Rafael van der Vaart

Rafael van der Vaart keen on MLS move, will leave Hamburg this summer

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Dutch international playmaker Rafael van der Vaart has confirmed he will leave Bundesliga outfit Hamburger SV this summer when his contract runs out and has left the door wide-open for a move to Major League Soccer.

[ RELATED: Van der Vaart to SKC? ]

Van der Vaart, 32, has already had discussions with Sporting Kansas City about a move to MLS, as their CEO Rob Heinemann revealed that productive talks occurred during the offseason with the former Real Madrid, Tottenham Hotspur and Ajax star reportedly offered a $4.8 million per year deal.

When asked about his next possible destination after this season, Van der Vaart was keen to focus on the final eight Bundesliga matches of the season as Hamburg aim to get out of the bottom three and avoid relegation to Germany’s second-flight. However, he did answer a question about moving to MLS.

“Everything’s open at the moment, but I can imagine playing in America,” Van der Vaart said. “I want to keep playing at a good level for a few years.”

Would Van der Vaart bring star power to MLS? Absolutely.

He has played in a World Cup final for the Netherlands, has 109 caps for the Oranje and oozes class on the ball and from set-piece situations. He would arrive in KC as a Designated Player and would undoubtedly be the main man in Peter Vermes’ side. Where would his possible arrival rank in the echelons of big-name DPs in MLS? Easily inside the top 10.

His style would suit Sporting KC and with the likes of Graham Zusi and Benny Feilhaber eager to get on the ball, adding Van der Vaart to the mix could make SKC one of the most attractive teams to watch in MLS. But would his arrival impact Zusi’s influence on SKC? Let’s wait and see if the transfer actually happens before we weight all of that up.

Having world-class midfielders such as Steven Gerrard, Kaka, Frank Lampard and potentially van der Vaart playing in MLS this summer would be incredible to witness.

Report: Sporting Kansas City offer Rafael van der Vaart $4.8-million annual contract

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Upon joining the Designated Player-loaded and cash-flush Western Conference, Sporting Kansas City are looking to make a splash of their own. The Major League Soccer side has reportedly offered 32-year-old Dutch playmaker Rafael van der Vaart a deal worth $4.8 million per year, according to a report in German newspaper Bild (story in German).

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Van der Vaart, who is in the final year of his contract at Hamburg, would be available to sign on a free transfer at the conclusion of the current European season.

Sporting Club CEO Robb Heineman confirmed last week he was heading to Germany to see Van der Vaart play and reportedly speak with the player and his representatives, so there’s certainly truth in Sporting’s pursuit of Van der Vaart. Bundesliga journalist Daniel Busch reported on Monday that Sporting club officials indeed met with Van der Vaart and his father.

[ RELATED: Orlando City using Kaka to lure Mario Balotelli to MLS ]

Van der Vaart is unlikely to garner an offer matching Sporting’s financial package, so it will now be up to the player to decide whether he is ready to move across the Atlantic and begin his own MLS adventure, the way European stars like Robbie Keane, Kaka, Frank Lampard, David Villa and Steven Gerrard have done in the last few years.

Adding Van der Vaart to a side that already boasts the likes of Graham Zusi and Benny Feilhaber in midfield, and 22-goalscorer Dom Dwyer leading the line, would seem to make Sporting a serious player in the West, assuming Peter Vermes can find the right midfield balance and doesn’t expect the oft-injured and infrequent-workman Van der Vaart to achieve similar levels of “Sporting fit” to that of his new teammates.

Blatter says injuries are down to tiredness, but is that the primary reason stars are ruled out of World Cup?

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FIFA President Sepp Blatter has spoken out about the recent spate of injuries affecting the 2014 World Cup.

Blatter told reporters, “[it’s] too long a season and always the same players are always in the same competitions. Now they are tired.”

He may have a point. Diego Costa and Cristiano Ronaldo, both of whom played in the Champions League final, are struggling to shake off injuries. Franck Ribéry and Marco Reus both played in the German Cup final, and both have seen their World Cup dreams fall by the wayside.

