Author: Richard Farley


Paul Lambert plays up competition between Brad Guzan, Shay Given

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Could Brad Guzan be fighting for his job? The U.S. international has been one Aston Villa’s best players since becoming the team’s starting goalkeeper two years ago, but with former number one Shay Given apparently in resurgent form, the former Chivas USA star is facing new competition. Could the former Ireland international potentially reclaim his spot?

According to one outlet, that’s a possibility, though perhaps playing to its audience, the Irish Examiner has put a decidedly pro-Given spin on Paul Lambert’s words. In a report headlined Given in line to end two-year wait for Premier League start, Lambert lauds the club’s depth at goalkeeper, but falls short of saying Given’s actually going to play this season:

Given has not made a Premier League appearance since the 3-1 defeat against Everton in August 2012, but with Jed Steer loaned to Doncaster Rovers he is now back fighting it out with Guzan to be the Villa number one.

Lambert said: “I have got two really, really top goalkeepers in Shay and Brad. They will be pushing each other and come the Stoke game I will select what I see as the strongest possible team.”

Later in the same piece, Given concedes he’s merely a backup (“I know Brad is the number one”), with more words from Lambert, printed elsewhere, showing the club’s manager is of like mind:

Guzan, who travelled to Brazil with the US World Cup squad, was at fault for two goals in Villa’s 3-1 friendly defeat at League One new boys Chesterfield.

But Lambert was not worried by the former Chivas USA man’s blunders.

“I said to him he better get them out (the errors) before the start of the season,” Lambert said light-heartedly.

“On a serious note, though, he only joined up with us in Houston and has not done much before that.

“The two years I have been here he’s been absolutely brilliant.

“He can make as many mistakes as he likes in pre-season games but when it’s for real I’m sure he’ll be right up for it.”

In fairness, we’re a U.S. site, we know people are interested in Guzan, so like our Irish colleagues, we may be letting our biases show. But Guzan’s playing time, as well as his coach’s words, suggest our biases may be pointed in the right direction, on this one.

Pepe Reina set to backup Manuel Neuer after move to Bayern Munich

Pepe Reina

We knew Pepe Reina was unlikely to stay with Liverpool, but coming off a season where he started 30 games for Napoli in Serie A, most thought he’d end up somewhere where he could be number one. Particularly with Claudio Bravo moving to Barcelona, one place Reina might settle for a part-time role, the Spanish international looked likely to move farther down the European ladder, with Napoli Rafa Benítez declined to buy-out his deal at Anfield.

Not so, says today’s news. Instead of prioritizing playing time, the 31-year-old has climbed up the European ladder, joining German champions Bayern Munich for a fee that’s believed to be $4.2 million. With Manuel Neuer entrenched at Bayern, Reina will assume a backup role, the first time since 2001-02 he hasn’t been a team’s number one.

From club chairmen Karl-Heinze Rummineige, as posted to the club’s website:

“Pepe Reina was eager to come to Bayern Munich. He wanted to embark on this adventure even though he knows that, in Manuel Neuer, he has a keeper in front of him who, if nothing changes, will always remain the number one.”

Bayern had previously been linked with Costa Rican international Keylor Navas, who eventually moved from Levante to Real Madrid. While that signing would have given München an extravagant backup, Reina isn’t much of a step down. Though the former Barcelona, Villarreal, and Liverpool player eventually lost his job at Anfield, he’s still capable of starting for quality European club.

Instead, Reina has opted to rejoin Guardiola, with whom he played during his first season in Barcelona. While the move may also indicate he’s closer to his career’s final stage, it gives him a chance to add to an honors list that includes a World Cup, two European Championships, an FA Cup, and a Coppa Italia.

A devil’s advocate defense of All-Star Liam Ridgewell

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Portland has always been high on Liam Ridgewell, but few predicted this level of success so quickly. The former West Bromwich Albion defender, out of contract just over a month ago, will be in uniform when Major League Soccer’s best face Bayern Munich on Wednesday, the Timbers defender named to replace the injured Kyle Beckerman in the league’s All-Star squad.

Don’t take that sentiment too seriously. With only three games played in MLS, Ridgewell isn’t deserving of this place, but when a player pulls out of the game less than two days before kickoff, it’s not a matter of finding the next name on the list. Can the player get there in time? Has he made other plans? Does the player even want to go?

The restrictions basically limit Porter to West Coast and Rocky Mountain call ups, but the Galaxy’s players are out, since the team plays on Friday. Same goes for San Jose, and given the state of Chivas USA’s roster, there are no obvious candidates with the Goats. Chad Marshall’s injured and Jay DeMerit’s retired, leaving the defensive best options in the Rockies, but whatever reasons kept Drew Moor and (to a lesser extent) Nat Borchers out of the team may have been a factor here, too.

The other factor: Caleb Porter may have wanted somebody who can play left back. Granted, naming a player like Toronto’s Justin Morrow to the squad would have done that, but obviously Porter didn’t see him as an All-Star. With Michael Parkhurst the only apparent option at left back, Porter may have decided to bring in some backup.

But why not Michael Harrington, who is Portland’s regular left back? Or Jack Jewsbury, a player who recently played his 300th MLS game, one capable of manning the position? Or why not Diego Chara, who would have been a like-for-like replacement for Beckerman?

I’m not going to pretend those aren’t great questions, nor am I going to pretend those players were necessarily available. Though it’s unlikely those players have major plans (given the Timbers practiced both Monday and Tuesday), they may not have been able to play. It wouldn’t be the first time somebody was unwilling to break plans to accept an emergency call up.

