Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Soccer Tidbits – Probably my last post on soccer, for a little while, until the U.S.S.F. names a new coach for the U.S. national team. Whoever that next coach is, he will have to take a long look at Benny Freihaber. The New York Times has a story on the young (21 years old), Brazilian-born, Jewish-American international. Benny has started six straight games for the Bundesliga side Hamburg SV. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the article was that there was no mention that Freihaber was Jewish, except for the subtle inclusion of a quote from Benny about playing in the Maccabiah Games (an Olympic like tournament for Jews).

It would have been interesting to hear a little about the reaction of the German fans to Freihaber. I’m sure he’s not the first Jew to play in the Bundesliga in the post-war period (two Jewish players appeared for the German national side before the war – Gottfried Fuchs and Julius Hirsch), but my brief research on the 'net hasn’t yielded any results. In any case, it would be interesting to know how that’s been for Benny – but the real news is that Freihaber has worked his way into the Hamburg top eleven, which bodes well for a young man who has yet to appear for the U.S. Men’s national side.

Speaking of the national side, one U.S. player made World Cup history this past week, sort of. FIFA has ruled that the first ever hat-trick in World Cup competition was scored by the U.S.A.’s own Bert Patenaude in 1930. Previously, that honor belonged to an Argentine who scored his triple a couple of days later. A scoring change awarded one goal to Patenaude, instead of another American, so Patenaude gets this honor – posthumously. He died in 1974.

The Times article also reports that MLS Commissioner, Don Garber, has his sights on expanding the league to 16 teams by 2010. I wonder if that is realistic, given the talent levels. Perhaps, I’ll be proven wrong on this, but the league is talking about improving the quality of its play – making that its top priority. Adding 4 teams, including the Toronto squad that starts play next year, would make it impossible to improve the overall talent level.

I understand the league wanting to penetrate a few more markets. The MLS front office might believe that the league needs to reach a critical mass, in that regard, before it’s taken seriously as a major national sports league. I think, with national TV exposure, and the internet, that having local teams in all the major markets isn’t as crucial as it once was. I don’t see that the league will get more national coverage if it puts a new team in the Bay Area, the Philadelphia exurbs, St. Louis or San Diego. The media will take the league more seriously when the crowds get bigger and the games get better.

The MLS expansion draft is on Friday. Here’s the players I’d be considering (if I were Toronto’s GM): Chicago’s: Nate Jacqua or Zach Thornton; Chivas: Tim Regan or John O’Brien; Colorado: Jovan Kirovski or Mike Petke; Columbus: Jon Busch or Sebastian Rozental; D.C. United: Jamil Walker (other possibles are Matias Donnet, Clyde Simms and Nick Rimando); Dallas: Roberto Mina, Bobby Rhine or Greg Vanney; Houston; Craig Waibel (possibly Adrian Serioux); Kansas City: Alex Zotinca (or GK Bo Oshonyi); L.A.: Cobi Jones, Paulo Nagamura or Kyle Martino; New England: Daniel Hernandez, Avery John, Joe Franchino or Jose Cancela; New York: Edson Buddle, Steve Jolley, Tony Meola or John Wolyniec; Real Salt Lake: Andy Williams, Jason Kreis, Douglas Sequiera or Scott Garlick.

There isn’t a lot of young talent on that list. I’d expect Jacqua, Kirovski, Busch, Walker, Waibel, Zotinca, Nagamura, Hernandez, Buddle, and Kreis to get the nod. But, surprises are always possible.

As I look at it, my list is heavy on strikers – but scoring is at a premium, and Jacqua, Kreis and Buddle are at the top of the list. Toronto could go for a more established goalie, but Busch has the biggest upside. On the back line they could put Waibel with Zotinca, and rely on Walker, Nagamura and Hernandez to carry the load through the midfield. Then Kirovski seems like a luxury at forward, and Toronto might prefer an unguided missile on defense like Mike Petke – or one of the Dallas defenders. Toronto just might take a chance on the health and willingness of John O’Brien to play north of the border. If he were healthy, he wouldn’t be available, but he is the best player on the list.

Friday is the day. Toronto gets ten picks, and cannot take two from any single team.

Finally, a big soccer game tonight at College Park. Maryland takes on St. John’s in the second round of the NCAA Men’s Div. 1 Tournament. I have to choose between that, and a John Edwards book signing.

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