There was a report in the British press earlier this week in which the UK prime minister David Cameron is said to have expressed his desire for the Glasgow “Old Firm” of Celtic Football Club and Rangers Football Club to join the English Premier League (EPL). One may question Cameron’s political motives behind the proposal as he seeks to influence the vote north of the border in the oncoming referendum on Scottish independence to be held in September 2014 but the idea is far from new. In the Former Soviet Union (FSU), momentum has also gathered pace as a number of owners from top clubs in Russia and Ukraine seek to form a breakaway championship run along the same lines as the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) which has been a major success since its inception in 2008. In the United States three Canadian clubs feature alongside their American counterparts showing that cross-border championships do happen in soccer as well as in other sports such as ice hockey, basketball and baseball. If the ideas proposed in the UK and the Former Soviet Union are eventually given the green light in the future will the leagues be as super as they look on paper or will it destroy the essence of the game?
As the Scottish Premier League has diminished in strength over the last 25 years it was always going to result in calls for the big two of the Scottish game to apply to join the English league system. Since Aberdeen FC, under the management of Alex Ferguson, became the last team from outside the Old Firm to win the Scottish championship in the 1984-85 season, Rangers and Celtic have completely dominated the league to the point where any potential third force capable of breaking the duopoly seems almost impossible. But where would the Old Firm begin any potential English journey? Some have suggested that they should begin the Conference league (fifth tier), some say in the Championship (second tier) whilst some call for the Old Firm to join the Premier League at the first opportunity in order to increase what is already a substantial TV contract. Were the two Glasgow giants to join the EPL any time soon they see themselves playing against the likes of traditional major English clubs such as Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea, to name but four, as well as the possibility of facing the two biggest Welsh clubs of Swansea City, who are already in the EPL, and Cardiff City, who look very likely to join them next season, in order to create a truly British super league.
This proposal, although attractive to many, would also see any number of clubs voting themselves out of a certain league in order to accommodate the Old Firm. Therefore the situation would be unlikely as it would be like turkeys voting for Christmas but it seems unlikely that the issue will go away. The alternative for the Old Firm would be to create what has been termed the “Atlantic League” along with the biggest clubs from the likes of Portugal, Netherlands, Belgium and Scandinavia in order to create more meaningful and lucrative opposition. The biggest clubs from those countries, for example FC Porto, Ajax Amsterdam and RSC Anderlecht, continue to dominate leagues in which competition over the years has weakened due to the increasing financial and sporting might of the big leagues. An Atlantic League would, therefore, allow stronger competition outside of officially sanctioned UEFA tournaments such as the Champions League and Europa League.
In the case of the Former Soviet Union there will be many who miss football matches of the calibre of Spartak Moscow v Dynamo Kyiv, Zenit Saint Petersburg v Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk and Shakhtar Donetsk v CSKA Moscow. Owners and sponsors of the some of the biggest football clubs in the region are behind the idea to merge the top leagues of Russia and Ukraine together. Just like with the situation in the UK, there are perhaps political machinations at work in relation to the proposed new set-up here too. Ukraine is a country which is stuck between a rock and a hard place and seems to face a choice as to whether it wishes to become a member state of the European Union or to align itself with its former master of Russia. Whatever the political issues the new money which is prevalent amongst the biggest clubs in both Russia and Ukraine could force the hand of European football’s governing body UEFA who are naturally against such mergers. Increasingly, in the modern game, money talks and one wonders if the status quo will remain in place for much longer especially as the sport of ice hockey in the FSU region provides the footballing hierarchy with a prime example of a trans-national sporting competition which provides ice hockey clubs from Russia the chance to compete in arguably the second best competition in the world (after the National Hockey League in the US and Canada) alongside clubs from Ukraine, Latvia, Kazakhstan, Belraus, Czech Republic and Slovakia.
