Trades, transfers and transfer rumors are the stuff of this week’s MLS – Big 5, and there is plenty of stuff to go around.
Having said that, let’s begin with this.
1) Italy’s Coach Antonio Conte Likes Us, He Really, Really Likes Us.
With apologies to Oscar winner Sally Field, that may well have been the reaction at MLS offices in Manhattan when Conte told Italian sports daily Tuttosport, “What else should he have done?,” when asked to comment on Italian international Sebastian Giovinco’s move to Toronto FC. “In a few years players will elbow each other to go there. (MLS) will grow so much, and not just in terms of chatter.”
Conte continued, “according to the latest surveys young Americans between six and 12 years old don’t choose the traditional sports like basketball and football, but they pick soccer. If they go down that road, pretty soon there’s going to be problems for everyone.”
Conte’s position on MLS stands in stark contrast to his counterpart on the U.S. national team, Jurgen Klinsmann’s discomfort with his key players playing in MLS has been well documented. Time will tell, but Giovinco does not seem to have hurt his international future, with Conte promising to “keep an eye on him” for the Italian team.
2) New Red Bull Coach Marsch Trades With Former Club Montreal.
The New York Red Bulls are doing what they can to recover from the backlash created when they fired popular coach Mike Petke.
New RBNY coach Jesse Marsch is reunited with midfielder Felipe, and if we are reading the tea leaves correctly here, Sacha Kljestan, a former teammate of Marsch’s with Chivas USA, could the next midfielder headed to Harrison, New Jersey.
New York received Felipe and the league’s number one allocation position with Montreal landing Cameroonian fb Ambroise Oyongo and midfielder Eric Alexander, plus allocation money and a 2015 international roster spot.
Montreal did well to acquire Oyongo, a speedy, attacking fullback currently with Cameroon at the Africa Cup of Nations, and Alexander, part of a solid defensive midfield duo with Dax McCarty for New York, who has two U.S. caps.
But Kljestan is the key to the deal. If new Red Bull GM Ali Curtis can land the Anderlecht man, the deal could swing Red Bulls way. If not? Then the Red Bulls may still have a cranky fanbase on its hands.
3) Cahill to UAE?
Staying with the Red Bulls for a minute, Aussie hero Tim Cahill looks like he could joining fellow DP Thierry Henry on the way out of Harrison.
Unlike Henry, though Cahill is not hanging up his boots, no word is that the ex- Everton man is close to signing a big bucks deal with Al Wahda of the UAE Pro-League.
Cahill went from being the heart and soul of the Red Bulls during the 2013 season to a cranky part timer in 2014.
Cahill’s laudable commitment to turning out for the Socceroos created tension when the Aussie vet continued to choose club over country, even after his star turn in last summer’s World Cup.
Cahill lost his starting job during the Bulls playoff push, and occasionally grew testy when asked about his new bench role.
After being hired as the Red Bull’s GM Ali Curtis said he would have to ask Cahill if he wanted to return to New Jersey. It seems Curtis may have gotten his answer.
4) Scottish International Maloney Alights With Fire.
The former Wigan and Celtic star calls signing with Chicago and MLS the “opportunity of a lifetime.” A former Scottish Premier League Player of the Year with Celtic, Shaun Maloney made a mark in the English top light with Aston Villa and Wigan.
An international mainstain for his country, the attacker played a key role in Wigan’s stunning F.A. Cup Final defeat of Manchester City, setting up Ben Watson for the goal that brought the title to the unfancied Latics.
Turning Chicago around could be a similarly major job, the Fire finished ninth in the Eastern Conference in 2014.
5) Player’s Contract With League Expires Saturday
Negotiations between MLS and the MLS PU have been ongoing, but reports don’t sound very positive. With all the recent talk of how the league is steadily improving, the players are looking for a bigger piece of the pie.
Toronto FC and U.S. MNT star Michael Bradley said recently that free agency is an issue worth striking for. The league has always been adamantly opposed to the concept. The single entity league also keeps the purse strings pulled tight through a restrictive salary cap.
Despite Bradley’s declaration, a strike would seem unlikely. The league does have an improved television deal, attendance has been solid and, the league has a pile of expansion loot to play with.
But strikes and lockouts have previously devastated more established leagues, even baseball and football were badly damaged.
Throughout the league’s 20 year history the players have been asked to wait their turn. High profile DP’s have signed some startling contracts in recent seasons, but the rank and file have haven’t exactly cashed in.
Both sides will, or should be, wary of any work stoppage, but the feeling here is that if Commissioner Garber wants labor peace, he will have loosen those purse strings more than a little.