How do you respond to Sepp Blatter? Don Garber shows you how


It’s been a painful four days in U.S. soccer land, and not because Sepp Blatter took a shot at Major League Soccer. His comments were ignorant and unnecessary, but it’s not the first time the FIFA president has said something ignorant and unnecessary. It’s just the first time this week.

As far as stupid Sepp tricks go, this was far from the worst thing he’s ever said. His contention that MLS is struggling is so demonstrably false, it could be dismissed without comment. Yes, MLS can be bigger, but it’s not closing its doors anytime soon. This isn’t 2004.

But having been through this Blatter rodeo a number of times now, it’s frustrating that we can’t just treat Blatter like the metaphorical troll he’s become. Instead, we overreact. Every time, we overreact. We light up social media, start our protests, ignite the same debates we’ve been having for the past three years. Every time Sepp opens his mouth, it becomes Groundhog Day.

Nobody goes to a circus and expects wisdom from a clown, yet we take Blatter’s words at face value. We break out petitions, say something has to change, but then quickly move on, the whole process playing out like short term immersion therapy which, while making us feel better about all the insecurities we exposed, also wipes our memories. The next time Sepp peeps, we jump back on the wheel.

All the while, we never stop and ask: Why do we only only react when Blatter’s ignorance hits us? Why do we ignore the fact that Blatter Rage was non-existent before the U.S. failed to win the rights to the 2022 World Cup? Those factors don’t absolve Blatter’s comments, but they do help explain why we can’t move on.

In a soccer world that’s produced Jack Warner, Mohammed bin Hammam, and Ricardo Teixeira, it’s unlikely the mere ouster of Blatter would change the international landscape. And nothing Blatter says will change the fact that the games will go on, tournament will be waged, and MLS will continue to grow. While there’s almost nothing to recommend Blatter for the position he holds, there’s also (for good and bad) more to this picture than this caricature of a man prodding a sensitive fan base.

His words are just air, air I’ve wasted too much space addressing here. Either ignore them or roll with them, but don’t get worked up over the crazy guy barking at the moon. And if you do, at least wait for something sexist to come out of his mouth (again). Major League Soccer can take care of itself.

On Wednesday, MLS commissioner Don Garber gave a great example of how to deal Blatter’s semi-annual hiccups. His overall approach: Don’t take it seriously, focus on the positives, and try to convert (not reject).

I’m not sure I agree with the last tactic, but that’s why I’m not Don Garber. From reporting by the Washington Post’s Steven Goff:

In a phone interview with the Insider, Garber said: “I really don’t believe the president believes we are struggling. I don’t think anybody in the pro sports community would describe us that way. In no way are we struggling, but we are less than 20 years old; we haven’t gone through a full generational term.”

Not that you’d expect hyperventilation from somebody like Garber, but this is a direct, measured response which, devoid of defensiveness, ends up presenting the league as confident and self-aware. Seems like a pretty sound approach.


“The other major [U.S. sports] leagues are so deeply embedded in the culture and have been for generations,” Garber said. “MLS, in a short period of time, has made great progress. But we have not been around for 100 years like [some] other [U.S.] leagues and certainly like the European soccer leagues, and as such, our development is appropriate to where we are from an age perspective.”

It doesn’t make good Twitter fodder, but Garber’s response is much more sensible than hitting a big red button every time Blatter speaks up. Hey, MLS is fine, he’s saying. We’ve got a ways to go, but struggling? I know that’s not true.

We all know that’s not true. And we knew it before Sepp sounded off.

There’s more in Steven Goff’s piece, but more valuable than hearing Don Garber react to accusations so prima facie ridiculous is sensing his approach. No commissioner likes to hear his league denigrated, but Garber’s been in this position before. Rather than sound the alarms and treat the remarks as something harmful, he just rolls with it.

Though you never know. He may have still signed a petition.

Andrija Novakovich: “It’s a good feeling” to earn USMNT call up

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As the U.S. Men’s National Team continues its transition towards qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, a new face has emerged for the Stars and Stripes ahead of its upcoming friendly against Paraguay.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Kekuta Manneh to roster ahead of Paraguay friendly ]

Striker Andrija Novakovich earned his first call up on Sunday when U.S. manager Dave Sarachan named the Telstar player in his squad, which will play the South American side on March 27 in Cary, North Carolina.

