Where Clint Dempsey, MLS and the defunct NASL all gather uncomfortably

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In having a conversation about how some of today’s Major League Soccer choices are keeping uncomfortable company with the old North American Soccer League’s fatal mistakes, let’s start it here, in a very clear-headed and logical place:

The old North American Soccer League and today’s Major League Soccer exist in completely different worlds. Whereas soccer stars are now aligned for potential success, you couldn’t even see the stars in the previous darkness of a far-less accommodating night in the domestic sports culture.

And we should probably also begin with a super-fast primer on what, exactly, the NASL was in its original incarnation. Where’s today’s “NASL” is the second tier of domestic soccer, in the 1970s it was domestic soccer, a wildly premature effort at establishing the professional game here. It “took” for a while with a starburst of brilliant success … but turned out to be the great and powerful Oz, a mirage of smoke and mirrors without a financial backbone, eventually collapsing beneath the weight of its own ambition.

So Major League Soccer wants to get up into 24-team territory, even at the risk of getting there too quickly? Hmmm. Interesting, because the old NASL reached 24 teams, which was pretty much its zenith and its nadir all at once.

(MORE: The changing identity of Major League Soccer)

So, Major League Soccer is at the point where it may take $9 million transfer fees and $8 million salaries to compete? Clint Dempsey’s arrival seems to push things in that direction.

No … of course that’s not true. It will not take Sounders-level mad money to collect the Ws. The chance to grab someone like Dempsey, a performance and a marketing tour du force, all wrapped patriotically in a U.S. flag, is an outlier.

But stare at this thing a little longer and we will notice some uncomfortable similarities in last week’s highest-of-profile signings. When the old Cosmos spent (over-spent, in retrospect) lavishly on Pele and Franz Beckenbauer and others, the swells of NASL had to spend to keep up. Not to over-simplify it all, but the arms race drove everyone over the financial cliff. Keeping up with the Cosmos, the one team with enough revenue to cover such princely costs, was simply impossible for everyone else.

Again, Major League Soccer is not careening head-long for imminent demise. That’s not the point here.

It’s just a little history lesson. And a bit of a warning. These things do deserve to be monitored going forward – especially as we digest what all of this means.

Ambition is wonderful. In many ways, this is what Major League Soccer is all about. But let’s not pretend that ambition unchecked cannot be a dangerous thing.

Let’s just all be careful out there, eh?

Ronaldo explains his new chin hair at World Cup

AP Photo/Hassan Ammar
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Now that Cristiano Ronaldo has taken to sporting a reasonable hairstyle atop his head, people are talking about the foliage on his face.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

Ronaldo, 33, drew speculation when he stroked his chin following a goal in his hat trick performance against Spain in the World Cup opener. Some said he was demonstrating defiance against Lionel Messi posing with a goat (Greatest Of All Time) in a recent photograph.

Ronaldo scored again on Wednesday, and there was seemingly little doubt his goatee was a wink to the speculators. But what did it mean, CR7? From ESPN:

“This goatee? It’s a joke I had with [Ricardo] Quaresma. “We were in the sauna [before Friday’s match against Spain] and I started to shave and I left the goatee. I said if I score tomorrow, I would leave it for the rest of the tournament. And it gave me luck.

“I scored in that game, I scored in this one, so it stays.”

Personally, I like to imagine Ronaldo starting to get as wild with his facial hair as he did his head hair.

Perhaps a beatnik style, or something like Serj Tankian from System of a Down. Get nuts, C-Ron.

Report: Southampton could sell Tadic to Ajax for $20m

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Could Southampton be selling one of its most creative forces?

Dusan Tadic, 29, is in the middle of a World Cup run with dark horse Serbia, but the Saints star is also being talked about as a purchase item for Ajax.

[ MORE: Serbia tops Costa Rica ]

The celebrated Eredivisie has traditionally been a selling club for the Premier League, but could be a $20 million buy for Ajax.

The report says director of players Marc Overmars and financial director Jeroen Slop have flown to Southampton to work out a deal.

Tadic starred for Dutch sides Groningen and Twente between 2010-14 before moving to St. Mary’s for a reported $12 million.

He’s scored 24 goals with 35 assists in 162 appearances for Saints, 21 and 30 of which came in the Premier League.

Toronto locks down USMNT backstop Bono with extension

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Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono is going to stay Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The newly-capped USMNT backstop, 24, has been attracting interest from abroad since breaking past Clint Irwin to win the TFC job and guiding the club to multiple MLS Cup Finals.

Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has locked down his young goalkeeper to an undisclosed contract extension. From TorontoFC.com:

“Alex was a big part of our success last season. He set club records for wins and clean sheets and was a critical piece of our championship team,” said Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “Since joining the club as a first round pick in 2015, Alex’s ability to make key saves in big moments has been critical to our success.”

The Syracuse-born product of Syracuse University has made 64 appearances for the Reds.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE