It is kinda funny that in 3 of the first 4 weeks of the MLS season RSL is facing a team built by Tim Leiweke, if you don’t know who Tim is well then you haven’t paid very close attention to MLS for the last 10 years or so. We will talk about Tim in a bit. So last Saturday RSL kicked off the home portion of their 2014 season, and while it didn’t go the way RSL players or fans wanted, the 1-1 draw was probably a fair result on a night that saw both sides suffer some big losses due to injuries. We can relive the many bad calls that were made or not made but in the end there isn’t anything that can be done about that.
The loss of Joao Plata to a hamstring injury clearly impacted the rhythm and style that RSL wanted to play in the match, but in the end it may have been the elevation that drained both teams and turned the match into something resembling the Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug. You know spots of excitement, but lots of “meh” to get to those spots. I will say this, Sabo’s goal was a great one but the highlight of the night had to be the capacity crowd that was loud, dedicated and rocking the entire match. TIFOs, banners, signs, and flags were all around the stadium, enough so that Brian Dunseth reports several national soccer folks reached out to him to compliment the RSL faithful for their outpouring of team pride.
So with the Galaxy in the rear view mirror, sights are now set on Toronto FC that are coming to town, but this isn’t the same TFC as in years past, as I said RSL will be facing a Tim team for the 3rd time in their first 4 weeks of the season. So I guess I should explain who this Tim guy is to those of you who may not know about him.
It was Tim who brought David Beckham to MLS, it was Tim who brought Robbie Keane to MLS, and while as the head of AEG he spent tens of millions of dollars to get LA back to the top of MLS. All the while pushing the league to re-write the rules to allow for not just DP’s but a class of Mega DP’s that have radically changed the league. I remain unconvinced if the Mega DP is a good thing for MLS or not, but it is what it is. So after bringing in huge names in LA and finally getting Landon Donovan a Mega DP contract, as AEG looked to liquidate, it was no surprise that Tim found a new place to replicate his vision of what MLS should look like.
Of course that took him to Toronto (one of the few organizations willing to spend money like LA did in order to get a team worthy of their fans) and that is where he went and from day one he made promises of bringing in the biggest players MLS had seen. Of course the first move he would make that would shock many was signing Tim Bezbatchenko (yes another Tim) as the teams GM, and yes fewer people would know who he was but in short he was the guy responsible at MLS HQ for player contracts, loans, transfers, budgets and more. In other words if you couldn’t find an insider with more knowledge of the rules and how they apply, this was a huge get for TFC
So in the offseason he put MLSE’s money where his mouth was, dropping over $100 million dollars in salary and fees on two players, two of the biggest names to ever take the pitch for a MLS team. However that wasn’t the first big move the team would make, first was signing Brazilian striker Gilberto to a DP contract and paying a multi million dollar transfer fee. That move be more than enough for most teams, but the Tim’s were just getting started as rumors kicked off 2014, and in the end the rumors would all be true.
The return of Michael Bradley, who some believe may be the best American player in the world right now, who comes from to MLS after a successful run at Roma in Italy and other European teams. Bradley is one of the anchors of the USMNT for the last several years, and clearly one of the biggest gets of any MLS team, at 26 still very much in his prime.
That of course was just one part of a dual announcement in January, the second part was England National Team player, Tottenham Hotspur forward Jermain Defoe, who at 31 is in the prime of his career and joins players like Robbie Keane and Thierry Henry as forwards to come to MLS after successful careers in the Premier League.
Now these moves were all huge moves and all required a lot of money be spent in both transfer fees and salaries, and while some questions were raised about MLS’s ignoring their own allocation process rules on returning USMNT players in favor of a newly penciled highest bidder rule for players they determine they don’t want the normal rules to apply to, something that has the 2nd Tim’s fingerprints all over it. The final major piece to their roster is one that leaves me (and many others) wondering exactly how they got this one past the rules (unfortunately with the complete lack of transparency, we will probably never know) is when they signed Brazilian national team keeper Julio Cesar to a loan deal of undisclosed details.
Now all these moves bring a lot of pressure to Toronto but with two matches under their belt so far this season, they have lived up to it, or have they? They beat Seattle 2-1 on the opening day of the MLS season, thanks to two early goals by Jermain Defoe but in that match they were generally out played by Seattle. Then last week they picked up a 1-0 win in their home opener against DC United, not exactly a huge test of a talent rich roster. Now coming to Salt Lake they might face their biggest challenge, a tough road match where they won’t take anyone by surprise, perhaps the best backline in MLS with Beltran, Schuler, Borchers, and Wingert, the best keeper in MLS in Nick Rimando.
Perhaps the most interesting matchup however will be the Beckerman vs Bradley one, which has writers around the MLS circuit buzzing this week. I won’t pick one over the other, because that is rather silly when you consider the reality that one (Bradley) is reportedly making 10 times more than Kyle Beckerman makes, and nobody in their right mind would tell you that he is 10 times the player of Beckerman.
So as you prepare for the Saturday night match at Rio Tinto (should be another sellout) keep in mind that you will be seeing some of the very best players in the world, and a good number (6 or 7) that will likely be representing their respective national teams at the World Cup this summer.
That’s How I See It