Los Angeles Soccer: Ronaldinho
CARSON, Calif. -- The mission had been accomplished long before the teams even took the field Tuesday night.
The final score was irrelevant to the larger goals for the Los Angeles Galaxy, which, if you must know, played to a 1-1 draw against Tottenham Hotspur of the English Premier League in front of a near sellout crowd at the Home Depot Center.
As nice as it was to see an undermanned Galaxy team (playing without David Beckham and Landon Donovan) hold their own against a Tottenham side, which finished fourth in the English Premier League last season, the Galaxy’s goal have always been larger than one game, one player and one country.
The vision of Tim Leiweke, president and CEO of AEG, has always been to make the Galaxy a global brand that would be easily recognizable around the world. He wanted fans to be familiar with the Galaxy and be able to rattle off two or three players on the team no matter what continent they were on.
It was a lofty goal, especially considering Major League Soccer’s place in the global soccer landscape and soccer’s place in the United States’ sporting pecking order.
Yet, five years after Beckham arrived in Los Angeles, Leiweke’s dream for the Galaxy has come true.
When Tottenham arrived in Los Angeles on Saturday to play the first of three exhibition matches in the U.S., they didn’t come for a sun-kissed vacation on the beach and to walk over an unknown side filled with unfamiliar players.
Everyone on Tottenham was quite familiar with the Galaxy and their surging status in the soccer world. It began when the Galaxy signed Beckham in 2007 but for many who play at White Hart Lane it grew when Los Angeles signed their old friend and teammate Robbie Keane last year.
Keane played at Tottenham from 2002 to 2011 with a brief stint at Liverpool in 2008 and still captains the Ireland national team.
“A lot more players overseas know about the MLS now,” said Tottenham winger Gareth Bale, who scored a first half goal on Tuesday.
The Galaxy got some very good news after examining Hector Jimenez's left knee. The word on Bryan Gaul wasn't so positive.
Jimenez, who had to be carried off the field after he was hurt near the end of the first half in Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup loss to the second-division Carolina RailHawks, will be listed as questionable on the Galaxy's injury report with a hematoma at the quadriceps above the knee.
Gaul sustained a broken bone below his right eye during an aerial battle in the second half of the game in Cary, N.C. There is no timeline for his return.
Jimenez, making just his fourth first-team start, was taken down by a RailHawks player in the 41st minute and had to be helped off the field by Galaxy trainer Armando Rivas and RailHawks midfielder Amir Lowery. Jimenez was unable to place weight on his left leg, sparking concern that he had suffered a major knee injury.
He had started the play that led to Pat Noonan's goal just three minutes earlier, intercepting an Austen King pass and feeding Chad Barrett on the right flank. Noonan scored from Barrett's cross to give the Galaxy a 1-0 lead.
Gaul, a rookie defender, was hit in the face while jumping for a ball in the Galaxy's box in the 66th minute. He was making his third successive start for L.A. and fourth of the season.
Wiesenfeld, founder of the New York-based European Football Group agency, is not an adviser to Ronaldinho, and his comments about the Galaxy's negotiations with the player's representatives -- on which he was merely an educated observer -- had been made a year earlier, before the player transferred from AC Milan to Flamengo.
Politicians on the left have bashed the numbers in his reported 18-month, $18.7 million contract offer -- about $240,000 a week -- and the opposition Socialist Party is proposing legislation that would make such deals illegal.
Beckham would be the best-paid athlete in France if he accepts the PSG deal. Newspapers last week reported he had agreed in principle with the Ligue 1 leader, and Agence France Presse reported that he might sign while attending a tennis tournament next week in Qatar, home to the club's owners. Beckham's representatives called it “premature” speculation and denied the midfielder, who is vacationing in London, had made a decision about his future.
British broadsheet The Telegraph, citing sources in the Beckham camp, reported Thursday that Beckham has scuttled offers from Brazil, Italy and the Middle East and is seriously considering another season in Los Angeles.
Some French politicians, perhaps preparing for next year's presidential election, began railing against the Beckham contract numbers last week.
“I’ve had enough of these enormous salaries,” French Socialist MP Jean-Marc Ayrault told Britain's Daily Express. “It’s not just with football players, but also businessmen who should have their salaries capped.”
