Major League Soccer team previews: NEW YORK RED BULLS

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Each day from now until the beginning of Major League Soccer’s 18th season, we will preview one Eastern Conference team and one from the West. First kick is March 2.

No. 3 in the East is the New York Red Bulls:

Significant additions and subtractions: In a trade with Real Salt Lake the Red Bulls got a reliable, hard-working scorer in Fabian Espindola and one of the league’s elite center backs in Jamison Olave. The club also added Brazilian veteran Juninho to boost the attack. (There are lots of Brazilian Juninhos out there; this is the Red Bulls’ Juninho.)

The most newsworthy change is Rafa Marquez’s departure; if anything goes wrong this year, we can no longer blame the former Mexican international. (And that was typically the first stop along the blame train.)

Also moving out of Red Bull Arena is Sebastian Le Toux, who is back in the venue of his best success, Philadelphia. And Kenny Cooper was traded to Dallas, taking his team-leading 18 goals with him. The team also purged a few mid- to high-salaried veterans, like Jan Gunnar Solli and Teemu Tainio.

Strengths: No MLS roster looks more promising; back to front the Red Bulls have talent and options. Guiding them is now Mike Petke’s job, and the players seem to have connected with the longtime club figure – Petke was a former Red Bulls player and then assistant coach – in a way they never did with Hans Backe, who was fired last fall after three seasons in charge.

Petke hopes to get the best of his talented collection of attackers through a loosely structured attack, where interchange is encouraged in what he says will sometimes look like a 4-4-2, other times a 4-1-3-2, a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3.

Goalkeeper Ryan Meara, moving toward a possible Rookie of the Year honor last year before a late summer injury, and Luis Robles give Petke two terrific choices in goal. And speaking of choices, Heath Pearce is in the league’s top half of center backs, but probably top five in left backs. That kind of flexibility can only help as Petke builds the match-day lineups.

The central midfield will involve some ordering of Dax McCarty (rewarded with a new contract for that fantastic 2012 campaign), longtime EPL veteran Tim Cahill, Juninho and Thierry Henry.

Pressure points: The club has never won a major trophy, a fairly noticeable black eye for the team representing Major League Soccer’s largest media market. As “pressure points” go, that’s a pretty substantial one, and an ongoing issue around Red Bull Arena. No one is more aware than Petke, a fan favorite in his playing days and the club’s all-time leader in appearance with 169 in league matches.

The trick with Olave is keeping him healthy enough that he justifies that relatively high salary for an MLS center back; Olave has averaged about 24 starts over the last five years, and he never quite looked the same after a hamstring injury last summer.

Henry has plenty of talent around him to provide some relief here and there, and he’ll certainly need it. (Plus, Henry doesn’t like playing on artificial turf.)

source: Getty Images

Difference maker: Henry turns 36 in August, but he still looks up for the job. The former French international (and league’s highest-paid player) supplied 15 goals and 12 assists last year, which are league MVP-worthy numbers. Plus, he never seemed to click between the white lines with Cooper, so the on-field chemistry with fellow attackers will presumably improve in 2013.

We can be 100 percent sure that Henry can still manufacture some very special moments; some of his goals over the last two years have been absolute beauties.

Potential breakout player: The club has three starting-quality left backs in Pearce, Roy Miller and Conor Lade. So we’ll see how much Lade can get on the field.  Sooner or later, the talented, hard-working left back will get the chance to show why a player like Henry spent so much time talking him up last year.

Bottom line: There is a lot of pressure on Petke, 37, to find his feet quickly in this, his first professional head coaching assignment. Assuming he keeps the Red Bulls bus properly in lane, there is zero reason to believe they cannot challenge for the Eastern Conference crown. The roster is well-constructed throughout and blessed with difference makers at the top, even if a couple of them tend to be on the brittle side.

(MORE: full roster of ProSoccerTalk’s Major League Soccer previews and predictions)

Beckham on plans for MLS in Miami, stadium talks continue

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David Beckham is hoping for his Major League Soccer franchise to be run just like the club he supports: Manchester United.

[ MORE: Klinsmann sends Johnson home ]

Beckham, 40, is still working on finalizing a stadium for his MLS team to play in, more on that below, but he has been speaking about his dream of becoming an owner and has earmarked the 2018 MLS season as when his franchise will arrive on the scene.

