The opening of rookie training camps this week marks the end of the MLS offseason, one of the shortest in pro sports. It was only November 23 when Columbus ended New York's dream postseason run in the MLS Cup, and it was yesterday (January 22nd) when members of the Red Bulls took to the Giants Stadium practice bubble.
Not that the two-month break was without news both positive and negative within and outside the American soccer world...
Landon es en Fuego: Donovan, on loan with German giants Bayern Munich, has ripped four goals in five pre-season appearances.
The Skinny: We all know than when Landon is engaged, he's the most gifted player the US has ever produced. His desire for new challenges has ignited the fire within him, and Donovan hopes to make his stift to the Bundesliga permanent by making a loaded "original" FC Hollywood squad. Given his torrid pace, look for BM boss Jurgen Klinsmann to shell out millions to MLS for a permanent transfer. Where that leaves Donovan's LA Galaxy team is out of the playoffs for a third straight season... even if Beckham returns from Milan.
Red Bull Arena opening pushed to 2010: RBNY honcho Erik Stover announced yesterday that the long awaited Red Bull Arena won't open this season as hoped.
The Skinny: Despite the threat of mass suicide from the Red Bull faithful, the delay will benefit the project in the long run. The town of Harrison still has massive improvements to make to the area surrounding the stadium, which is coming together at a good pace. By pegging an opening day to the calendar in fourteen months' time, Red Bull is removing the drama surrounding a possible Fall '09 opening date. By April 2010, the stadium, the parking deck, and a lot of the Riverbend District will be ready to handle 25,000 screaming soccer fans. Rushing the completion would have let to countless complaints from long-suffering fans that have been waiting, and waiting, and waiting since 2000 for a home for the team.
Seattle Taking Shape: Seattle Sounders FC selected lethal college striker Steve Zakuani with the first pick of the Superdraft, and has Seattle buzzing.
The Skinny: Much has been written about the pall over Seattle's sports scene, but the Sounders, with their 19,000 member season ticket base, championship coach (Sigi Schmid), hometown hero (Kasey Keller), European vet (Freddie Ljungberg), and celebrity owner (Drew Carey), are ready to be the story of the 2009 season.
US vs. Sweden: A largely untested Yank squad will face Sweden this Saturday (8:30p ET, FSC, Home Depot Center), only two weeks before the Hexagonal begins vs. Mexico.
The Skinny: Will any of this Saturday's starters take the pitch against El Tri on February 11th? Brian Ching, our "non-scoring forward" will certainly get playing time, and Kenny Cooper will hope to push himself towards a bench option for 2/11, but the match is key for Rico Clark, Sascha Kljestan, and Robbie Rogers to show they're ready for full-time National Team status. Clark is key as Pablo Mastroeni must miss the Mexico match due to red cards. Bornstein and Wynne are hoping to raise their stock as well. The unheralded keepers for Sunday are playing for spot #3 behind Howard and Guzan.
Mexico Ailing as Guerra Fria II Looms : El Tri will be without Andres Guardado of Deportivo La Coruna (ruptured tendon), Carlos Vela of Arsenal (red cards) and possibly iconic defender Rafa Marquez of Barcelona (leg) for the big match in Columbus in three weeks' time.
The Skinny: Will the roster omissions make Mexico more or less dangerous? The stats bely the truth: the US hasn't lost to Mexico at home this decade. With a relatively healthy roster, an in-form Donovan and Howard, it's hard to imagine Mexico taking three points on what will be a chilly night in a raucous Crew Stadium. If this rivalry is to be a true one, however, the bad guys will have to win one of these sometime. Dos a Cero por la EEUU, anyone?
Expansion 2011 is Down to Five Cities: After Montreal backpedaled out the expansion race on MLS Cup weekend, Arthur Blank has halted Atlanta's bid, leaving five cities for two teams.
The Skinny: With only Miami, Portland, Ottawa, St. Louis, and Vancouver remaining in the race for clubs 17 and 18, Barcelona's South Florida bid looks the best, as the Catlalonians may be immune from the global economic downturn. Portland and St. Louis will battle for the final spot, though St. Loo still needs to shore up its cash position. Vancouver's stadium situation is still iffy, and Ottawa is the long shot. Apparently, the Canadian Capital's presentation "blew the MLS brass away," but is Ottawa a big enough market for the league?
ESPN2 Drops "Primetime MLS Thursday" in favor of a "Game of the Week" approach on various days
The Skinny: Thursday nights weren't the best night for appointment viewing for MLS fans, and shots of half-empty stadiums on weeknights didn't help the league's image. With almost half the 2009 MLS Primetime matches to be scheduled for Friday or Saturday nights, the fan passion on nationally televised games will shine a little brighter.