However, Riccardo Montolivio, who broke a leg in Italy’s friendly with Ireland, saw his Milan side’s Champions League hopes ended by March. Radamel Falcao and Monaco were only playing in domestic competitions, as were Kevin Strootman and Roma, and Christian Benteke and Aston Villa.

Besides, can injuries such as broken legs really be blamed on the amount of matches played in a season?

Perhaps Blatter should consider examining friendlies – which aren’t always so friendly. Brazil’s win over Serbia certainly showed that, as did the hard tackling of the Honduras players in Saturday night’s goalless draw with England.

Such friendlies do carry weight. They’re factored in when FIFA ranks international squads, which in turn affects which teams are seeded for international tournaments, thus giving them more favorable draws. These warmups have also been stages upon which teams can signal their preparedness for the World Cup, hoping to send a warning for other sides to not discount them quite so soon.

Obviously friendlies aren’t the only problem. But quite a few players were set to board the plane, only to be left behind due to an injury picked up in a warm-up match. Montolivo and Reus are two such players. So too is Nigeria’s Elderson. Costa Rica’s Álvaro Saborío and Holland’s Rafael van der Vaart picked up injuries while preparing for the World Cup.

Maybe, in addition to reconsidering the structure of the soccer calendar, in which many players feature in two (or more) games per week, it’s also time to put some thought into how friendlies in general, and World Cup preparation in particular, should be handled.

Twenty notable World Cup absences (and who could join them)

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When Luis Montes was stretchered off during Mexico’s friendly against Ecuador this weekend, fans of El Tri feared the worst for their prolific playmaker.

Their fears were justified, as Montes will miss the World Cup after breaking his right leg in two places following a collision with Ecuador’s Segundo Castillo.

There are also reports floating around that Franck Ribery’s back issues could keep him out of the World Cup altogether (though for now he’s just missed a significant bit of training and a pair of friendlies).

These are big, exciting names, but certainly not the only high-profile players who won’t be at World Cup due to injuries, cuts or failing to qualify. We begin.

Didn’t qualify:

source: Getty Images7. Robbie Keane (Ireland)

6. Christian Eriksen (Denmark)

5. Arda Turan (Turkey)

4. Petr Cech (Czech Republic)

3. Gareth Bale (Wales)

2. Robert Lewandowski (Poland)

1. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden)

Analysis: Too bad 20 is such a nice, round number because Branislav Ivanovic, Demba Ba and Moussa Sow are all worthy of the list.

Injuries

6. Rafael van der Vaart (Netherlands)source: Getty Images

5. Jay Rodriguez (England)

4. Theo Walcott (England)

3. Christian Benteke (Belgium)

2. Victor Valdes (Spain)

1. Kevin Strootman (Netherlands)

Analysis: Who else will join? Will Luis Suarez, Ribery and Radamel Falcao all avoid this list?

Cuts

7. Kaka (Brazil)

source: Getty Images6. Jermain Defoe (England)

5. Landon Donovan (United States)

4. Ashley Cole (England)

3. Samir Nasri (France)

2. Giuseppe Rossi (Italy)

1. Carlos Tevez (Argentina)

Analysis: What a group. Forget center back and keeper, can you imagine how this group of 7 would fare in a World Cup with even four average internationals? Defoe, Rossi & Tevez up top, Donovan and Nasri flanking Kaka. Nice.

2014 World Cup Team Preview: Netherlands

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Getting to know… Netherlands
Let’s start with their names. First, yes, it’s ok to call Netherlands “Holland,” and “Hup Holland Hup!” is one of their most used slogans. They’re also called oranje, which may seem confusing for a country with a red, white and blue flag. William of Orange organized the Dutch revolt against Spain, leading to an independent state – and perhaps putting the national team’s first 2014 World Cup match in a bit of perspective. But if you don’t need a bit of history with your team nicknames, go ahead and call them the Flying Dutchman, as that’s much more fun anyway.

