MLS preview: Sporting Kansas City at New York Red Bulls

8 Comments

Mid-week matches in MLS remain a tough sell; weekend contests will be better attended until supporter interest reaches such a critical mass that the “whens” and “wheres” and “whatevers” are irrelevant.  At that point, fans will ignore weather and early mid-week wake-ups and everything else to support their team – a little like what happens in Portland and Seattle but only a little bit everywhere else.

Until then, good tickets can be had for most MLS mid-week matches – especially ones involving middling sides.

All that said, tonight’s MLS mid-week contest, the Round 8 opener, looks like sweet and juicy fruit. If the league is to present mid-week matches, wouldn’t it be great if they were all as inviting as Sporting Kansas City’s visit to the New York Red Bulls tonight in Harrison, N.J.?

Included: the league’s best player in Thierry Henry (pictured); One of the league’s hottest teams in Sporting Kansas City; two confident sides; two favorites to top the East at year’s end.

The results have improved lately but remain something of a mixed bag overall for New York, where rookie coach Mike Petke has seen his team score regularly – but also watched as an alarming number of goals drop on his seemingly experienced back line. At 10 goals allowed in seven matches, the Red Bulls defense is among the worst in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference.

As for the attack, it’s Henry’s world and the rest of the Red Bulls are just living in it. Tim Cahill had a strong match Saturday in a confidence-boosting win at rival D.C. United – but he still doesn’t have a goal in 2013. Fabian Espindola is available again but surely not 100 percent; he was a second-half substitute Saturday following a two-game absence due hamstring problems.

But there’s always Henry, who has just two goals this year but always looks dangerous – and continues to affect contests because he scares the bejeebers out of opposition defenses.

Most defenses anyway; Sporting Kansas City’s might be the exception. Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen and center backs Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin are the backbone of a defense that is inching near club records. Kansas City has not allowed a goal in more than four matches. In fact, the team’s 429-minute shutout streak is second longest in club history.

What Henry said about facing Besler, Collin and SKC’s collective ability to be among the league’s best at tactical fouling. (Something that should be cracked down on … but MLS officiating is still, well, “getting there.”)

It goes without saying that Besler and Collin are, for me, the best partnership at the back in MLS by a distance but you have to give credit to their team. They frustrate teams, if they have to make a professional [foul], they will make a professional foul to make sure you can’t counter on them. [They are a] very tough team, play hard in a good way, but [Besler and Collin] are the masterminds of that operation.

As for the SKC attack, Argentine striker Claudio Bieler may not have Henry’s reputation or resume, but his four goals this year (in six matches) stand among the league’s best. He is exactly what Sporting needed to go get in the offseason, an instinctive striker to complement a midfield with a useful balance of creativity and defensive grit. So, credit the SKC front office for some precision off-season work.

Chinese clubs to pay 100% tax on foreign transfers

Photo by Visual China/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The days of Chinese Super League sides spending eye-popping figures on a handful of international superstars are over — either that, or those figures are about to double — for now, at least.

[ MORE: Oscar given 8-game ban for petulant display in China ]

China’s Football Association announced Thursday that, effective immediately, any foreign player signed for a fee exceeding $6.63 million would be subject to a 100-percent tax on top of the fee paid to acquire the player. The tax will remain in effect until the end of China’s ongoing transfer window, July 14. The tax will also apply to Chinese players signed for a fee exceeding $3 million.

It’s Chinese authorities’ latest attempt to prevent big spending by CSL clubs, which has in every instance been detrimental to the development of young Chinese players making their way through the academy system. The taxed money will then be reinvested in “youth training, construction of public sporting facilities and scientific progress in football development,” according to a statement by the CFA.

Just last week, China was eliminated from contention to qualify for next summer’s World Cup in Russia. The only time China has ever qualified for the World Cup was in 2002.

Young Englishman Oxford goes abroad, to Gladbach, on loan

Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MOENCHENGLADBACH, Germany (AP) Borussia Moenchengladbach has signed English central defender Reece Oxford on loan for the season from Premier League club West Ham.