It is not just in ice hockey where the trans-national approach has been broadly welcomed. Rugby union has embraced such competition in both the northern and southern hemispheres with the Anglo-Welsh Cup, Celtic League (top 14 clubs from Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Italy), Heineken Cup (equivalent to the UEFA Champions League) and the Super 15 (featuring the top 15 provincial teams from Australia, South Africa and New Zealand). The other oval ball code of rugby league also embraces such competition but on a much limited scale with one French club, the Catalan Dragons, playing in the northern hemisphere UK-based “Super League” whilst the New Zealand Warriors feature in Australia’s National Rugby League (NRL). As mentioned at the top of the piece there is currently one example of a football championship which currently uses such a system, namely Major League Soccer. Three of Canada’s top clubs – Toronto FC, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps – play alongside the best 16 American clubs in a league which is run alongside similar lines to the other major leagues of ice hockey (NHL), baseball (MLB) and basketball (NBA).
These events have largely come about for two reasons. With travel getting easier and the world becoming smaller thanks to modern technology it is natural that teams and individuals want to constantly challenge themselves against the very best on a regular basis. With the financial rewards that this brings then it is, for better or worse, another natural consequence that such teams and individuals will try to gain those rewards and, if necessary, upset the status quo in order to do so. If UEFA was to allow such cross-border league mergers along the Russia/Ukraine route or allow more of the MLS style leagues to become a reality (for example, a British League as discussed) then this could, and probably would, open up a can of worms for the game’s administrators at both UEFA and at FIFA, world football’s governing body. If such eventualities occur in Europe then how long before mergers become commonplace in South America, Africa, Asia and Oceania? Whereas administrators from other sports have had to think outside the box and have undertaken such measures in order to broaden their appeal, football is the one truly global sport and it seems that whatever the traditions and customs which have made the game great in the past, its future could and probably will take a financially driven path down a whole new route.
Los Angeles Galaxy claimed the title of Major League Soccer champions for the third time in their history following Sunday’s 1-0 win over Houston Dynamo in the 2011 MLS Cup final. Although the game featured prominently in the headlines before kick-off due to it being David Beckham’s last game for the club, the headlines were reserved afterwards for a true American hero in Landon Donovan whose goal late in the game gave Galaxy the cup for the first time since 2005.
The game remained scoreless after 71 minutes before Republic of Ireland international Robbie Keane played through USA captain Donovan who guided the ball beyond the oncoming Houston keeper Tally Hall to give his side the crucial strike of the final. The 30,000 crowd were treated to one of the league’s better finals in recent years despite the lack of goals and a fitting ending in which the Galaxy proved their worth as the best team in MLS this season.
Their regular season record of 19 wins, 10 draws and 5 defeats saw them pip the Seattle Sounders to the Supporters’ Shield by four points. In the post-season the Galaxy won all four of their knockout games against New York Red Bulls (played over two legs), Real Salt Lake (Western Conference final) and Houston Dynamo to show that they had learnt the hard lessons of 2010 in which they lost out to FC Dallas in the Western Conference final.
Los Angeles Galaxy had already qualified for the 2012-13 CONCACAF Champions League as a result of winning the Supporters’ Shield and they will be joined in that competition by losing finalists Dynamo, US Open Cup winners Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake, who finished third in the Supporters’ Shield behind the Sounders.
A new season of Major League Soccer begins on Tuesday and for defending champions Colorado Rapids it will prove to be a tough task keeping hold of their title. Two more teams have joined the league and there will be a longer Play-Off series after the regular season. Stoppage Time – International Football Blog looks ahead to the 2011 season.
Major League Soccer is growing all the time and this season is no different with two more franchises – Portland Timbers & Vancouver Whitecaps – jumping on board to increase the size of the league to 18 teams. Vancouver’s inclusion is a significant one as it increases the Canadian representation to two teams (along with Toronto FC) and paves the way for a Montreal franchise to join MLS in the 2012 season. As a result of the expansion there will be more regular season games (34) and a tougher play-off series with ten of the eighteen teams qualifying for the post-season MLS Cup.
