New York Soccer: Don Garber

RBNY Notes: Red Bulls control own playoff destiny despite D.C.'s game in hand

October, 3, 2011
Thanks to an imbalance in the number of matches played to this point and a needlessly complicated playoff structure that MLS commissioner Don Garber may tweak again soon, the Red Bulls' playoff picture looks muddied.

It looks like the Red Bulls have a tenuous grasp on the final wild card berth and need clubs like the Portland Timbers and Chicago Fire to cool off. It looks like D.C. United can knock them out of the postseason with winning ways and their game in hand. It looks like the Red Bulls are in trouble.

As the math bears out, looks can be deceiving -- and that's to the Red Bulls' benefit.

That's not to say the Red Bulls can skate into the MLS playoffs. They still have work to do, and the time for conceding draws at the expense of wins needs to be behind them over their final three matches. Their current standing doesn't absolve them of their responsibility to deal with Rafael Marquez's place on the club, nor how Red Bulls coach Hans Backe can keep his roster healthy for the final stretch.

But they do control their own destiny. And here's why:
Club Points GL Max Magic # Tragic # TB?
FCD 46 3 55 15 -4 Y
SKC 45 2 51 11 -5 Y
Rapids 45 2 51 12 -4 N
Union 44 3 53 14 -5 N
Crew 44 2 50 10 -6 Y
Dynamo 43 2 49 9 -7 Y
RBNY 40 3 49 - - -
Timbers 40 3 49 9 -10 Y
D.C. 38 4 50 10 -12 Y
Fire 37 3 46 6 -13 Y
Chivas 36 2 42 3 -13 N
Quakes 32 3 41 1 -18 Y

This table represents every eligible playoff club not presently in possession of a Western Conference automatic berth (i.e. the only three spots New York can't use to get in the playoffs). "Points" is how many points the clubs have in the regular season standings. "GL" represents the number of games that club has left. "MAX" is the maximum number of points a club can attain by season's end if that club wins out the remainder of its matches.

Then there's a few new numbers for you to crunch. "Magic #" is the magic number pundits use to describe the combination of events necessary to clinch a better finish in the standings than the club in question.

Basically, we're talking about any result which would favorably benefit the Red Bulls in the standings. That magic number represents the number of points the Red Bulls need to get or the opponent needs to concede for New York to overtake them.

For example, the Red Bulls will mathematically eliminate the Chicago Fire from overtaking them in the postseason standings if both clubs somehow create a six-point gap that benefits New York. If the Red Bulls collect at least six points (+6 points) over their final three matches, the Fire can't catch them. If New York collects three (+3) and the Fire lose once (+3, since they conceded an opportunity to collect three points and keep up), Chicago's out.

In the next column, the "Tragic #" lists the antithesis -- the number of points the Red Bulls need to concede or the opponent needs to get for New York to be unable to overtake them. This refers to any result which would unfavorably harm the Red Bulls in the standings.

Thus, a Sporting Kansas City win (-3) plus a New Red Bulls draw (-2, since the draw would concede two of a possible three points they'd receive from a win) would prevent New York from overtaking the tenants of Livestrong Sporting Park since the combination of events (-5 points) would add up to the tragic number.

(A note: "TB?" asks whether the Red Bulls control the playoff tiebreaker over the club in question according to the league's rules and regulations. If New York doesn't control the tiebreaker, the other club receives one extra point in their favor in the "Magic #" and "Tragic #" columns since New York can't finish tied in the standings without the tiebreaker to their benefit.)

So where does that leave the Red Bulls? Presently, they sit in the final wild card berth according to the MLS Playoff Standings and three points behind the Houston Dynamo.

That latter point is important because, as the MAX column shows, the Dynamo, Red Bulls, and Portland Timbers cannot finish with more than 49 points over their remaining matches.

The Red Bulls hold the tiebreaker over the Dynamo (goal differential) and Timbers (win-loss) as well, which means a three-way tie would give the edge to New York -- and the playoff spot with it. That's backed up by the current "Tragic #" column, which shows that neither the Dynamo nor Timbers can reach it on their own.

Moreover, Houston and Portland kick off against one another on Saturday, October 14 and force the losing side between the Timbers or Dynamo into a 46-point cap or both sides into a 47-point cap in the standings with a draw. If New York wins out, they're guaranteed to jump at least one of those sides.

And what about D.C. United and their recent surge of success and their game in hand on the Red Bulls?

D.C. can still overtake their longtime Eastern Conference rival if they win out, but remember that the Red Bulls are guaranteed to overtake either the Timbers or Dynamo with a three-game win streak of their own. That would mathematically clinch at least 10th place in the standings as well as the final wild card berth -- and that's before any mention of D.C.'s rescheduled match against the Timbers on Wednesday, October 19 and that encounter's ramifications on the Red Bulls pursuit.

So what's the takeaway? New York still has a long way to go before they can print their playoff itinerary, but their postseason plans are still within their control despite their inconsistency and controversies. A little help can go a long way to secure their chances, but there's only one plan Backe needs to implement to ensure a playoff berth before time runs out on the 2011 season.

Win, and you're in.

W2W4: NY Red Bulls at FC Dallas

September, 17, 2011
Sixteen draws and what do you get?

Another week older and deeper in trouble if the New York Red Bulls can't successfully mess with Texas this weekend.

