Michael Ballack was released today by Chelsea. He's officially a free agent.
He could be perfect for the Portland Timbers for next season.
Or, he could not.
He's 34. He's coming off an injury. It's doubtful any of Europe's big clubs will want him.
Ballack is a rock in the midfield. I'm a strong believer that any designated signees should play center midfield. It's where they can control the game, and guide the other players.
He's somebody that has another two or three good seasons in his legs. He could probably use the added rest of not starting a season in September, but rather waiting for next March.
But there are more political reasons the Timber ownership should look to sign a name such as Ballack to their roster.
He would be a considerable jump up from Freddie Ljungberg, the major signing of their rivals in Seattle. In the event that Vancouver, also joining the MLS in 2011, signs a major name, Portland won't be the last man standing.
There are, still, quite a bit of people in Portland who don't feel the MLS is a major league. They're upset that the Triple-A Portland Beavers baseball club is likely to leave town.
Signing Michael Ballack will bring instant credibility to the franchise. It will keep the naysayers quiet.
He won't come cheap. Perhaps as much as $5 million a season. For a small-market team in a stadium that max's out at 20,000 fans, that's a huge chunk of change.
That, of course, is the biggest reason that it doesn't make sense to sign an aging star like Ballack. In all probability, PGE Park will fill up with or without a superstar like Ballack. He's a big name, but is he big enough to get non-soccer fans interested in the game?
The MLS has done an outstanding job of not blowing their business model and signing a gaggle of aging superstars (like the old NASL), and running up massive debts. They've stuck with homegrown talent and players who can't make it in Europe, and the games haven't suffered as a consequence.
I'm of the opinion that the Timbers should stay away from the likes of Ballack, Thierry Henry, and David Beckham. They should continue to develop their own talent and build from within. I don't like to think of the MLS as a league for aging players grasping for one last paycheck. I'd rather see hungry, young players who are just happy to be making a living at a game they love.
Whether Portland is first or last, the Timber's Army will still fill the stands. The games will still be fun. I'd rather see them spend money on coaching, training, and scouting than on one player that will, in all likelihood, play another couple of years.
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