What we Learned from the Friendlies
This past week the United States became the epicenter of the club football world with numerous friendlies involving large clubs from all over the world, as well as the unveiling of David Beckham as a member of the Los Angeles Galaxy. Now that the lights have faded and most MLS clubs are back to league action or off to Superliga, let’s evaluate what we’ve learned this past week.
Asia Trumps the US as a Market for European Clubs
Manchester United has clearly determined what Chelsea now should. Having a preseason tour in Asia is a much better way to sell tickets, develop new fans and sell merchandise than touring the United States. Chelsea may have fine tuned the chemistry of their squad on this tour, but they could have quite frankly done that in Europe. Chelsea was overshadowed by Club America in the first match (which happens anytime Club America plays in the US), played in front of a near empty stadium in its second match and got caught up in Beckham mania hype in its third match.
Everton’s first match of its US tour, a 2-0 loss to Real Salt Lake provided RSL’s second smallest weekend evening crowd since the franchise began MLS play three seasons ago. Chicago’s friendly with Celtic was played in front of a half empty Toyota Park and according to some reorts MLS gave away tickets to the All Star game Thursday Night (versus Celtic) to make Dick’s Sporting Goods Park appear full on TV.
The bottom line is simple. While a few years back crowds flocked to see European clubs play on American soil, the novelty of these matches has worn off and right now event promoters are better off booking big Mexican clubs who come with a built in fan base wherever they play in the USA than European clubs who may or may not sell tickets.
Chelsea Will Be Alright
Unlike last season when Chelsea’s poor performance against the MLS All Star showed the team suffered from post World Cup fatigue and a lack of cohesion, this trip showed Chelsea can find different ways to win matches against different types of quality opponents. John Terry despite a broken toe anchored a strong back line, and Didier Drogba worked to create space up front. While Jose Mourinho still has lots to learn in terms of using his flank players properly (including newly signed Florent Malouda) Chelsea’s possession game versus Los Angeles was impressive, and save some great defending by former Liverpool and Everton defender Abel Xavier, Chelsea could have picked its scoreline.
Celtic’s Slow Starts are Worrying
Gordan Strachan must be concerned about how lethargic his Celtic team looked in the first half against both the MLS All Stars and the Chicago Fire. Artur Boruc’s heroic goalkeeping single handily kept Celtic from being blown off the pitch in the first half of both matches. The latter part of the second half of both games however were dominated by Celtic, which is somewhat confusing considering it was the second teamers that looked sharp. But the fact that Juan Pablo Angel, Juan Toja, and Eddie Johnson found so much space for the MLS All Stars in the first half versus Celtic and that Chicago’s Cuauhtémoc Blanco appeared to be toying with Celtic the whole time he was on the pitch for shows Celtic’s defense could be severely tested in the Champions League this season.
European style Fixture Congestion Has Come to the US
With the advent of Superliga, and all of these international friendlies MLS clubs are beginning to run into some serious fixture congestion. It was interesting to observe today how both DC United and Houston protected certain players knowing that they will play as many as five non-friendly matches in the next two weeks. The LA Galaxy schedule between the two friendlies this week, the MLS All Star Game, Superliga and MLS Regular Season is nothing short of cruel and unusual punishment. The Galaxy is a mess as it is, but may need two seperate squads to survive this brutal stretch.
Cuauhtémoc Blanco will Improve Chicago
The jury is still very much out on whether or not a specialty player like David Beckham will actually help the struggling LA Galaxy, or whether the team will completely sink in the circus surrounding Beckham’s arrival stateside. But today we learned the second highest profile MLS addition of the summer, Cuauhtémoc Blanco has already developed an understanding of his team mates in Chicago and has taken on the #10 role with the Fire. Blanco clearly is relishing being the focal point with the Fire he was with Club America and his performance against Celtic was nothing short of spectacular.
The Galaxy Are Discrediting MLS With Their Performances
In the same week that bottom of the table Real Salt Lake beat Everton and last place Eastern Conference team Chicago drew with Celtic the L.A. Galaxy seeking to become North America’s signature football club was humiliated in front of the world’s eyes. The British media assembled to watch David Beckham’s future club lose to a lower mid table Tigres side 3-0. After this match the Galaxy were described as a “pub team” by one British media outlet. The truth is the Galaxy is not much better than a semi professional team right now and in fact lost to a third division team last week.
The Galaxy is under a microscope and despite the fine performances of other MLS clubs and players this past week the Galaxy are the team the European press is watching and they did little to redeem themselves against Chelsea last night again showing a lack of quality in the attack and poor touches and clearances from the back line and midfield.
South American Signings Have Changed MLS for the Better
Four names for you: Angel, Scheletto, Toja and Emilio. Each of these new additions to the league have a quality and flair that has been sorely lacking in MLS since the early years of the league. Three of these four signings were below the radar so to speak but each player has improved the team he is on. The MLS for marketing purposes and to improve the quality of play on the pitch must continue to mine the best talent it can from Latin America and bring them stateside whether they are young prospects like Toja, old veterans like Scheletto, world superstars like Angel or journeymen like Emilio.