The defending champions are Colorado Rapids who won the 2010 MLS Cup final on a rainy night in Toronto. The Rapids qualified for the play-offs having ‘only’ finished 5th in the Western Conference during the regular season but were one of the eight best records in the league as a whole. Having defeated Columbus Crew and San Jose Earthquakes en route to the final, Colorado’s win over FC Dallas ensured that they became the third team in a row to win a maiden MLS Cup title following Columbus (2008) and Real Salt Lake (2009). Colorado now have the experience to win the title but their playing roster still isn’t as strong as some other teams so a title defence may prove beyond them.
The usual suspects will feature amongst the pre-season favourites for the championship. LA Galaxy, 2010 Supporters’ Shield winners by virtue of having the best regular season record, have featured prominently in the play-offs in the last couple of years but they still cannot go all the way despite having seasoned pros such as Landon Donovan and David Beckham in their ranks. New York Red Bulls, owned by the Austrian drinks manufacturer Red Bull, have a good chance of taking the crown if marquee players such as Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez can stay fit for most of the season. Real Salt Lake are the sole American representative in the 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League semi-finals so there is a possibilty that they could start the season slowly as they try to rotate their squad between both competitions but will get stronger as the MLS season progresses.
Amongst the rest of the league arguably the potential dark-horse for a title challenge could be the Seattle Sounders. Now in their third full season as an MLS club, the Sounders have already experienced silverware having won the US Open Cup – America’s equivalent of the FA Cup – in each of the last two years and their experience in knockout football could bear some fruit if they make the MLS Cup play-offs this season. The club have been a great addition to the league in the short time since its inclusion. Seattle have recorded the highest attendances in each of the last two years and one wouldn’t begrudge their loyal fan base some further silverware this season.
Houston Dynamo, the last team to win back-to-back MLS Cup titles in 2006-07, have been moved over from the Western Conference to the Eastern Conference in order to make space for the two new members of the league. Record champions DC United, four-times winners of American soccer’s greatest prize, have had a terrible time of it in the last few years compounded by the fact that they had the worst record in MLS last season and, sadly for them, it doesn’t seem that their luck will change anytime soon. New England Revolution, still under the stewardship of former Liverpool and Scotland player Steve Nicol, had an uneventful season in 2010 perhaps dispirited by a number of defeats in major cup finals in recent years. Philadelphia Union, last season’s expansion team, were some way off qualifying for the post-season last time so it will be interesting to see if they have spent well during the off-season.
The opening match of the new campaign takes place between Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy with a bumper crowd expected at the former’s QWest Stadium on Tuesday night. The first complete round of fixtures take place this weekend with a Canadian derby and the champions’ opening game amongst the highlights:
MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER FIXTURES – MATCHDAY 1
15/03/11 Seattle Sounders v LA Galaxy
19/03/11 Vancouver Whitecaps v Toronto FC
DC United v Columbus Crew
New York Red Bulls v Seattle Sounders
Houston Dynamo v Philadelphia Union
FC Dallas v Chicago Fire
Colorado Rapids v Portland Timbers
Chivas USA v Sporting Kansas City
San Jose Earthquakes v Real Salt Lake
20/03/11: LA Galaxy v New England Revolution
The continuing “will he or won’t he” saga regarding a potential move to England’s Premier League hangs over David Beckham and the speculation refuses, for the next couple of days at least, to go away. Perhaps Beckham should put an end to it by announcing that he intends to prepare for the new season with the Los Angeles Galaxy, which begins on March 15th, and finally put the needs of his club ahead of those of his limited aspirations with the English national team.
As tempting as it may be for David Beckham to come back into the fold and be a part of the self-glorifying “Best League In The World” perhaps he should reflect on the fact that he has signed a multi million dollar deal with a club who have come close to winning the Major League in recent years but have suffered from injuries or loss of form at key times of the season. This is in some part due to the non-stop football which the likes of Beckham and his Galaxy team-mate Landon Donovan have endured due to their respective loan moves to AC Milan and Everton FC as well as FIFA World Cup commitments. Donovan actively helped his country on the field whilst Beckham was subdued to a more ambassadorial role due to an injury suffered whilst in Milan.