Those of you paying attention in 2010 will remember Netherlands as the runners-up, the team that lost to Spain after a rather brutish display in the final. Supporters would likely prefer you remember the team that way. It means you weren’t watching Euro 2012. In Poland/Ukraine, the team were but a ghost of their former self, collecting zero points from matches with Germany, Portugal and Denmark. Coach Bert van Marwijk quit almost as soon as the team reached Schipol Airport.

But back before their was Spain and their tiki-taka, we had Holland’s Total Football. The team of the 1970s, lead by playmaker Johan Cruyuff, revolutionized the sport with their novel approach: the idea that players should be able to adapt to play any position throughout the match. That adaptability lead to two appearances in the World Cup finals, in 1974 and 1978, but Netherlands has never won the tournament.

Record in qualifying
Breezed through UEFA qualifying, collecting nine wins and a draw – to, perhaps surprisingly, Estonia. Much of Holland’s group was well-matched, with Romania, Hungary and Turkey all battling for second place. That meant the oranje finished nine points clear at the top of Group D, with a +29 goal difference. They also allowed just five goals from ten matches.

Group B
After their failure at Euro 2012, Holland slipped down in the rankings, leaving it outside the top seven teams. Without being seeded, Holland found themselves drawn into one of the Groups of Death. Group B looks rather gruesome: Spain, Chile, and Australia. Spain are almost a certainty to continue on, and Australia are likely not to threaten all that much. But Chile could provide a scare: they’re technically accomplished and quick to attack. Will Holland’s aging squad mean the Flying Dutchmen will wing their way home early once more?

Game schedule

Friday, June 13 at 3 p.m. ET: Spain vs. Netherlands (Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador)

Wednesday, June 18 at 12 noon ET: Australia vs. Netherlands (Estadio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre)

Monday, June 25 at 12 noon ET: Netherlands vs. Chile (Arena Corinthians, São Paulo)

Star player
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. A bit of a surprise pick, perhaps, what with Arjen Robben of Bayern Munich and Robin van Persie of Manchester United certain to be included in the squad. But you never know when van Persie will break, and you can’t count on Robben not completely whiffing a shot at exactly the wrong moment.

Enter Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. The Schalke forward missed half of the season with a knee injury, playing only seventeen Bundesliga games. He marked his January return with the opening goal against Hamburg, and his recovery also sparked Schalke’s revival. By the end of the season, Huntelaar had twelve goals, and Schalke were in third. If he can perform in a similar fashion for Netherlands, advancing won’t be a worry.

(READ MORE: HOLLAND’S 23-MAN ROSTER FOR WORLD CUP)

Manager
Many Premier League fans already know plenty about Louis van Gaal, as the media had loads of time to fill us in while waiting for Manchester United to officially appoint him as manager. But van Gaal needs to get Holland through Brazil before he can head off to England.

Aloysius Paulus Maria van Gaal has an impressive resume: schooled in Total Football at Ajax, he went on to coach at the club (twice) before moving on to Barcelona (twice) and Bayern Munich (just once). However, his first stint with the Netherlands national team did not go so well. Under van Gaal, Holland failed to qualify for the 2002 World Cup, for the first time since 1986. His resignation in January 2002 prompted the first rumors of a move to United.

Secret weapon
Memphis Depay. Netherlands boast a lot of aging players up front: van Persie, Robben, and Huntelaar are all 30, Dirk Kuyt is 33. Then there’s Depay, an exciting young talent who plays with the swagger of a man who knows he’s on his way to greatness. The 20-year-old has a wonderful nose for goal, scoring 12 for PSV this Eredivisie season. He’s also extremely fast, something that could come in handy when van Gaal looks to change up a match and his old guard are limping around a bit.

Prediction
While van Gaal may have a clear, tactical approach, it’s unclear he’s got the personnel to carry it off. His squads vary from game to game, and many of his players have already been ruled out with injury (Kevin Strootman, Rafael van der Vaart) or are often one sneeze away from succumbing (van Persie, Wesley Sneijder). If they emerge from Group B in second place, they’ll face Brazil, so I say: out before quarterfinals.

Do you agree?