The Timbers claimed its first ever title, MLS or otherwise, last Sunday, and so we start this MLS Big – 5 by celebrating Portland’s celebrations.
1) Portland – Soccer City USA?
Portland likes to call itself Soccer City USA, and in the wake of the Timbers MLS Cup victory, it is hard to argue the point.
Huge, enthusiastic crowds welcomed the Timbers at the airport, lined city streets for a victory parade, rain be damned, and 9,000 of the faithful capped it all by turning up at Providence Park, singing and chanting all the while.
Portland hadn’t won a title since Bill Walton led the Trailblazers to the NBA Championship in 1977 and the Rose City celebrated in style.
Other cities in the United States love the beautiful game too. Once upon a time St. Louis claimed the Soccer City USA moniker, Kansas City has made its claim, and Portland’s Cascadia rivals in Seattle will argue its credentials.
Next year. For 2015 the unofficial title Soccer City USA, along with the MLS Cup, resides in Portland, Oregon.
2) LAFC Name Thorrington to Run Soccer Ops
Scheduled to come on board in 2018 as MLS team 22, one year after Atlanta United FC, LA2 has selected 36-year-old retired MLS man John Thorrington to assemble the Galaxy rivals to be.
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa Thorrington was raised in California and has four full U.S. MNT caps on his resume.
Thorrington has been working with the MLS Players Union since retiring from DC United in 2013, making this is quite a career leap for the former Manchester United prospect.
Thorrington’s title is Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations of the Los Angeles Football Club, a team with no coach and no players.
The team has a stadium site, and is said to be close to starting its academy, so Thorrington will be busy. One thing the team does have is a lot of owners and investors, including Mia Hamm, Magic Johnson and self-help guru Tony Robbins, so money and advice should not be hard to come by for Thorrington.
3) MLS Fullbacks on the Move
With the offseason comes player movement and a couple of American MLS fullbacks look like packing their bags. Fresh off of winning MLS Cup with Portland former Sueno winner Jorge Villafana is set for a move to Mexican club Santos Laguna.
Incredibly, Villafana earned a place on Chivas USA roster in 2007 after winning a television contest. Now 26, Villafana had a career year for Portland in 2015 and drew raves for his shutdown marking on Ethan Finlay in the MLS Cup and Fabian Castillo in the Western Conference Finals.
Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl reported Villafana’s Mexico move, can a U.S. MNT call up be far behind?
Also reportedly set for a big move, to Manchester United’s youth set up, is New York Red Bulls Academy and U.S. MNT U17 fullback Matthew Olosunde.
Olosunde was part of the U.S. U17 World Cup side that stalled at the group stage in Chile this fall, although injury limited the New Jersey native to just one match.
Work permit issue are still being worked out, and as LAFC Executive VP of Soccer Ops John Thorrington can tell us it’s a long way from the youth team to Old Trafford, so patience.
And good luck to the young man.
4) Free Agency Comes to MLS
Now don’t get excited, this is still good old single entity MLS. Think Hal Steinbrenner, not George.
With that in mind, there are some limits to the free agency provision gained by the players in the CBA signed before the 2015 season.
Players who are 28 years old with at least eight years of MLS service and are below the max salary will be able to freely choose their team within the following salary limits:
Players earning less than $100,000 can negotiate a raise of up to 25 percent
Players earning between $100,000 and $200,000 can negotiate a raise of up to 20 percent; and
Players earning $200,000 and above can negotiate a raise of up to 15 percent.
The above percentage increases may be raised for players who significantly outperform their contracts.
We will have to see how it plays out, but there are good players available. It is a veteran-laden group and contract concerns will be an issue, but players like Mike Magee (Chicago), Justin Mapp (Montreal), and Ricardo Clark (Houston) to name a few, figure to generate interest.
5) Don Garber Takes a Page From Jurgen Klinsmann’s Playbook
As part of the MLS Cup hype Commissioner Don Garber made the media rounds giving his view in the league wherever he went.
At one such stop the commissioner spoke to the Toronto Sun in defense of the standard of officiating in the league. Surely his right, even if I would argue that he’s wrong, but of more interest was that the Commish used a favorite tactic of his old sparring partner, Jurgen Klinsmann to mount that defense.
According to Garber, “our officials are a lot better than people give them credit for,” and he added, “that’s not just my opinion, we track it.”
Ok, but here is where it gets all Klinsmanny, “there’s a development gap between the knowledge of our fan base and, in some cases, our broadcasters.”
In the past Garber fought back when U.S. men’s national team coach Klinsmann took Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey to task for returning to MLS from Europe.
Now it seems that the MLS supremo has chosen to emulate rather than castigate his one-time antagonist.
When Klinsmann faced scrutiny after some poor results this summer and fall he labelled the criticisms, “a bit immature” and “just wrong.” It wasn’t the first time.
The U.S. Coach and Technical Director previously
said of criticism of his performance, “I take it. It’s not a big deal. But it also explains we have a long way to go to educate people on the game of soccer still in this country.”
So there you have it. A shared strategy on critics from two of the three most important figures in U.S. Soccer (U.S.S.F. President Sunil Gulati being the other).
That strategy summed up? Of course, you are entitled to your opinion – it’s just that you are wrong.