Eva Joly, a judge who is running for president, called the numbers “shocking” and questioned the wisdom of paying a player of Beckham's age -- he'll be 37 in May -- so much money.
“It’s not a game, it’s business,” said the judge, who has followed an anti-corruption agenda. “At his age and with the state of his knees, he’s going to be selling T-shirts. The salary is shocking because of the economic crisis and an example of how huge sums of money are concentrated in the hands of very few people.”
If reports that Ronaldinho could be coming to Major League Soccer are more than just speculation or posturing, then don't be too surprised if he ends up somewhere other than the Galaxy.
That's the latest from France, where some of the Brazilian superstar's representatives are based: that the “big offer” being prepared is not with L.A.
Ronaldinho, 31, has been linked to the Galaxy for some time, and there were reports in Europe and Brazil that he was bound for L.A. before signing last January with Rio de Janeiro-based Flamengo following a decade in Europe with Paris-Saint Germain, Barcelona and AC Milan.
Reports have resurfaced, claiming the attacker could be the replacement if David Beckham signs with Paris Saint-Germain, as French media claim he will do shortly after New Year's, but MLS-News, a French website that covers MLS and is an “official partner” of University Elite Athletes USA -- a French management agency working to move Ronaldinho to the U.S. league -- says that might not be so.
“Yes, we're trying to bring Ronnie to the league, but there may be a surprise in which club he could play for,” said Jerome Meary, a University Elite Athletes USA representative the website said was “handling the case jointly with MLS.”
“We are preparing a big offer, but it is not with Los Angeles.”
Meary told MLS-News that the Galaxy has right of refusal on Ronaldinho. The player's French adviser Michael Wiesenfeld, founder of the New York-based European Football Group agency (and a former marketing assistant at PSG), last week told the website that negotiations with the Galaxy had begun last summer and “are intensifying.”
Still no word on David Beckham's future, and we're not expecting anything definitive until next week, but that hasn't stopped the reports in the French media, which assumes the Galaxy midfielder has (or will) accept Paris Saint-Germain's 18-month, $18.7 million offer.
If that happens, might Ronaldinho take his place?
MLS-News, a French website that covers MLS, claims the Galaxy has revived its interest in the Brazilian superstar, who apparently wants top leave Flamengo for MLS.
Ronaldinho has been linked to the Galaxy for some time, and there were ample reports in Europe and Brazil that he was bound for L.A. before signing last January with the Rio de Janeiro-based club following stints at Paris-Saint Germain, Barcelona and AC Milan.
He would make close to $10 million a season, his French-based agent, Michael Wiesenfeld, told the website. “We've been in negotiations since this summer,” he said. “And they are intensifying.”
The Galaxy does not comment on prospective players.
Ronaldinho, according to Brazilian reports, hasn't been paid in months by the sports management agency Traffic, which is responsible for about 68 percent of his $627,000-a-month Flamengo salary. He has scored 21 goals in 52 matches for the club, all competitions.
Beckham's contract with the Galaxy expires Dec. 31, and although there are options in England and elsewhere, he figures to sign with PSG or re-sign with L.A.
The 38-year-old goalkeeper, making a farewell appearance before his home fans, made several superb saves as El Tri held on to an early advantage for nearly 70 minutes before stunning strikes by Ronaldinho and Marcelo gave Brazil a 2-1 win in Torreon.
Sanchez, Mexico's No. 1 netminder at the 2006 World Cup who hasn't figured much for the national team since Guillermo Ochoa's ascendancy a few years ago, was splendid in his 100th international appearance -- and basked in a glowing reception from fans of Santos Laguna, the club he captains, when subbed off in the final minutes.
The loss was the first with Mexico for technical director Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre, not that that means a whole lot. The game was virtually meaningless, and its timing -- with nothing important nearby; World Cup qualifying doesn't begin until June -- and both clubs' reliance on Europe-based talent softened the intensity.
The highlights were three spectacular goals, including the own goal that gave Mexico a 10th-minute lead. Right-winger Pablo Barrera, one of Mexico's special players, wrapped an attack along the byline with a telling ball from a tight angle. David Luiz stuck out his foot, the ball glanced off it, spinning behind goalkeeper Jefferson and finding the far-post netting.