The 21-year-old forward has been nothing short of brilliant in his first season with the Dutch second-division club, scoring 18 league goals for Telstar — who sit fourth in the Eerste Divisie.

“It’s a good feeling to get the call-up and hopefully it will be a very good experience,” Novakovich said. “They [the U.S. national team] sent the club and myself an email saying that I was on the preliminary roster and we were just waiting, and then this week I got another email saying I was on the final roster.

“I called my Mum right away and she’s proud, she’s happy.

“I’m just there for the experience — of course I want to play, of course I want to get the opportunity and hopefully that will happen, It’s an honour to be called up and I’m very proud and very happy.”

Novakovich, a Wisconsin native, is currently on loan at Telstar from English Championship side Reading.

The young USMNT player moved to England back in 2014 to join Reading’s academy, despite originally planning on playing for Marquette University following high school.

Despite this being his first senior-team call up, Novakovich is familiar with the U.S. national team setup. Novakovich has previously represented the Under-17, U-18 and U-20 national teams.

Lionel Messi suggests 2018 will be his final World Cup

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Lionel Messi’s track record as a professional has encompassed just about every imaginable accolade, but one that has eluded he and his Argentina national teammates is winning the World Cup.

[ MORE: Kekuta Manneh added to USMNT squad ahead of Paraguay friendly ]

The Barcelona star has played a significant role for the Albiceleste since debuting for Argentina back in 2005, and even helped guide the South American power to the 2014 World Cup final, however, harsh criticism from local media could push Messi and many of his teammates towards not returning to the national team.

This wouldn’t be the first time Messi has contemplated international retirement, though.

Following the 2016 Copa America Centenario final — which resulted in a Chilean victory over Messi’s Argentina — the Blaugrana attacker announced his retirement from the Albiceleste. While he has since returned to the international scene, it appears Messi is once again considering a halt from representing Argentina.

“It’s just the feeling that this group of players has. It seems that having reached three straight finals didn’t mean anything,” Messi told La Cornisa TV. “Obviously, we depend on results and unfortunately, we reached three finals and we didn’t win them.

“A lot was said about us. The criticisms hurt back then. But the demand is going to be there for this group to get it done. We think that if we don’t do it, we are going to get a lot more [criticism] and we are not going to have another possibility.”

Argentina has fallen in three consecutive major finals dating back to 2014, including two Copa America competitions and the World Cup.

Messi says these shortcomings have weighed heavily on him, and that winning a World Cup is still the one goal that has left him hungry.

“I’ve cried many times for lost finals,” the Barca forward said. “I cried for not being able to fulfill the dream of our nation. My desire is the same as every Argentine, which is to lift the World Cup.”

He continued: “To win a World Cup is not easy. It doesn’t happen often. The last time we did things well but due to minor details we didn’t get it done. We are very enthusiastic and eager to lift the cup for our country. I hope God helps us and it happens.”

Messi has scored 61 international goals in his international career for Argentina, the most of any player from his native country.

Brazil to play Austria in final warmup game for World Cup

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VIENNA (AP) The Austrian soccer federation says Brazil will play its final warmup game for the World Cup against Austria on June 10, a week before the five-time world champions take on Switzerland in their Group E opener.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Kekuta Manneh to roster ahead of friendly ]

The match will be played in Vienna at Ernst Happel Stadium, the same venue where both teams last met in a 2014 friendly, which Brazil won 2-1.

Brazil has further build-up games against World Cup host Russia (March 23), world champion Germany (March 27) and Croatia (June 3) ahead of the June 14-July 15 tournament, where it also meets Costa Rica and Serbia in the group stage.

Austria failed to qualify for the World Cup but will also play friendlies against Russia on May 30 and Germany on June 2.

Fiorentina renames training ground for Davide Astori

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Fiorentina’s training ground has been renamed “Centro Sportivo Davide Astori” in honor of the club’s deceased captain.

[ MORE: Manneh added to USMNT squad ]

Davide Astori died in his team hotel room on March 4, shocking the Italian soccer world and triggering tributes around the world of soccer.

The respected Italian national team center back has had number retired by both Fiorentina and former club Cagliari.

Thousands packed a Florence piazza to salute the player en route to his funeral, and the club won its first match after his passing following vivid pre- and in-match tributes.