MLS Draft warnings, caveats and context: Looking at those 2010 top selections

25 Comments

Denizens of the American sports scene recognize the imprecise nature of drafting college talent. Clearly it’s more art than science – otherwise, we would not have the notorious Jordan Oversight to consider:

Michael Jordan was selected No. 3 in the 1984 draft, but went on to more or less rule the kingdom with Chicago, claiming six NBA championships and 10 scoring titles as perhaps the game’s all-time all-timer. Ahem … No. 3.

So if elements as studied, filtered and fretted over as the NBA draft or the NFL draft cannot be folded into something more predictable, does the lesser known world of domestic soccer draft eligibles really stand a chance?

We don’t have to go much further than 2010, exactly three years ago, to see the imperfection at work. (Today is the exact anniversary of the 2010 MLS draft, so it seemed handy to start here.)

The top three picks were Danny Mwanga (pictured),Tony Tchani and Ike Opara. If you built a team around those three today – a forward, a midfielder and a defender now ostensibly be growing into their veteran leadership years – you might have something that looked like Toronto FC last year.

Note, if you will, that Toronto FC is picking first in 2013. There’s a reason: TFC was awful in 2012.

This is not to pick on Mwanga, Tchani and Opara, each of whom has struggled for reasons not entirely of their own creation. None of them are bad players – but they are walking, talking illustrations of the difficulty inherent in this process. Because they simply have not been what we might have reasonably expected of the top draft trio; shouldn’t one of the top three draft picks be strutting into star territory?

Rather, the trio’s combined average starts over three MLS seasons stands at an underwhelming 12.

Tchani launched his pro career in New York before moving to Toronto and then Columbus; all totaled he has 45 starts in three seasons.

New York was a tough place to start, as then-manager Hans Backe quickly assessed that products of the American system “are just missing something,” he once told me, unable to place exactly what, but probably referring to that extra little sixth sense of the game. It is probably the same something that Jurgen Klinsmann famously assessed was missing when Ghana dismissed the United States from World Cup 2010.

(MORE: a quickie MLS draft primer)

Backe once, somewhat infamously, I suppose, imposed a temporary rule in practice demanding that Tchani passed balls forward rather than backward or laterally. Clearly, the manager was something this side of impressed.

Tchani was traded to Toronto, where almost no one succeeds. Since then he’s moved to Columbus, where the central midfielder is a polarizing figure for fans around Crew Stadium. Again, he’s not a bad player – he’s just not storming the castles of success, either.

Opara has started even few games over three years (22), although some of that is down to injury misfortune. Either way, San Jose just let him go, and Opara – once seen as a shoe-in as the next great U.S. center back – now hopes to provide depth along Sporting Kansas City’s back line.

The circumstances around Mwanga, who has 42 starts, are even more muddy and tangled.  He was the Union’s original draft pick, taken No. 1 by the expansion club that day in Philadelphia – coincidentally, the draft was held right there in Philly. And he looked like a “can’t miss” type.

Well, he missed. Or the system missed. Or his deteriorating relationship with former Union manager Peter Nowak missed. Or something.

Bottom line here:  when a “can’t miss” No. 1 overall draft pick moves to Portland for Jorge Perlaza and allocation money, something has gone badly wrong.

Or, maybe we just say it again: it’s all more art than science.

By the way, the Nos. 4 and 5 draft picks that day in 2010, Teal Bunbury and Zach Loyd, have combined for seven full international appearances. That’s seven more than the combined number for the three men chosen above them with far greater acclaim on draft day exactly three years ago.

Newcastle takeover bid moves closer

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Newcastle United fans are getting very, very excited.

PCP Capital Partners, led by Amanda Staveley, have signed a confidentiality agreement with the club’s owners after Mike Ashley put the club up for sale earlier this week

Ashley is said to value Newcastle at over $520 million, while Staveley is said to believe the club is worth close to $395 million, so there is plenty of negotiating still to happen but things are heading in the right direction.

In a statement on Monday Ashley said he would allow any potential buyer to pay the overall transaction fee in installments, while he also wants a buy to be completed by the end of December.

Who is Staveley?

She was seen at a Newcastle vs. Liverpool game at St James’ Park earlier this month as speculation was rife that a new owner was being lined up to buy Newcastle. That is indeed the case and Staveley, 44, is now able to look over the finances of the club exclusively.

Staveley oversaw the purchase of Manchester City by Abu Dhabi United and also lined up a deal for Liverpool to be bought by Dubai International Captial which fell through in the past.

Her close links to the Middle East has seen her become one of the most prominent British businesswomen in recent years and she currently manages over $34 billion of wealth globally. Staveley and her investors are said to be interested in buying several Premier League clubs.

Ashley’s lawyer, Andrew Henderson, released a statement on Thursday stating several other parties have inquired about buying the club since the announcement came that they were up for sale.

“Since Monday, a number of additional parties have come forward which we believe to be credible. We are also continuing to engage with a number of parties with whom we had entered into negotiations prior to Monday’s announcement.”

