Thinking through Andy Najar’s prolonged absence

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Word came down from on high yesterday: Andy Najar will get two extra games off for throwing the ball at referee Jair Marrufo during last Saturday’s game. He missed the second leg of DC United’s semifinal with New York, and now he’s set to sit both halves of the Eastern Conference final. Expect Robbie Russell to get the call at right back for Ben Olsen.

What exact does that mean for United? What do they lose in the switch from Najar to Russell?

In defense, DC’s unlikely to miss much. Russell, now 33, might be a downgrade if Houston played somebody more fleet of foot down their left. Then Najar’s speed would be missed. Against Brad Davis, Russell might actually be a better bet to prevent some of those dangerous crosses into the box.

Russell’s experience may also be a bonus for United. Having played a part in Real Salt Lake’s 2009 title run (as well as appearing for Rosenborg in UEFA Champions League), Russell has as much big game experience as anybody at Ben Olsen’s disposal. Against Dominic Kinnear’s bag of tricks, that may come in handy.

Going forward, however, Najar will be missed, especially for a United team that’s generating few good chances in attack. A lot of that is due to the team’s passive defensive approach, their willingness to absorb pressure leaving them unlikely to generate the midfield turnovers that can lead to easy transition chances.

But beyond tactics, Najar, a converted midfielder, is just much better getting forward than Russell, who has only two goals and nine assists in parts of five Major League Soccer seasons. In the last stages of his career, Russell is now more of a traditional fullback than Najar. He’s even seen time in central defense for United. Though he was good for the odd goal during his years in Norway, Russell doesn’t pose an attacking midfielder’s threat.

I’m not convinced it will make that much of a difference. With Najar adapting to right back, he’s still learning how and when to utilize his attacking talent. Some times we see it, as we did in flashes against New York. Often, we don’t. Much of the excitement surround Najar at right back is more about the 19-year-old’s promise than his present.

Against a Houston team that doesn’t give teams many opportunities in transition, Najar’s forays forward could have had little effect, though it would have still been an x-factor, of sorts.

Najar’s suspension means the team has had to sacrifice that wild card for the certainty of Russell’s defending. It may prove a meaningless trade-off.

Ajax reunion at Palace as De Boer signs center back

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Crystal Palace has added much needed depth and youth to its corps of center backs with 20-year-old Ajax man Jairo Riedewald.

The left back in Ajax’s UEFA Europa League loss to Manchester United, Riedewald completed better than 92 percent of his passes in Eredivisie play. He also nabbed 2.2 interceptions per match.

[ MORE: Russia’s straw stadium ]

Fellow Palace center backs James Tompkins, Scott Dann, and Damien Delaney average age is 31.3.

Riedewald played for Palace boss Frank De Boer at Ajax. From Palace’s official site:

“He will be an excellent addition to our squad, Jairo is a young player but already has a lot of experience. I know he is looking forward to playing in the Premier League.”

Riedewald played the majority of his Eredivisie matches at center back, but has 18 appearances as a defensive midfielder and another 12 at left back.

He’s Palace’s second addition of this summer, the other being a loan of Ruben Loftus-Cheek from Chelsea.

Russian farmer’s straw stadium pokes fun at World Cup costs

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KRASNOYE, Russia (AP) Russia is desperate to control its spending on the 2018 World Cup, and a farmer might just have the answer – straw.

In a project straight out of the “Three Little Pigs” fairytale, Roman Ponomaryov has built a straw replica of the 43 billion ruble ($700 million) stadium in St. Petersburg which will host World Cup semifinals.

His arena made of 4,500 straw bales comes with tiered seating for 300 and flagpoles. It hosted its first tournament – for local teams only – last weekend using modified soccer rules.

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“It’s good to get people excited and create a sports atmosphere ahead of the World Cup,” Ponomaryov said in a recent interview.

The real St. Petersburg Stadium has drawn ire for its cost, corruption scandals, delays, and workers’ deaths.

Ponomaryov is a fan of the Zenit St. Petersburg club and says he modeled his straw stadium on Zenit’s new home in a gentle dig at the problems around the construction.

“It seemed pretty strange … how the cost of the stadium and its construction timeframe were increasing,” he said. Russia’s total World Cup budget is around $10.7 billion.

Zenit has accepted the straw stadium with good humor, offering Ponomaryov a ticket to a game at the real thing.

The harvest will keep him on the farm for the next few weeks, though, and he has in mind another project – organizing a Straw World Cup.

Spain’s sports court opens disciplinary procedure vs. Villar

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Spain’s administrative court for sport has initiated disciplinary procedures against Spanish Football Federation president Angel Maria Villar after he was arrested and jailed in a corruption probe.

The opening of the disciplinary procedure on Monday clears the way for Spain’s sports authority, the Higher Council of Sport, to rule whether it will temporarily suspend Villar when they meet on Tuesday at 7 p.m. local time (1700 GMT).

The court’s decision had been expected since Thursday, when the Higher Council of Sport asked the court to act against Villar following his arrest.

Villar, his son Gorka, federation vice president Juan Padron, and Ramon Hernandez, the secretary of the regional football federation of Tenerife, were arrested last Tuesday when police raided the national federation’s headquarters and other properties.

The four were arrested on charges of improper management, misappropriation of funds, corruption and falsifying documents.

National Court judge Santiago Pedraz ordered last week that the Villars and Padron remain in jail without bail after questioning them. Hernandez’s bail was set at 100,000 euros ($116,000).

The elder Villar is FIFA’s senior vice president and also a vice president of UEFA. He’s been president of the Spanish federation since 1988.

Judge Pedraz said the 67-year-old Villar is suspected of misappropriating private and public funds received by the federation “at least since 2009.”

MLS rejected $4 billion deal which wanted promotion/relegation

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Major League Soccer has confirmed it brushed aside a $4 billion TV deal which insisted on promotion and relegation coming into place in North America’s top-flight.

A report from the Sports Business Journal stated that the owner of NASL side Miami FC Riccardo Silva gave a presentation to the league and owners on June 26, offering a 10-year deal for the domestic and international TV rights from 2023 with one clause: promotion and relegation had to become commonplace in MLS.

Of course, Silva, who founded the media company MP & Silva who put in the bid, would love for there to be promotion and relegation in MLS as his team cannot currently rise above the second-tier NASL.

Jeff Carlisle from ESPN has the following statement from Dan Courtemanche, MLS executive vice president of communications.

“As was stated to Mr. Silva both in person and in a subsequent letter, Major League Soccer is prohibited contractually from engaging in discussions about our media rights with other distributors. We are not in a position, nor are we interested, in engaging with Mr. Silva on his proposal.”

“It is also important to note that since its inception, MLS, like the other North American leagues, has dealt directly with its domestic broadcast partners, rather than through agents and brokers. This ensures that the league and its partners can structure an agreement that addresses all elements, such as scheduling, marketing and digital distribution, that are required for a successful partnership.”

This deal would quadruple the current annual TV deal MLS has with Fox, ESPN and Univision, but it has been stated that no new deal can be discussed until at least 2021.

With cities across the U.S. and Canada lining up to pay the $150 million MLS expansion fee, league commission Don Garber has stated multiple times that promotion and relegation is not needed in the U.S. Soccer pyramid.

With USL and NASL now both second-tier, the only way they can become a top-tier franchise is by buying into MLS with two markets set to be selected later this year from 12 current expansion bids, plus David Beckham’s franchise in Miami still pushing ahead with plans to join the league.