Ronaldinho's 79th-minute free kick, awarded after Neymar's “performance” convinced Salvadoran referee Marlon Mejia, was a bullet to the upper-right corner. Marcelo beat two defenders in the box before firing the winner into the goal's ceiling in the 84th.
Nothing Sanchez could do about either. His night will be remembered more for two saves on Ronaldinho, both on free kicks.
Three things we saw in Brazil's victory over Mexico:
1. IT'S NOT JUST THE STARS
No question who the big boys were. Nobody was more influential (primarily from set pieces) than Ronaldinho, the biggest name in this game. Univision's coverage featured individual cams on Neymar, the Brazilian teen the world is swooning over, and Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez.
The friendly between two of the world's finest sides, both fielding representative teams, will air at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN2 and Univision (KMEX/Channel 34). Mexico will counter a skilled Brazilian team with its superstars -- Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Giovani Dos Santos and Rafa Marquez -- and the knowledge that Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre hasn't lost since making his debut as manager in February.
El Tricolor is 10-0-4 under the former national team midfielder.
Here are three reasons to follow the action:
1. 'CHICHARITO' AND RONALDINHO
Hernandez, among the world's most admired strikers since joining Manchester United following last year's World Cup, is finally healthy after taking a few knocks to start the season. He has scored 22 goals in his first 31 appearances for Mexico, and his appearance opposite Brazilian attacker Ronaldinho -- also an iconic superstar, one whose time internationally is dwindling -- is a big deal.
The Brazilians know this.
“He has been standing out in Manchester, his confidence is very high, and he is a very dangerous player,” defender Lucas, who plays at English Premier League rival Liverpool, told a media gathering in Mexico on Sunday. “He's very fast and can surprise you at any time.
“But there are other players, too. There is a player who is playing for Tottenham [Giovani] who has many qualities, but Chicharito is the great [player from Mexico].”
Ronaldinho returned to Brazil's national team in August -- after a nine-month absence following his exclusion from last year's World Cup team -- and is starring at home, with Flamengo, following a decade in Europe. He spent most of his years on the continent with Barcelona, where his teammates included Marquez and Giovani.
The Galaxy was unable to corral Ronaldinho -- if there was, indeed, real interest. The club never acknowledged reports here, in Europe and Brazil that it was pursuing the Brazilian superstar, who signed with Rio de Janeiro giant Flamengo.
Now, according to reports in Brazil, L.A. is out to sign another massive Brazilian star: Roberto Carlos, once the finest attacking left back in the game.
Jornal da Tarde in Sao Paulo reported Friday that Roberto Carlos has told friends he has a “financially very good” offer from the Galaxy. The newspaper said Roberto Carlos, whose contract with Sao Paulo-based Corinthians ends this year, could step in when David Beckham's contract expires at season's end as the club's “idol and pitchman.”
Roberto Carlos turns 38 in April.
The Galaxy, of course, declined comment, and speculation that Roberto Carlos could join the club this season doesn't appear possible. L.A. already has maxed out its Designated Player slots -- Beckham, Landon Donovan and Juan Pablo Angel -- and Roberto Carlos is not going to consider a sub-DP offer as “financially very good.”
Jornal da Tarde said the defender is looking to leave Corinthians after receiving threats following the club's preliminary-round loss in Copa Lbertadores, South America's club championship, but in a blog post at the newspaper's Web site later Friday, Roberto Carlos denied he wanted out and said he had no deal with the Galaxy, telling the newspaper: “No, I'm not leaving, no.”
He was one of the world's premier players in the late 1990s and in the first years of this century, starring for 11 seasons with Real Madrid and making 125 appearances for Brazil's national team, which he represented in the 1998, 2002 and 2006 World Cups. Brazil won the title in 2002.
He's still finding his footing, after his first prolonged rest in more than 2½ years, but as L.A. eases into its preseason schedule -- and with the March 15 Major League Soccer opener in Seattle still six weeks away -- the Galaxy captain sees big things on the horizon.
"I said yesterday to someone that this team is going to be more competitive than last year's, we're going to be deeper than last year, and overall in every position we have more talent and depth ...," Donovan said Tuesday after the club's second preseason training session at Home Depot Center. "[We have] the best balance that I've ever seen, certainly on this team and maybe in any team I've seen in MLS, from [player No.] 1 to 25.