At some point, however, these possibilities seem thin, and once you add scenario on top of scenario that’s needed to get Ridgewell into the squad, another explanation can’t be avoided: Porter just wanted him in. As a Designated Player playing in front of home fans, one who has experience against high-level players, Ridgewell could certainly help the squad. Perhaps Porter’s competitive side got the best of him on this one.

Because ultimately, Ridgewell hasn’t proven he’s an All-Star, though, at this point of the process, how much does that matter? One day before the game, this may have been the best of limited options. If the choice came down to one of Jewsbury, Harrington, or Ridgewell — all players who’d be out-of-place in this year’s All-Star squad — is it really so wrong to take Ridgewell?

“Never”: The last MLS, promotion-relegation update you’ll ever need

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PORTLAND, Ore. — It was a throw-away question at the end of hour session, with a long-time MLS writer hitting a lighter note to conclude MLS President Mark Abbott’s time with the media. With international calendars, conference realignment, and the rest of the chestnuts already roasted, the final lark had to be addressed: Promotion and relegation.

“I would say that never happens,” Abbott said after joking, “I was wondering what that topic was going to come up.” According to the executive, the first employee in the league’s history, it’s not the only time he’s had to go on record about the issue.

“The last time I got to stand in for [commissioner Don Garber] was at an [Associated Press] event,” Abbott explained, “and I said the same thing. And it got reported out in the middle of the meeting.”

This time, the reports were almost as quick, but is this really news? Perhaps, even though Major League Soccer has never seriously considered promotion-relegation, and in the face of the league’s recent success, it’s difficult to see the system as needed.

Promotion-relegation may be no closer to MLS soccer than a field with three goals. I imagine the answer to that one would be “never,” too. “Pro-rel” is no more likely now that it was 18 years ago.

Still, given the prevalence of the feature worldwide, it’s not surprising the issue keeps coming up. There will always be fans that want Major League Soccer to fall in line with the rest of the soccer world. Until that happens, critics will have their point of comparison, and complaint.

The better question, though: Why do we (myself included) keep posting about it? It’s a question that gets to the core of what defines news. The persistence of a status quo is newsworthy, in some cases, but usually that coverage is about new information. In the face of something people may want to change, new reasons it persists becomes valuable information. That’s information worth talking about.

With MLS and promotion-relegation, there’s no new information. The league hasn’t  moved closer to the system. If anything, the growth the league’s experienced since its inception provides a disincentive. There’s no reason to change course.

Even as I type, this feels like something that should go unsaid. While there will always been people who want “pro-rel,” their mere existence doesn’t make the feature a viable issue. If we just stop talking about it, in theory, the lark might go away.

Unfortunately, that’s unlikely to happen. As long as so many other leagues promote teams, fans will be curious. Unless Major League Soccer can usurp the Premier League, produce a World Cup winner for the U.S., and play a title game on the moon, critics will claim there’s something “pro-rel” can do.

No, Abbott’s answer probably wasn’t news, which means this post was completely unnecessary, too, but as long as the system is part of the discussion, promotion and relegation is going to come up. “Never” may not only be MLS’s pro-rel future, it may also be when we can move on from this issue.

Real Salt Lake close to adding Argentine forward Sebastián Jaime

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Real Salt Lake’s attack has been hamstrung since Costa Rican international Álvaro Saborío left to prepare for the World Cup. When the team’s number nine broke his foot shortly thereafter, that inconvenience turned into a need, one general manager Garth Lagerwey is about to fill.

According to reports out of Chile, striker Sebastián Jaime, a 27-year-old Argentine who has spent the last three years with Unión Española, is on his way to the Western Conference champions, set to fill the hole created by Saborío’s broken metatarsal. A through-the-middle forward that can also play wide, the 5’10” attacker has scored 44 times in 120 appearances in the Chilean league, helping his club claim the 2013 Primera División title.

ProSoccerTalk has learned that terms have been agreed between the player and RSL, with only Jaime’s P-1 Visa and his International Transfer Certificate keeping the Argentine from completing his move.

Out of contract at the end of the year, Jaime could prove the type of low-cost (in terms of fees) addition that can bridge the gap between now and Saborío’s return. 

More on that need, from the Salt Lake Tribune:

The Tribune spoke to RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey on July 28 pertaining to the August transfer window closing on Aug. 6. He said both he and RSL coach Jeff Cassar had been exploring options, but reiterated that the preference is to keep the team as constituted. But the club went into a rut, understandably, when stars Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando went to Brazil with the U.S. men’s national team for seven weeks and all-time leading scorer Alvaro Saborio broke a bone in his foot in late May that will likely keep him out until at least the end of September or early October.

The Tribune also reported that any additions to RSL’s roster would require moving another player out of the squad.

Much like with San Jose’s acquisition of Matías Pérez García, this becomes a wait-and-see affair, though given the team’s past success with players like Jámison Olave and Fabián Espíndola, RSL fans may have reason to believe their scouting team knows how to find veteran South American talent.

Still, while it’s tempting to look at a player’s production, search a few YouTube clips, and try to draw conclusions, we don’t have a lot of evidence describing how players from Chile transition to Major League Soccer. Even for players like Pérez García, whose move from Argentina travels a more worn path, the drastically changing MLS landscape makes it difficult to translate South American form into North American expectations.

All was can do is comment in what ifs. In this case, if RSL has a striker that can bridge the gap to Saborío, they’ll also have a way to stay with Seattle at the top of the Western Conference.