Having played football with virtually no break for two years Donovan saw sense announcing in late December he had decided that preparing with his team ahead of an exciting new season was his priority and, therefore, rejected Everton’s overtures to join them on loan for a second time. Beckham should now give the same assurances especially given that a speculated loan move to Tottenham Hotspur would be very strange seeing that the player himself said only weeks ago that he would want to play in the English Premier League again but “only for Manchester United”, even if he did utter in the same sentence that he wasn’t holding his breath on such a move taking place. It is no secret that Beckham still has ambitions with the England national team but just how crucial is he going to be when the 2012 UEFA European Championships and/or 2014 FIFA World Cup come around? Already 35 years old, perhaps Beckham should finally allow someone to replace him on a permanent basis and blood some new life to an England side which has looked stale for some considerable time.
Also there is going to be an increased schedule in Major League Soccer next season with two new franchises, Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps, becoming the latest members of an expanded league which will increase to 18 clubs from the 2011 season. This will mean a minimum of 34 regular season games, an increased play-off schedule (if necessary) with ten of the 18 teams playing in the post-season MLS Cup to determine the champion plus international club commitments such as the 2011-12 CONCACAF Champions League. One final factor to consider is the fact that everybody in the league, whether it be the administrators, sponsors or, most importantly, the fans, feels that the time is right for Beckham to really start giving something back to MLS. Since 2008 Beckham has appeared for the Galaxy 45 times in MLS games, compare that to his two loan spells at the San Siro where he appeared in 28 games and would’ve been at least a few more had he not picked up an achilles tendon injury which kept him out of football for six months. One feels that the best way to get everybody onside is to do what he is paid to do; to play and promote both his team and the league as a whole.
Eastern Conference champions Colorado Rapids have defeated their counterparts from the Western Conference FC Dallas in the 2010 Major League Soccer (MLS) Cup final. In an exciting climax to the season Colorado secured their maiden national title with a 2-1 extra-time win in Sunday’s final played at BMO Field, the home of Canadian Major League side Toronto FC.
The decisive moment came in the 107th minute of the contest when, with the match tied at 1-1, an unfortunate George John put the ball into his own net to gift the Rapids a lead which they would never relinquish. Normal time had finished 1-1 due to Dallas’ David Ferreira giving his side the lead after 35 minutes only for it to be cancelled out when Conor Casey equalized for the Rapids just eleven minutes into the second half.
The win for Colorado assures them of a place in the 2011-12 CONCACAF Champions League along with Supporters’ Shield winners LA Galaxy and US Open Cup winners Seattle Sounders.
The 2010 Major League Soccer final will be contested between Western Conference champions FC Dallas and Eastern Conference champions Colorado Rapids. Both teams won their respective conference finals at the weekend and both will looking to put American soccer’s biggest prize into the trophy cabinet when the final is played on Sunday, November 21st.
Colorado Rapids defeated San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday night with Kosuke Kimura’s cross-cum-shot in the 42nd minute making its way into the back of the net and proved the difference to take Colorado all the way to the final. Last night Los Angeles Galaxy, the regular season’s best team, were expected to make easy work of FC Dallas and make it to their second consecutive MLS Cup final but the visitors had other ideas. Goals from David Ferreira, George John and Marvin Chavez completed an amazing victory for Dallas who showed big names Landon Donovan and David Beckham how to win under pressure.
The MLS Cup final takes place in Toronto on Sunday, November 21st.
So with the Major League Soccer (MLS) regular season completed the Play-Offs begin in earnest this weekend. Fresh from winning the Supporters’ Shield, the trophy given to the team with the best overall record during the regular season, will Los Angeles Galaxy go one better in this year’s Play-Offs and come away with the coveted trophy? Or will one of the other seven Play-Off qualifiers deprive them of the title that gets more competitive every year? Stoppage Time – International Football Blog previews this year’s Play-Off series.