The Galaxy transitioned this week from a week of gym and fitness labor to on-field work, and all but two players -- David Beckham, training in London with Tottenham, and 16-year-old Jack McBean, with the U.S. under-17 team -- have arrived. Good thing: There are 11 newcomers among the 28 players on the roster, and there's much to do to build the chemistry necessary to live up to the kind of expectations Donovan's talk fuels.
How is it going so far?
"Good," head coach/GM Bruce Arena said. "Day two, you know. The usual in preseason. But it's nice to get the team back on the field and integrate the new players into the team. Obviously, it's a long process -- we're six weeks way from an opening game. We have a lot of time. There are going to be some ups and downs along the way. We know that. But we have a good mentality in the group, and we just want to work harder every day and get our team better and hopefully be able to put a good team on the field out there on March 15."
The biggest name among the newcomers is Colombian forward Juan Pablo Angel, who says he relishes the responsibility to score goals -- he netted 61 in four seasons with the New York Red Bulls -- but will need time to adjust to a new team and new teammates.
"Little by little, it will happen," he said. "I mean, I've only been here two days, so we have the rest of February and the beginning of March to start building partnerships. Right now, the focus in on trying to be fit, get used to the ball again. Plenty of time to do the rest."
Edson Buddle, whose week of training at Birmingham City elicited transfer talk from the English Premier League club, has drawn interest from other British clubs.
The Galaxy has not acknowledged that it is willing to part with the 29-year-old forward, but all players, ultimately, are for sale. It's about meeting the right price, and Buddle's price tag likely tops $5 million after his splendid 2010 campaign.
Meanwhile, David Beckham's will-he-or-won't-he loan saga is boiling over as the winter transfer window nears, and Ronaldinho's move to Brazil isn't looking so certain -- so might the Galaxy still be in the running for the superstar attacker's services?
Buddle, who apparently visited Scottish champion Rangers FC -- home of Fontana's Maurice Edu (Etiwanda HS), Buddle's World Cup teammate -- during his December trip to Britain, could have several suitors on the island.
Sheffield Wednesday manager Alan Irvine is among his admirers, although the former top-tier team is now in the third-tier League One, and Buddle isn't likely to head to a lower-division club if he makes a move to Europe. Reports in Britain claim the Owls have contacted Buddle's representatives, Sky Sports says.
“He's been over here, to Rangers and Birmingham, and he's now back in America,” Irvine told the Sheffield Star newspaper. “He has scored a lot of goals for L.A. Galaxy. He's also played in the World Cup for America. He's obviously no mug.”
Sky Sports links Rangers to a bid for Buddle and claims EPL sides Everton (U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard's club), Stoke City and Wolverhampton (home to Marcus Hahnemann, the No. 2 netminder on the U.S. World Cup team) also are “rumoured to be keeping tabs on the USA international.”
News item: Ronaldinho negotiating to leave AC Milan.
What this means for the Galaxy, who can tell? The 30-year-old Brazilian superstar has been linked to L.A. for a couple of years now, but the club has never officially confirmed its interest no matter what's reported nor how it's sourced.
Real Salt Lake owner Dave Checketts hinted in July that Ronaldinho would “in the next couple days” be en route to the Galaxy -- didn't happen -- and Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport last month reported that the playmaker had reached an agreement with L.A.
Now Roberto de Assis, Ronaldinho's brother/agent -- and the primary source on all the L.A. talk -- says the likely destination is Brazil.
He told Radio Bandeirantes last week that a deal with Palmeiras was possible -- the Sao Paulo club is reportedly offering a three-year, $29 million contract -- that “Ronaldinho would like to return to Brazil because he has the desire to win the trophies that he is still missing, like the Brasileirao [national championship] and Copa Libertadores.”
Ronaldinho's contract with Milan doesn't end until June, but Il Corriere dello Sport, another Italian daily, reported Wednesday that negotiations to depart in January are ongoing and that Gremio -- Ronaldinho's first club, based in Porto Alegre -- and Rio de Janeiro's Flamengo also have made offers.
Juan Miranda/MLS/Getty Images
David Beckham, left, wants to pursue an offseason short-term loan deal, but Landon Donovan figures to be resting before the Galaxy opens training camp.
With so much ado about Landon Donovan and David Beckham and whether they'll be en route to European clubs after New Year's on new loan deals, the Galaxy finally put its foot down Tuesday. Or at least one foot.
