.C. United. I can’t imagine any player not giving effort surviving under Olsen. That much is to be expected. But I don’t think that’s enough.

Onalfo was not getting results, and there cannot be too many complaints about letting him go. It wasn’t working and there didn’t seem to be any real plan to get it back on track, but I’m not confident that there’s a person out there that can get D.C. back on track, especially during this season. D.C. have a whole host of issues ranging from a lack of investors, to stadium issues, to personnel problems. They don’t have a consistent presence in the box, the backline is in constant flux, and youthful mistakes have plagued the team along with this supposed missing fire.

It’s a simple fact that D.C. cannot attract the big players that Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Seattle are currently pursuing and landing. They don’t have the financial comfort and the only way they are going to consistently compete is if their front office can make solid moves on matters dealing with the team on the field and the club off of it. So far they’ve failed to do this.

The new D.C. United should show passion during the second half of the season. They may get some hard-earned results with the effort they put it. They will still drop quite a few points, but at least the front office won’t be able to go back into the old sports cliche book and will finally have to look at themselves in the mirror. At least that’s all D.C. supporters can hope for.

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Red Bulls throw punches, Galaxy’s turn to respond

August 3, 2010

The New York Red Bulls and the Los Angeles Galaxy are locked in a battle for the face of the MLS. This war was once waged between D.C. United and the Galaxy, but with D.C.’s many problems and the Beckham saga, Los Angeles undoubtedly became the biggest club in Major League Soccer. New York, despite many efforts to even the playing field including a re-branding, have been a distant second.

Now after this explosive summer period for soccer in the United States, there is a real battle on hand.

In the past, the popularity contest hasn’t translated on the field for Red Bulls and the Galaxy, neither team have won a Supporters Shield or MLS Cup in the past four seasons.Last season New York was far and away the worst team in the MLS. In 2008, the Galaxy shared the bottom of the collective table with San Jose. Despite their bigger image both teams’ poor moves in the front-office left them behind in the results with the rest of league.

Now they are starting to win. Los Angeles is currently in pole position for the Supporters Shield and the Red Bulls, with an entire half season without Henry, is in sight of ever-consistent and never talked about, Columbus Crew.

How will this summer be remembered years down the road?  So far it looks likely to be the summer of the Red Bulls. The Hans Backe appointment was  a masterstroke during the off-season and obviously Henry’s signing is ground-breaking. Add Marquez joining the Red Bulls and it’s been a spectacular summer for the club. He may not be the iconic, flashy goal-scorer that Blanco was, but he’s certainly well-perceived in Mexico, and a great pick-up on the field.  Now New York have the best attacking front in the league with Angel and Henry, and with a smart draft of Tchani and Ream they have the build to be an elite MLS team for years to come.

So far Los Angeles have not responded. They cannot help that Beckham is hurt. When healthy and not worried about the England squad he brings a whole new dynamic on and off the field. Without him there hasn’t been a front-page worthy story about the Galaxy this summer except for maybe Donovan not being for sale while several  MLS teams, especially New York have made headlines.

There’s no doubt that Los Angeles will want to move the spotlight back to the Home Depot Center. Their upcoming friendly with Real Madrid might help, but the big impact they need could come if they somehow secure Ronaldinho from AC Milan. How Henry was well known by most fans of the game, Ronaldinho is known to many who are not. A successful move for him would completely overshadow what New York have done over the last few months.It would be the ultimate statement that Los Angeles is and will be the biggest club in the MLS for years to come.

He would also be a perfect counter for the Henry move on the field. A forward line of Donovan, Ronaldinho and Buddle, and possibly Beckham pulling the strings would be devastating. The four combined would be almost unfair compared to what other clubs are putting out, especially if you factor in the depleted pool with future expansions.

It would not be easy getting Ronaldinho this summer, a massive transfer price would probably be required, and MLS isn’t keen on paying for transfers. They’ve yet to try and break the bank, but Ronaldinho may be worth it. The naturally conservative MLS might not think so and may try and wait for his contract to expire, but if there’s a time for LA Galaxy to act, it’s now.

Also, Ronaldinho has had issues off the field that have led to a decline on it. Late night partying, out of shape, and the general sense of a lack of motivation have plagued his reputation since his not-so-good 2006 World Cup. But, if the money is there, I  think it’s a risk worth taking for the MLS and the Galaxy. Certainly for the MLS.

Red Bulls have been able to overshadow the Galaxy during this summer of soccer despite Los Angeles being the best team in the league at the half-way point. Now it’s time for Los Angeles to counter and for the good of the MLS, I hope they have something big cooked up.

The league really lacks a recognized rivalry that would draw the interest of non-MLS fans. There could be nothing better for the league as a whole than a rivalry between Red Bulls and Los Angeles. With Red Bulls recent moves and a major signing like Ronaldinho for the Galaxy it would become that marquee rivalry that the league is looking for. The MLS must do what they can to make it happen. It may cost a pretty penny now, but the rewards could be huge.