WESTERN CONFERENCE PLAY-OFFS
The tie of the round inevitably involves regular season champions LA Galaxy playing against Seattle Sounders. Both of these teams have already qualified for next year’s CONCACAF Champions League with the former securing their place thanks to their Supporters’ Shield triumph whilst the latter will feature in North & Central America’s elite club competition thanks to their recent U.S. Open Cup victory in which they defeated Columbus Crew 2-1 in the final. Both teams, therefore, see this year’s Play-Off series as a chance to secure a ‘Double’ and the Sounders have the most to prove if they are to jump over the first hurdle. They lost both times to the Galaxy during the regular season (4-0 at home; 3-1 away) but they have shown some good form leading into the post-season having won five out of their last six games. The Galaxy will have all of the pressure heaped upon them as their all-star line-up including the likes of Landon Donovan and David Beckham will know that, despite topping the regular season standings by three points from Real Salt Lake, they could be just two games away from elimination. The other Western Conference match involves last season’s MLS Cup champions Real Salt Lake who are undefeated in their last fourteen Major League matches and who, like last season, have timed their run into the finals perfectly. They face up to a FC Dallas team who know that it was only a fortnight ago that they lost in a regular season match to Real and will want to avoid the same thing happening again. It should prove to be a fascinating match-up.
LA Galaxy v Seattle Sounders (1st leg 31.10; 2nd leg 07.11)
Real Salt Lake v FC Dallas (1st leg 30.10; 2nd leg 06.11)
EASTERN CONFERENCE PLAY-OFFS
With six of the top eight regular season teams coming from the Western Conference two of those clubs have had to ‘switch sides’ to the Eastern Conference due to the format. Both of the two eastern qualifiers will play one of their western counterparts at this stage with the most prominent tie involving Eastern Conference champions New York Red Bulls against the San Jose Earthquakes. With stars of the immense quality of Thierry Henry and Rafael Márquez in their ranks the Red Bulls are hoping that the huge investment placed into the team by the famous drinks manufacturer will finally begin to pay off and will herald a first major trophy for the underachieving club. The Earthquakes, twice winners of the MLS Cup in 2001 & 2003, finished eighth in the regular season but they will be satisfied if their head-to-head against New York in this year’s regular season is replicated as San Jose got the better of the games losing 2-0 in New York but winning 4-0 at home. The final Play-Off encounter pits Columbus Crew, MLS Cup winners in 2008 and second in this season’s Eastern Conference, against the final Western Conference outfit Colorado Rapids who have qualified for the post-season for the first time in four years. Both teams have been in less impressive form coming into the finals with Colorado winning three of their final eight regular season matches whilst Columbus have fared even worse winning just one but they have had to juggle the CONCACAF Champions League into their schedule. In the regular season head-to-head Columbus got the slight edge over the Rapids with a 3-1 home win in August coming after a 1-0 defeat in Colorado two months earlier.
New York Red Bulls v San Jose Earthquakes (1st leg 31.10; 2nd leg 05.11)
Columbus Crew v Colorado Rapids (1st leg 29.10; 2nd leg 06.11)
Who needs David Beckham when you’ve got Landon Donovan? Despite the publicity and interest which the former England captain brings to Major League Soccer (MLS) and to his club, it is the all-American hero Landon Donovan who is helping Los Angeles Galaxy maintain their strong position at the top of the league in the absence of Beckham.
Not only do the Galaxy have a healthy nine point lead at the top of the Western Conference standings but they also appear on course to win the MLS Supporters Shield, the trophy given to the team with the best regular season record in the whole of the league after thirty games. Eastern Conference leaders Columbus Crew, who have the second best record in the league at the moment, are eight points worse off although they do have a game in hand on the Galaxy. Nonetheless with the league’s meanest defence – only eight goals conceded – and the second best attack having scored one goal less than Real Salt Lake (28 goals) then it is clear that the Galaxy are there as the team to beat in MLS this season and Donovan has been instrumental to their success.