The club declared that Donovan, its captain, would not be returning to England next month. As for Beckham, we'll see.
Donovan, apparently, is fine with staying home for the start of preseason training next month. Everton, with which he spent 10 glorious weeks last winter, wanted him back, and Fulham and Newcastle United also expressed interest in picking up the star forward/midfielder, who in a statement released by the Galaxy said it was "important" to regenerate before the 2011 campaign begins March 15.
Donovan said in early November that he wasn't sure whether he'd look for another short stint overseas -- he had a trying spell at Bayern Munich two years ago, followed by last season's Everton triumph -- but figured his interest would rise as January neared. He said he was congnizant that he only had so much time left to play top-level soccer (he'll be 29 in March) and wanted to take advantage of every opportunity that came his way.
His statement Tuesday: "While I enjoyed my time at Everton last season and still appreciate all the support their fans have given me, I feel that it is important to continue to rest and recover this offseason as opposed to going on loan. I never considered being loaned to a club other than Everton, but I have been playing nearly nonstop for the past two years, and I believe that this decision will allow me to perform at my best for the Galaxy and the national team throughout the upcoming year."
Acquiring the rights to superstar striker Juan Pablo Angel was just the start for the Galaxy on Wednesday.
L.A., which traded a draft pick to move into position to take the Colombian forward in the second phase of Major League Soccer's re-entry draft, made two more trades, sending 19-year-old forward Tristan Bowen to Chivas USA and swapping the rights to midfielder Luke Sassano, acquired in the re-entry draft, to Kansas City for the rights to former UCLA star Frankie Hejduk.
The Galaxy must negotiate new contracts with Angel, who scored 61 MLS goals in four seasons with the New York Red Bulls, and Hejduk, an inelegant if massively energetic right back whom K.C. took from Columbus in the re-entry draft.
Bowen (Van Nuys), who made 17 apprearances (with 10 starts) and scored two goals last season for the Galaxy, was swapped for allocation money that can be used to reduce a player's salary-cap figure. It could be used to make Angel more affordable or to bring him in as something other than a Designated Player, keeping a DP spot open for the potential arrival of Brazilian star Ronaldinho.
Angel's contract with the Red Bulls was worth $1.62 million annually (with $1.918 million guaranteed compensation).
Hejduk, 36, played the last eight seasons with Columbus after stints in Germany (with Bayer Leverkusen) and Switzerland (with St. Gallen) following three seasons with the defunct Tampa Bay Mutiny. He played in the 1998 and 2002 World Cups.
The Galaxy made a big splash in the second phase of Major League Soccer's re-entry draft Wednesday, taking New York Red Bulls striker Juan Pablo Angel -- arguably the finest target forward ever to play in the league -- after making a trade with Houston to move up to fourth in the draft.
The 35-year-old Colombian, who joined the Red Bulls when Galaxy coach Bruce Arena was in charge in New York, has scored 61 goals in four seasons for New York.
His contract, for $1.62 million (with $1.918 million guaranteed compensation), was not renewed, and the Galaxy will be able to negotiate a new pact with the tall striker.
“In the re-entry draft, all teams are doing is acquiring rights to players,” Arena said on a teleconference Wednesday afternoon. “There's still a negotiating period to see if we can reach an agreement. … We think he's a very fine forward, and we're hopeful we can reach an agreement. …
“The reason we took him in the re-entry draft is we think we can make it work. I think Juan wants to make it work, but we have to get in some discussions this week and see if we can reach an agreement.”
The Galaxy also selected Red Bulls midfielder Luke Sassano, and Chivas USA took Kansas City central defender Jimmy Conrad (Temple City/Temple City HS and UCLA).
Galaxy midfielder Dema Kovalenko and Chivas USA midfielder Marcelo Saragosa and defender Alex Zotinca weren't drafted and become free agents. So do Colorado midfielder Peter Vagenas (Pasadena/St. Francis HS and UCLA) and Columbus midfielder Duncan Oughton (Cal State Fullerton).
Arena said he has spoken twice with Angel in recent weeks and believes a deal can be made despite the forward's stated desire to remain on the East Coast. If signed, Angel likely would be a Designated Player, which would all but end any chance of L.A. acquiring Brazilian forward Ronaldinho.