First Half: The Foolishness of Timbers Army
One of many issues concerning MLS Commissioner Don Garber is the league's improving yet mediocre television ratings. Garber is not a fool and in his way to help promote the league's tv ratings, he and ESPN decided to put two of its most marketable franchises on for its first national telecast of the upcoming season as the currently coachless New York Red Bulls will travel to Portland to take on the Timbers in Caleb Porter's debut as coach. Now the Red Bulls are going to attract an audience because of Thierry Henry and the other big names that are around him. The Timbers, however, are only buzz worthy because of this.
The atmosphere Timbers Army provides is second to none and is certainly capable of drawing a reaction from many in the sports world watching MLS for the first time. The matchday experience Timbers Army provides not only provides marketing gold for MLS but a distinct homefield advantage. Last season, Portland had a +3 goal differential at home compared to the -25 on the road. This is a homefield advantage that US Soccer clamors for in its venue selection for World Cup Qualifying and has been ever present since the first dos a cero back in 2001. With an intimate field and a passionate fanbase, Portland is all too deserving of a World Cup Qualifier.
Poor Andrew Brawley and his close-mindedness. For a member of a fan group of a club to reject the idea of even working with the fan group of a country is pure arrogance. Yes there are members of every fan group that are "club over country" but they are often a minority and for the most part they just go with it whenever their city is hosting the US National team. Brawley's perception of the American Outlaws makes them seem as if they were the overtly macho FBI agents taking over for the local police department. In my conversation with various chapter leaders of AO, this is far from the truth as stated by an AO chapter leader.
"When AO can work closely with the local supporters groups, everything works out great. AO has a good relationship with the screaming eagles down in DC and the Sons of Ben, and when there are games in Philly or DC there are no issues. The local groups lead the parties and the supporters section, while still following AO convention and making everything as inclusive as possible for travelling fans. This is how it should be in every single city we host a USMNT match."
What makes Brawley and those who agree with him foolish is that soccer in America is not at the stage to split up into club-based and geo-based factions. The link to their absurd Cascadia independence movement is a self-righteous attempt to link themselves with the 'Mes Que un Club' motto of Barcelona and how that club epitomizes the Catalan independence movement, a movement with far more substance than Cascadia's can ever have.
To close themselves off and claim superiority over other soccer supporter groups does not help the overall goal of growing the game in this country. Timbers Army is a marketable fan group for MLS and the American Outlaws are a marketable fan group for US Soccer. But Timbers Army must be open to working with the American Outlaws to provide a marketable fan group for American soccer.
Second Half: The Hopefully Wise New York Red Bulls
|It's up to Sousa to succeed where Hans Backe didn't|
The MLS SuperDraft is one week away and New York still does not have a head coach. The main rumors involve Cluadio Reyna becoming assistant coach under Paulo Sousa. Sousa would become the second Portugese Head Coach of the Red Bulls after Carlos Queiroz finished out the 1996 season. Sousa would immediately be subject to the typical criticism that comes from foreign coaches with no experience in MLS.
The main issue with foreign coaches in MLS is a lack of knowledge in the rules of the salary cap since it is the only major league in the world that has that system in place. But if New York goes with a Sousa Reyna mix as well as keeping fan favorite and current interim manager Mike Petke along as an assistant, then that concern should be nixed given Reyna and Petke's familiarity with the Red Bull franchise and with MLS.
|Reyna will have to help facilitate Sousa's|
arrival to New York
Sousa himself won a Champions League medal with Borussia Dortmund and played for Juventus. On paper, Sousa's managerial resume is underwhelming. One season with Queens Park Rangers, just over one calendar year with Swansea City and nine games with Leicester City before a year and a half long stint with Videoton in Hungary. And on paper, choosing a coach from Hungary makes Toronto FC's hiring of Ryan Nelson look sane. But Sousa is a great coach, even described by some as having a Midas Touch. He was sacked from QPR for publicly disclosing the club's transfer of Dexter Blackstock without his knowledge. He guided Swansea to its highest place in the Championship before leaving to work under Leicester City chairman Milan Mandaric who was all too eager to fire Sousa after a weak start and with former England manager Sven-Göran Eriksson expressing interest in the job.
Sousa's success at Videoton came with the support of an ambitious backroom staff and more importantly a sensible one. If he is hired at Red Bull, he will need the patience and support of Andy Roxbaugh and Jérôme de Bontin who, despite their delay in hiring a coach, have given the early impression of a pair who know what they want in terms of a long-term plan. It should also not be forgotten that Sousa is Portugese and the Harrison community surrounding Red Bull Arena is heavily populated by Portugese immigrants with fond memories of Sousa and the rest of the Golden Generation. If New York pulls the trigger on this move, we may see a new precedent set with foreign coaches finding success in MLS.
We may also see New York finally claim an MLS Cup.
ONE GOAL ContributorChristian Araos