Donovan has the best stats in the Major League for assists and “game-winning” assists plus he has chipped in with two goals of his own this season. The latest of which came in the Galaxy’s 2-1 win away at DC United on Sunday night. The league’s top-scorer Edson Buddle kept up his good form by giving LA Galaxy the lead seven minutes before half-time and his goal separated the two teams at half-time. Then Andy Najar equalized for DC United in the 54th minute but this only brought about a reaction from the Galaxy who, just three minutes later, dispossessed United in midfield and, having worked their way into the box, won a penalty kick thanks to a handball. The resulting penalty was dispatched by Donovan who was back in the team having missed the previous match away at New England Revolution, a game which the Galaxy lost 2-0 and recorded only their second defeat in MLS this season. The other defeat came one day before the FIFA World Cup kicked off in South Africa as Galaxy lost 1-0 against Real Salt Lake; Donovan didn’t play in that game either.
The standings in the Western Conference show LA Galaxy with 39 points after seventeen games, their nearest challengers for the Conference title being the defending MLS champions Real Salt Lake who are nine points adrift but have a game in hand. In the Eastern Conference Columbus Crew top the standings with thirty one points from sixteen games, five ahead of Thierry Henry’s new club New York Red Bulls.
WATCH HIGHLIGHTS OF DC UNITED V LA GALAXY HERE:
Canada is preparing itself for the third edition of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship which takes place from April 28th with the first game between Toronto FC and Montreal Impact and finishes on June 2nd with Toronto’s final match of the tournament at home to the Vancouver Whitecaps. Toronto FC, who won the event last season on goal difference from Vancouver, are favourites to win their second title but there’s a chance that they could play weakened teams in the event which runs along the Major League Soccer (MLS) season. Neither Vancouver nor Montreal are MLS teams yet although the former have been officially announced as an expansion city for 2011 with the latter hoping to join them not long after. Nonetheless the tournament will prove to be very competitive as it has been in the previous two years of the event.
The inaugural championship kicked off on the 27th May, 2008 with Toronto FC defeating their hosts from Montreal 1-0 thanks to a lone strike from Puerto Rican defender Marco Vélez. That, however, was to be Montreal’s only defeat in the tournament as they defeated Vancouver home and away before securing a point away at Toronto who surprisingly lost points at Vancouver to gift the Impact the first ever Canadian Championship tournament by two points. The second tournament in 2009 was a two-horse race between Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps. Toronto FC defeated Vancouver 1-0 on the opening day of the tournament but Vancouver would get their own back on Matchday 5 with a 2-0 home victory. Thismeant that both teams matches against the Impact would gain significance especially as both teams won all their matches against Montreal. On Matchday 6, the final match of the event, Toronto FC heavily defeated the Impact at their home stadium 6-1 to shade the title on goal difference from Vancouver and take the Voyageurs Cup.
In each case the winners of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship went on to receive a berth in the qualifying rounds of the CONCACAF Champions League and this season is no different, therefore underlying how important this competition is to those concerned. Naturally Toronto FC are the favourites to win it again due to their greater experience but one cannot rule out the others completely in such a short tournament.
NUTRILITE CANADIAN CHAMPIONSHIP
April 28th: Toronto FC v Montreal Impact
May 5th: Vancouver Whitecaps v Montreal Impact
May 12th: Montreal Impact v Toronto FC
May 19th: Vancouver Whitecaps v Toronto FC
May 26th: Montreal Impact v Vancouver Whitecaps
June 2nd: Toronto FC v Vancouver Whitecaps
The new Major League Soccer (MLS) season is upon us. Philadelphia Union and Seattle Sounders, the league’s two newest franchises, face-off against each other on Thursday, March 25th to get things underway. In the second part of the “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” preview to the 2010 season we focus here on the eight teams that comprise the Eastern Conference.
