MLS season 20 is just around the corner, and here is our latest Big – 5.
1) Tim Howard to MLS?
Not likely. The rumor mill has all but fitted America’s bearded World Cup hero for a pair of NYCFC gloves, but the keeper has let it be known that he is quite happy Merseyside.
In response to the rumors, Howard recently told Sirius XM Radio that he plans to stay at Everton for the rest of his contract, at which point he plans to retire.
And his coach Roberto Martinez is happy to have him, telling ESPN that the 35 year, “is in the best moment of his career.”
2) Preseason Fun in the Sun for MLS Clubs
Many of the league’s clubs were in action in recent days at one of two warm up events, the IMG Suncoast Pro Classic and the the Desert Diamond Cup.
High spending Toronto FC was the only MLS club to lose at the Bradenton, Florida IMG Suncoast Pro Classic , falling 1-0 to USL side Oklahoma Energy FC. The New York Red Bulls had to settle for a 1-1 draw with Danish club HB Kove. The Columbus Crew dominated London FC, to the tune of 7-0 victory, and the Philadelphia Union ran out 3-0 victors over Costa Rica’s U23 team.
Meanwhile out in Tucson, Arizona at the Desert Diamond Cup the scores were Montreal Impact 6 – FC Cuautla 0, Colorado Rapids 2 – Sporting Kansas City 2, New England Revolution 0 – Real Salt Lake 1, and the Seattle Sounders 6 – FC Tucson 0.
3) Mike Grella Odyssey lands Him With Red Bulls
Grella, a cautionary tale in the age old Europe vs. MLS debate, has landed with the Red Bulls following a five year odyssey that has seen the 28 year old spend time with seven mostly English clubs, and one NASL club.
Grella, a forward, turned down Toronto FC for a shot with Leeds United, where he managed five goals in 40 games. The Long Island, New York native then bounced around the English Championship, and even had a spell in Denmark, before playing for the Carolina RailHawks last year.
Now, after impressing new Red Bull coach Jesse Marsch on trial, Grella can get his career on track. With Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill having moved on, the Bulls have just one veteran striker in Bradley Wright-Phillips, and the chance is there for Grella.
4) MLS Season Starts March 8
Season 20 is about ready to kick, with two teams in, Orlando SC and New York City FC, and one team out Chivas USA, while two teams are switching conferences.
Owing to the logic of geography, newcomers NYC and Orlando will both compete in the Eastern Conference. Mathematical balance dictated that two clubs would have to move to the Western Conference making for two 10 team groups.
And although Houston and Kansas City were the obvious choices for relocation, adding the 2013 MLS Cup winning Sporting KC to a stacked Western Conference might not be great for competitive balance.
5) But What about a Strike?
Time is rapidly running out for the league and the MLS Players Union to sign a Collective Bargaining Agreement, and the two sides are far apart, with free agency the main sticking point.
Unlike in years past, the players have freely tossed around the possibility of striking for a bigger piece the pie. Negotiating with single entity Major League Soccer has never proved especially fruitful for the players. But with the league enjoying the benefits of an improved television contract, solid attendance figures and recent cash injections through expansion, the players are growing restless.
MLS rules on player movement have long been opaque, and at times malleable. And while those rules have helped the likes Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley land where they want to play, lesser names have virtually no freedom of movement.
The players are saying that they are fed up, and that they are willing to withhold their services. The league have shown no willingness to budge.
Can the league afford to strike? We may be on the verge of finding out.