1) El Guaje Stays in the Picture
New York City FC has announced that 2016 MLS MVP David Villa, nickname-The Kid, or El Guaje- has extended his contract with the team for one more year, tying the team’s first ever signing to the Bronx-based club through 2018.
Love them or loathe them NYCFC got one thing right from the start and that was making Villa not only the club’s first Designated Player but the first player to sign with the team.
Last season’s MVP Award stands out when contemplating Villa’s two-plus seasons with NYC but that bauble, however much it meant to the World Cup winner, is just the tip of the iceberg.
Villa’s on field performance has been noteworthy but anyone that has been able to spend any time around NYCFC has to be just as impressed with the captain’s many less obvious contributions.
For example, as the team’s best and most visible player Villa took it upon himself to learn English before his second season, choosing to conduct interviews in the unfamiliar tongue.
Villa also regularly talks up the quality of the league, as he did in his remarks upon being voted MVP: “I’m very proud to represent NYC FC and to receive this award,” Villa said then. “It’s a big day for me because this is one of the things I said I wanted to do when I came here two years ago. This is an important day in my career – this is an important moment for me. This award is for the best player in this amazing league which has many quality players so this is a very happy and proud day for me.”
Villa has led from the front since signing with the club, choosing to move to New York months before the club’s inaugural season, unlike fellow DP Frank Lampard, since retired, whose decision to extend his stay with Manchester City called his commitment to his new team into question and may well have cost NYCFC a shot at the playoffs in year one.
All of which is to say, smart move NYCFC.
2) Stadium News
Like the old saying goes, “I’ve got good news and bad news, which do you want to hear first?” The bad news? Ok.
The New England Revolution’s proposed deal to build a stadium on University of Massachusetts land in the city of Boston has collapsed, sending the Kraft family back to square one while the Revs continue to play in cavernous Gillette Stadium 25 miles from downtown Boston and the urban experience that has become the model that virtually all MLS teams clubs are aiming for.
With the recent groundbreaking on a stadium for DC United, the Revolution are now the last surviving MLS original with an appropriately sized home to call its own.
For the good news, we head to St Petersburg, Florida where the good citizens of that city have voted to approve a referendum that would allow for the renovation of Al Lang Stadium, home of the NASL Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Rowdies owner Bill Edwards would foot the bill for the reno while also picking up the expansion fee of at least $150 million. The lack of public money (we’ll see) is likely the main reason the measure passed, unlike in St. Louis where Joe Public said no thanks to a referendum that would have cost taxpayers $80 million.
With 12 cities still in the running for three expansion slots, assuming Miami remains viable, Tampa/St. Pete has no guarantee of acceptance from MLS but this move is certainly a step forward for the city’s bid.
3) Midweek action
Two matches graced the MLS schedule on Wednesday evening with the home teams prevailing in both matches. Sporting KC pitched a 2-0 shutout against the New York Red Bulls with Dom Dwyer accounting for both SKC goals a feat that Sebastian Giovinco equaled up in Toronto as the Atomic Ant led TFC to a 2-1 victory over first-place Orlando SC.
Toronto will be thrilled to see Seba hitting peak form after a slowish start to the season by the 2015 MLS MVP. Giovinco now has five goals on the season for a share of the TFC scoring lead with Jozy Altidore who picked up an accidental assist on Gio’s first goal.
In Kansas City, newly minted American citizen Dwyer also brought his 2017 goals tally to five but special mention should be made of the performances of Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles and SKC playmaker Benny Feilhaber.
Sporting could well have added three or more goals to its total if not for the heroics of Robles in the net with Feilhaber among the NYRB keeper’s robbery victims at Children’s Mercy Park.
Feilhaber also put on the best passing display Kansas City fans have seen since Lenny Dawson was tossing pigskins across the river in Missouri on the way to leading the Chiefs to glory in Super Bowl IV.
4) A Quartet of U.S. Strikers Filling it Up
With an eye on the busy upcoming international schedule it might be instructive to take a look at the MLS goal scoring chart and why not start in Kansas City where, as we see in our previous item, there is a new U.S. striker candidate for Bruce Arena to consider. In three full seasons with Sporting KC, English-born Dom Dwyer has scored 22, 12, and 16 goals and is off to a solid start in 2017 with five.
New England’s Juan Agudelo currently tops all U.S. MNT eligible players with six goals, just one behind Houston’s Mexican attacker Cubo Torres for first place in MLS and just one less than the career-high seven he scored in 2016. Rivers of ink have been sacrificed writing “Next Big Thing” articles about Agudelo since he burst onto the scene as the youngest U.S. goal scorer in an international match (since displaced by Christian Pulisic) when he scored as a 17-year-old versus South Africa in 2010.
Agudelo’s career hasn’t panned out as hoped but we live in hope that this could be this long-awaited breakout season. Gifted both physically and technically the Colombia-born attacker is just two years older than Jordan Morris but the clock is always ticking.
The least discussed member of this fearsome foursome is shaking the twines with expansion side Minnesota United FC, five times so far in 2017, the same number as David Villa, Jozy Altidore, Diego Valeri, and Dwyer.
Ramirez has made little of the jump from the NASL, where he earned the nickname Superman for his goalscoring exploits, appropriately scoring the club’s first MLS goal in a brutal 5-1 loss at Portland in the team’s league debut.
Ramirez has since added goals in the Loons first draw, a 2-2 tie at Colorado, two more in the club’s first MLS win, 4-2 home to Real Salt Lake, and one more in a 2-2 draw in Houston.
And while Ramirez continues to do all this under the radar, goals get noticed and if the big striker keeps filling the net, attention will be paid.
The last of this quartet Jozy Altidore is in a different position to the rest, with the TFC striker having long since established his bonafides with the national team. What Altidore needs is to put a complete season together to justify the big money that Toronto paid out to entice him back to MLS.
Already third on the U.S. MNT all-time goal chart with 37 goals Altidore has put up solid if not spectacular numbers in two seasons in Toronto. 12 goals in 2015 and 10 last year are nothing to sneeze at but might not be quite the bang for the considerable buck that TFC was hoping for.
So far so good for the powerful striker in 2017, now if his hamstrings can hold up maybe the third season will be the charm for both Altidore and Toronto.
Finally, who doesn’t like a juicy rumor, or two?
Both rumors involve big money, high profile L.A.F.C. so rev up the hype machine. Set to take to the field of play in 2018, L.A. still has no coach. Bob Bradley has been mentioned. Sigi Schmidt’s name has also been bandied about and both make sense but a new name emerged this week with SI’s Grant Wahl throwing Guillermo Barros Schelotto, the former Columbus Crew star into the mix.
Schelotto knows the league well enough, having been named the MVP and the MLS Cup MVP in 2008 and he has been coaching successfully in his native Argentina since his retirement, currently at Boca Juniors, so pressure shouldn’t be an issue.
On the playing side, Jeff Carlisle at ESPN has linked Real Sociedad’s Mexican star Carlos Vela with LA2. The ex-Arsenal man would likely be a big hit with the Mexican supporters in Los Angeles, so this one bears watching.