Gladbach sporting director Max Eberl says “Oxford has gone through all the England youth teams and is one of the biggest defensive talents in Britain.”

The 18-year-old Oxford, who spent the second half of last season on loan at second-division club Reading, is Gladbach’s fifth arrival of the off-season.

Qatar stadium safety concerns again raised by death investigation

Photo by Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy/Qatar 2022 via Getty Images
Leave a comment

An investigation into why a British man fell to his death on a building site for the 2022 Qatar soccer World Cup has raised concerns about stadium roof safety.

World Cup organizers on Thursday released partial findings of an assessment of the accident at the Khalifa International Stadium, but said the full report cannot be released while local authorities continue their own investigation. It is one of two work-related deaths detailed in Qatar’s latest welfare report on preparations for the 2022 soccer tournament, which currently involves 12,367 workers on eight construction sites.

The 40-year-old British man fell 39 meters in January after one end of the roof catwalk he was installing dropped and a safety rope snapped.

“During the course of the investigation, the team had raised concerns with the method of installation of the raised catwalk system,” the welfare report from Qatar’s World Cup organizers stated. “This required further investigation regarding the method itself and the supervision skills of the specialist contractor staff.”

It has led to “corrective and preventative actions” being implemented by the contractor, a joint venture between Belgian and Qatari firms, along with safety checks across all stadium sites, the report said.

“These included a review of all working-at-height activities across all SC projects, an enhanced process when reviewing specialist activities within construction sites, and a detailed review of all roof and gantry designs,” the Supreme Committee overseeing stadium projects added.

The British man is the only European working on Qatar stadiums to have died in a country relying on a low-paid migrant workforce from south Asia to prepare for the first World Cup in the Middle East. Six non-work related deaths have been announced by organizers, with most suffering from heart or breathing problems.

Hassan Al Thawadi, the supreme committee’s secretary general, said medical staff are trying to raise awareness of the “importance of healthy lifestyles” by evaluating diets and identifying health issues, including hypertension and diabetes. Cooling helmets have also been developed in an attempt to make it safer for workers on outdoor sites during the searing summer heat.

World Cup preparations have been dogged by concerns about the welfare of workers since the natural gas-rich Gulf nation won the FIFA vote in 2010. Mounting international pressure led to Qatar raising living standards and worker rights. Inspections led to three contractors being blacklisted and 14 entities “demobilized” from projects for failing to tackle welfare issues, the World Cup report reveals.

“There is still work to be done to ensure our workers’ welfare standards continue to have a tangible impact on the ground and we are comprehensive in our attempts to tackle the myriad of issues facing migrant workers across the SC program,” Khalid Al-Kubaisi, who oversees worker welfare at the Supreme Committee, said in a statement.

The report has been released as Qatar is gripped by a diplomatic crisis that has seen it isolated in the region. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar earlier this month and blocked air, sea and land traffic over its support for Islamist groups and ties with Iran. Qatar denies the charges and says the allegations are politically motivated.

Official (finally): Salah completes move from Roma to Liverpool

Photo credit: Liverpool FC / Twiter: @LFC
Leave a comment

It was the summer’s first transfer rumor-turned-real-story-turned-never-ending-saga that seemed to refuse to cross the finish line, but it’s finally come to pass: Mohamed Salah is a Liverpool player.

Salah’s move from Roma to Liverpool took so long to complete that the club’s poor social-media manager probably never wants to read the words “Announce Salah” for the rest of his/her life.

The deal will cost Liverpool something in the neighborhood of $50 million — a new Liverpool club record — and completes the utterly terrifying attacking quartet Jurgen Klopp can’t wait to unleash on the Premier League come August — Salah on one side, Sadio Mane opposite, Philippe Coutinho in the middle, and Roberto Firmino at striker. Salah, by the way, will take over Firmino’s no. 11 shirt, with the Brazilian switching to no. 9.