Welcome to another fantastically exciting edition of Total 90. The MLS playoffs are in full swing, and Total 90 mailbag is gaining momentum as well.
Before we get to anything else, we here at Total 90 would like to take a moment to thank each and every American citizen who got themselves to the polls yesterday and cast a vote. Doesn't matter who you voted for so long as you had a valid reason for doing it.
I don't want to get into an extended political discussion, so I'll just say that I hope we can all give President-elect Obama a fair shout before dismissing him as a terrible president.
Thanks to all those who sent along mailbag submissions for this edition. It looks like we could have a regular feature on our hands. Remember, if you'd like to submit a question for the mailbag, drop me an email or leave a note on my bulletin board.
Now onto the news...
David Beckham is crossing the pond to Europe for the first few months of 2009, but Europe is sending MLS something in return. Former Arsenal star Freddie Ljungberg will be turning out for Seattle Sounders FC during the 2009 MLS season. The expansion franchise announced that they signed him as their designated player for two seasons, at $1.3 million per season.
Young American international Jozy Altidore made history on the weekend in an appearance for Villareal CF. Altidore found the net in the 90th minute of Villareal's 4-1 victory over Athletic Bilbao. That goal made Altidore the first American to ever find the net during a La Liga match. Rumor has it that Altidore's performances so far, while good, might not be enough to keep him from being loaned out elsewhere come January.
The US Soccer Hall of Fame has announced its nominees for induction in January of 2009. There are some great names on this list, including Jeff Agoos, Earnie Stewart, Raul Diaz Arce, Preki and Carlos Valderrama. You can find a more complete list here.
Total 90 was surprised to not see Valderrama already in the Hall of Fame, by virtue of his contributions to MLS during the league's early years. Valderrama is one of the greatest players to ever suit up in MLS and his hair helped make him an international icon.
One of the candidates for the MLS Defender of the Year Award, Chicago's Bakary Soumare, will not be suiting up for the US National Team like he had originally hoped. Soumare had hoped to turn out for the National Squad, but was turned off by the two-year wait to become a citizen. He has chosen to suit up for Mali instead, a move that will certainly pay more dividends as far as his career is concerned.
Even though he's only been in the league for 1.5 seasons, do you believe that Cuauhtémoc Blanco is the greatest player to have played in MLS? -Eric Gomez
No, but it's close. I think I'd rate Landon Donovan and Carlos Valderrama ahead of him but not by too much. I spent a lot of time debating myself on this one though.
If we go strictly by numbers, there are plenty of players that are "better" than Blanco. To get a full idea of what he brings to the Fire and to this league, you have to actually watch him play. He doesn't give up possession without a serious fight, he's always around the attacking third of the pitch drawing fouls, and he remains one of the best and most creative distributors in the world.
He's easily the best foreign player in MLS since Valderrama, and I'd put him in my top three of all-time. If he leads the Fire to this year's MLS Cup, he moves into the top two.
Who do you think will win the MLS Playoffs? (I know it is an obvious question, but if you get it right—huge kudos) -Alex Dimond
If the Chicago Fire don't come away with the title, I'll eat my hat (a really nifty straw fedora, in case you were wondering.) Even though they didn't finish atop their conference, they've got the best team and the most battle-tested players.
Blanco, The Man With The Titanium Face (Brian McBride), Bakary Soumare, Jon Busch, Chris Rolfe and John Thorrington. This team is built to score and defend. Playing in Chicago also means that they won't be fazed by the cold weather that plagues MLS stadia this time of year.
If Chicago doesn't win, I'll have to take the Houston Dynamo. The defending champs are absolutely loaded with talent this year, and they've got a fairly easy road to the finals. Blanco is too much, though.
1. Looking back to the NASL - is the MLS now bigger than the NASL ever was in terms of coverage and general public interest? I know the New York cosmos were huge in the 70s and 80s, but was that a general trend across the US? Or were the other teams generally pretty mediocre.
2. Has Beckham's arrival lived up to expectations, or are the US public still fairly apathetic towards him and Soccer? -William Cooper
First of all, William is a Shrewsbury Town fan, which is awesome.
1. MLS is definitely bigger and better than the NASL. The attendance figures are more than double what the NASL averaged (if you subtract Pele from the equation.) The NASL just couldn't cut it without Pele, despite having Johann Cruyff, Gerd Muller, George Best and others in its ranks. Sad, but true.
Most of us would pay top-dollar to see that type of talent on the field these days, but 1970s and 80s America was pretty ignorant of international talent that wasn't Edson.
So yeah, the Cosmos were a bit of an aberration as well. With Pele, they would draw 70,000 fans at times. When they traveled, the opponents would see attendance figures as high as 30,000-40,000 people.
When Pele was not involved in a match, 5,000 or fewer was the norm. The Cosmos were a cultural phenomenon, the rest of the NASL was just (unfortunately) background noise.
2. I think America's expectations of Beckham were incredibly unrealistic. We are still a country that is largely ignorant of the nuances of the game of football.
A lot of the country expected Becks to come in and play like Pele, and that isn't his game. They don't appreciate a well-placed long ball because it doesn't usually show up in the score sheet.
Beckham hasn't lived up to those expectations, but I think he has been a moderate success so far. He has brought desperately-needed money and exposure to the league.
In fact, most MLS teams are on track to start turning a profit within the next season or two. Beckham's club already does.
Luckily, he doesn't have the same role in LA that Pele had in New York. Pele was expected to be the savior of a league, while Beckham was just brought in to be a quality player with great marketing potential. MLS survives with or without Beckham.