Columbus Crew have been one of the most consistent teams in the league in the last couple of years. In 2008 the Crew topped the Eastern Conference and the overall standings for the league as a whole, thus securing the MLS Supporters’ Shield, and then went on to win their first MLS Cup defeating New York Red Bulls 3-1 in the final. In 2009 they repeated the feat of having the best record in the Eastern Conference and the league generally but were ultimately knocked-out of the MLS Cup by the team who would go on to usurp them as champions Real Salt Lake. American legend and club captain Freddie Hejduk will again be a pivotal figure with his many years of experience at the back as well as the goals from Argentinian Guillermo Barros Schelotto up front. With the club suffering disappointment in the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-finals recently the club will want to get back to winning ways once the MLS season begins.
D.C. United, the most successful club in Major League Soccer history with four MLS Cup wins (1996, 1997, 1999, 2004), haven’t enjoyed the best time of it in the last two years. The club finished 6th in the Eastern Conference in 2008 and only marginally improved to finish fourth last year but on neither occasion has qualified for the play-offs. United are still dependent on the goals of Bolivian striker Jaime Moreno who, at 36 years of age, doesn’t have many more years at the top remaining. The club has also done plenty of trade both in and out so it is difficult to predict how they might perform with so many comings-and-goings. Chicago Fire have improved in the last three years with one fourth-place and two second-place finishes since 2007 but they’ve been unable to get past the semi-finals of the MLS Cup in that time. In fact the “Fire” has found it hard to live up to expectations since their inaugural season in 1998 when they won the MLS Cup and US Open Cup double. The club will depend on another one of the many veterans who are still making a living in the MLS, namely Brian McBride for whom it could be the last chance he has to bring the cup back to his hometown club before the end of his career.
In the rest of the east all eyes will be on newcomers Philadelphia Union who have appointed experienced coach Piotr Nowak hoping that his previous success with Chicago Fire and D.C. United will stand them in good stead. Naturally for a new team the Union have had to draft in a roster of players who have come from other MLS outfits and will hope to get a perfect blend of youth and experience. Their opening day fixture against Seattle Sounders will prove to be an exciting test for the league’s newest franchise who will hope to emulate their opponents’ achievements from 2008. New England Revolution, under the leadership of former Liverpool FC player Steve Nicol for the eighth consecutive year, have been the “nearly men” of Major League Soccer in the last decade having reached four MLS Cup finals (in 2002 and from 2005-07) and lost them all. The last two MLS campaigns have seen the Revs finish third in the conference standings with the club going on to lose in the play-offs at the first hurdle.
The New York Red Bulls have never won the MLS Cup despite being one of the league’s founder members but did come close in 2008 when they lost out to fellow easterners Columbus Crew. Their Colombian star Juan Pablo Ángel has never quite hit the heights his talents have deserved since leaving Argentinian giants River Plate but he has been the Red Bulls’ top scorer for the last three seasons. However New York’s aspirations in 2009 were to win the MLS Cup but they ultimately finished as the worst side in the league at the end of the regular season and will believe that things can only improve on last season’s dismal showing. Kansas City Wizards, MLS Cup champions in 2000, are another one of the big boys who didn’t qualify for last year’s play-offs having finished in a disappointing 6th in the Eastern Conference finishing eight points ahead of the Red Bulls. Finally Canadian side Toronto FC are another recent expansion team whose inclusion has been justified by their high crowds with the second highest average in the MLS last season behind Seattle Sounders. However in the three years that they’ve participated in the league Toronto’s form has been less successful with finishes of 7th, 7th and 5th in the Eastern Conference since 2007. Can they qualify for the MLS play-offs this time round?
MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER 2010 OPENING FIXTURES
Philadelphia Union v Seattle Sounders
Colorado Rapids v Chivas USA
Toronto FC v Columbus Crew
Houston Dynamo v FC Dallas
Chicago Fire v NY Red Bulls
D.C. United v Kansas City Wizards
Real Salt Lake v San Jose Earthquakes
New England Revolution v LA Galaxy