Things are moving very quickly for Newcastle’s fans as they thought they’d never get rid of much-maligned owner Ashley who is a lifelong fan of the club and bought them in 2007.

After two relegations from the Premier League (followed by instant returns to the PL on both occasions) Ashley has been accused of failing to spend money on the playing squad and realize Newcastle’s full potential as they challenged for the Premier League title on numerous occasions during the 1990s.

With Rafael Benitez getting the most of his squad and the Magpies sitting in the top 10 of the PL as things stand, the future is looking bright for Newcastle with plenty of investment expected if this sale does go through to Staveley or those she is closely connected with.

VIDEO: Man United ooze class after consoling teenage goalkeeper

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Wednesday was a big night for Benfica goalkeeper Mile Svilar.

The 18-year-old was making his debut in the UEFA Champions League and in doing so he became the youngest-ever goalkeeper to play in the competition, jumping ahead of the likes of Iker Casillas to set a new, hugely impressive, record.

Still, the night did not end well for the Belgian youngster.

[ MORE: United targeted Benfica’s goalkeeper ]

With Marcus Rashford‘s free kick floating into the box from out wide, he caught the ball but then stepped back over his own goal line… taking the ball with him.

Goal-line technology showed the ball had gone over and United were awarded the goal and won 1-0.

At the final whistle the teenager was stunned but Romelu Lukaku was one of the many United players who took time to console the distraught teenager.

Classy from Lukaku.

Even if Jose Mourinho did admit afterwards that United had targeted the teenager…

FIFA probe: Al-Khelaifi confirms his presence in Switzerland

Getty Images
Leave a comment

PARIS (AP) Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi says he will go to Switzerland next Wednesday to answer questions from Swiss prosecutors investigating the suspected bribery of a top FIFA executive for World Cup broadcasting rights.

Criminal proceedings against Al-Khelaifi, who is also CEO of Qatar-owned BeIN Media Group, former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke, and an unnamed businessman working in sports rights were announced by the office of Switzerland’s attorney general last week.

The case involves the award of broadcast rights for the next four World Cups from 2018 through 2030.

Al-Khelaifi is alleged to have offered advantages to Valcke – FIFA’s CEO-like secretary general from 2007 until his firing in January 2016 – for the award of media rights in certain countries for the 2026 and 2030 World Cup.

Speaking Wednesday night on Canal Plus television, after PSG’s 4-0 win away to Anderlecht in the Champions League, Al-Khelaifi confirmed his trip to Switzerland.

“I have an appointment on the 25th. I will go there to speak with them, the Swiss (authorities),” said Khelaifi, who attended Wednesday’s match in Belgium. “That’s all.”

The proceeding against Al-Khelaifi is one of the first direct links to Qatar in sweeping investigations by federal law enforcement authorities in Switzerland, the United States, and France concerning FIFA, international soccer, and the 2018-2022 World Cup bidding contests.

Last week, the Paris offices of BeIN Sports were searched. Properties were searched in Greece, Italy, and Spain while Valcke was questioned in Switzerland.

Europa League preview: Arsenal in Serbia, Everton desperate vs. Lyon

John Walton/PA via AP
Leave a comment

The twelve groups of the UEFA Europa League bring forth soccer on Thursday, with a bevy of matches dotting the continent.

[ MORE: Full Europa schedule ]

Here are the top five matches to keep an eye on.

Everton vs. Lyon — 3:05 p.m. ET

If you would’ve told Ronald Koeman his Toffees would walk into this match with just one point but sit only another behind Lyon, he’d probably tell you to take a hike. But Lyon drew 1-1 at Apollon Limassol and 1-1 at home to Atalanta, opening the door for Everton to finish the day in Group E’s top two slots.

Nabil Fekir and Real Madrid loanee Mariano Diaz have seven goals each for Lyon, while ex-Premier Leaguers Memphis Depay and Bertrand Traore are also key components of the French outfit’s attack.

Red Star Belgrade vs. Arsenal — 1 p.m. ET

Arsenal in Europa has been pretty thrilling, with 3-1 and 4-2 wins under Arsene Wenger‘s belt ahead of the first of two with the 1991 European Cup winners. It’s a nice challenge for Canadian national team backstop Milan Borjan, who should be the man to try to thwart the Gunners in Serbia.

Hoffenheim vs. Istanbul Basaksehir — 3:05 p.m. ET

The favorites to win the group are dead last in the group as they welcome the perceived group underdogs from Turkey. The Super Lig runners-up have some familiar names on the roster with Emmanuel Adebayor, Gael Clichy, Eljero Elia, Mevlut Erdinc, Gokhan Inler, Aurelien Chedjou, and Emre Belozoglu.

AC Milan vs. AEK Athens — 3:05 p.m. ET

Milan has been burying goals in Europa play, with five at Austria Wien and three in a home win over Rijeka. Enter Athens, which has scooped up four points in group play and will look for a win to put them ahead of the group-leading Rossoneri.

Nice vs. Lazio — 1 p.m. ET

The only group with a pair of 2-0 teams. Mario Balotelli is plenty familiar with his Roman opposition from his time in Serie A.