Beckham spoke to the Daily Star in the UK about his vision for the MLS club, and says the team he came up through the ranks with and played for professional for 12-years is the benchmark.

“We want the club to be run professionally — everything needs to be run like a club like Manchester United,” Beckham said. “You have to look at it like that. Luckily, I’ve had a little bit of experience in that and I definitely will be a demanding owner. I want the team to be successful and the club to be successful, so I think I have to be demanding.”

The former United, Real Madrid, LA Galaxy, AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain midfielder also spoke about the lengthy delays with the stadium deal and how “dealing with the political side of things in Miami has been a lot more difficult” than he expected.

[ MORE: Dust settles, questions remain for USMNT future ]

In fact, a source has told ProSoccerTalk that the proposed stadium site for Beckham’s franchise, directly next to Major League Baseball franchise Miami Marlins’ home, Marlins Park, in Little Havana, is still some way from being signed off on as many restrictions will be placed on Beckham and his ownership group before the first shovel hits the ground. Beckham himself said in his latest update that in six weeks time he hopes to name the stadium site.

However the source confirmed that any stadium announcement deal could be someway off as Beckham’s ownership group – which includes PR tycoon, agent and close friend Simon Fuller, plus Bolivian billionaire Marcelo Claure – still haven’t hammered out many of the specifics of a stadium deal with the City of Miami, while negotiations with the Marlins are also expected to take months before any stadium deal can be confirmed. The source added that the Marlins are positive about turning derelict land opposite their current Marlins Park home into an MLS stadium, but there are several conditions which have to be met in order for the stadium to be given the green light by the MLB franchise. These conditions include no MLS games conflicting with Marlins games, sponsorship deals not conflicting with those the Marlins have on the outside of their stadium and various other facets including transportation links and infrastructure.

Beckham's plans for an MLS stadium in downtown Miami had to be shelved.
Beckham’s initial plans for an MLS stadium in downtown Miami had to be shelved.

The source goes on to note that several high-ranking City officials and business operators in and around Miami Dade County still feel unease towards Beckham and the razzmatazz surrounding his initial stadium plan to house his MLS team on a prime waterfront location in Downtown Miami (see photo, above) next to the Miami Heat’s American Airlines arena. Beckham has since accepted that his opening stadium plan was “cheeky” but many business leaders had their noses put out of joint and many are making it increasingly difficult for a stadium deal to get over the line for the former LA Galaxy star.

In terms of the specifics surrounding a potential new home for what will now, given the delays, surely become MLS’ 24th franchise in either 2018 or 2019, the location picked is just over two miles from Downtown Miami with good links via public transport and roads. It is in a neighborhood which has a tough past but is on the up as rap star Pitbull has just built a huge academy (Sports Leaders and Management Charter Middle/High School) offering opportunities for education to underprivileged children in the Little Havana community. Along with Marlins Park, the addition of an MLS franchise would undoubtedly bring plenty of jobs into the area and help boost the economy further.

Beckham’s dream of owning a team in Miami is edging closer to realization but it seems like it’s still some way off having a stadium to call home.

Cisse arrested in sex tape investigation

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Former Liverpool striker Djibril Cisse is embroiled in a bizarre investigation into the extortion of a sex tape.

The 34-year-old French striker has been arrested by French police who have confirmed that are investigating attempts to bribe another international footballer.

[ MORE: Klinsmann sends Johnson home ]

Unconfirmed reports from France claim that the individual in question is France and Lyon midfielder Mathieu Valbuena, a former teammate of Cisse at both Marseille and with the French national team.

According to Reuters news agency, Cisse was questioned because he was familiar with the people involved and in total four individuals were arrested as it is alleged they plotted to ask for money from Valbuena for the sex tape to not be released. It is unclear if the tape is of Valbeuna and his partner Fanny Lafon, or if other individuals are involved.

[ MORE: Dust settles, questions remain for USMNT future ]

Cisse won the UEFA Champions League with Liverpool and scored 24 goals in 79 games during his three-year stay at Anfield until 2007. He also had spells with Sunderland and Queens Park Rangers in the Premier League, while he is currently out of contract after being released by Ligue 1 side Bastia following nine goals in 41 appearances. Cisse is due to appear on the French version of “Dancing with the Stars” in the coming months.

Further reports from France say that Cisse is expected to be “exonerated” and that the existence of the video is “not proven” at this point.