The Red Bulls will take their umpteenth chance at collecting the club's first win since July as they head west to face FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas on Saturday. New York kicks off in search of the much-needed victory that eluded them in the first leg of their regular season encounters against FCD. Thierry Henry scored a brilliant equalizer in the waning moments of that match to answer a second-half brace by FCD midfielder Martin Chavez and sent a shorthanded Red Bulls side off to the All-Star break with a 2-2 draw for their efforts.

New York also salvaged a 1-1 draw last Saturday at Red Bull Arena against an expansion Vancouver Whitecaps side that still lacks its first-ever MLS regular season win on the road. Juan Agudelo came on as a substitute to finish a Rafael Marquez cross and answer a one-man highlight reel goal by Davide Chiumiento, sending the Red Bulls running from home with the club's fifteenth draw of the season.

FC Dallas should be so lucky to collect that kind of result considering their recent form. Despite having the third-best record by points in all of MLS with 46, FCD has lost three of their last five matches including a 2-0 loss against a rebuilding New England Revolution side at Gillette Stadium last Saturday. They're also in the midst of a short work week after failing to make a very early Daniel Cruz goal stand up in a 1-1 draw of a CONCACAF Champions League group stage match on Wednesday at home against Panamanian side Tauro FC.

According to, a decisive Portland Timbers (10-12-6, 36 pts) win on Friday evening over the lowly Revs temporarily pushes the Red Bulls (6-6-15, 33 pts) into the ten spot of the overall league standings. With two games in hand, D.C. United (8-7-10, 34 pts) also sits in between the Red Bulls and the final playoff spot. The Union (8-7-12, 36 pts) maintain a three-point edge over New York to keep hold of the final automatic Eastern Conference playoff berth, though both D.C. and the Houston Dynamo (8-9-12, 36 pts) stand between the Red Bulls and Philadelphia.

Exiguous XI. Though Red Bulls coach Hans Backe notoriously keeps a short bench at his disposal for most matches, it's not entirely his choice to travel to Dallas shorthanded this weekend. Backe's back line will miss the likes of Marquez and Jan Gunnar Solli due to suspension as well as Roy Miller and possibly Tim Ream due to injury, while his offense could lack the forward pairing of Henry and Luke Rodgers as that duo nurse injuries that arose in training earlier this week.

Those absences should create playing time for young playmaker Juan Agudelo up top and Red Bulls rookie defender Stephen Keel, who is expected to make his first appearance since coming on as a sub on August 6 at Real Salt Lake.

Key Matchup: NY's Wide Midfielders vs. FCD's Press. In the first leg of their regular season matches, FCD coach Schellas Hyndman saw his side apply a press that paralyzed the Red Bulls attack while inadvertently muting their own offensive efforts. A late substitute opened up the FCD offense, culminating in Chavez netting two goals in short order.

Meanwhile, New York succumbed to a lesser-caliber press applied by the 'Caps last weekend with a back line not known for its depth. Service was sparse for Henry and Dane Richards up top until Agudelo reinforced the attack with his late arrival as a sub. Save a late shot on goal against a 'Caps defense in prevent mode, Joel Lindpere was present in name only for the majority of the match.

With Henry and Rodgers bearing injuries and possibly missing Saturday's match, someone besides Agudelo will need to step up and step into a Red Bulls attack that hasn't scored an insurance goal in months. Richards could start up top if Henry and/or Rodgers can't go, but Lindpere and possibly Mehdi Ballouchy could be looked upon to join the attacking corps and create traffic in the box.

Price to Pay. One injury New York does not need to accommodate any further is the one to German goalkeeper Frank Rost. Backe cleared Rost to play this weekend in Dallas after reviewing his form in training this week, which could once again bump Bouna Coundoul back to the bench despite a recent run of solid play.

The MLS Players Union recently released its updated payroll earlier this month, which reflects that Rost's designated player status helps him make three times what MLS and the Red Bulls pay their Senegalese shot stopper. New York paid a premium to bring in Rost as a difference maker, but would Backe have made the same decision considering Coundoul's recent successes -- including two consecutive draws in MLS play and a shutout for his native Senegal -- if his German 'keeper and Coundoul collected similar sums?

Zero. While New York's hoping to capture their first win in over two months at Pizza Hut Park, that goose egg represents another streak the Red Bulls hope to put to bed this weekend.

The Red Bulls remain winless this season in away matches outside of their own time zone, with nothing but an 0-3-8 record to show for it. In fact, it has been almost a year since New York has won a regular season match west of Ohio. The Red Bulls last won an away match in a time zone other than Eastern last September 24 in a 2-0 victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy at the Home Depot Center. They also claimed a 1-0 result at Buck Shaw Stadium against the San Jose Earthquakes in the first leg of the MLS playoff quarterfinals last October, only to concede that lead in the second leg before losing 3-2 on aggregate to the Quakes.

Heavy Hearts. If FC Dallas kicks off in a melancholy mood, it's not necessarily due to their recent form in league play.

Saturday's match represents the club's first home match since the loss of Dallas stalwart Bobby Rhine, who passed away on September 5 at the age of 35. Rhine joined the then-Dallas Burn as a player in 1999 and later served in the club's front office and as the team's color commentator on televisions broadcasts, leaving an indelible mark on the soccer legacy of an original MLS side.

FC Dallas will honor Rhine with a pregame ceremony that will include Rhine's family and MLS commissioner Don Garber and a video montage at halftime, while the FCD players will wear black armbands to honor their former forward. FCD fullback Zach Loyd also changed his jersey number from 19 to 12 for the remainder of the season, as the former number belonged to Rhine during his playing days with the club.

FC Dallas endured another loss in recent days as U18 Academy player Jose Perez was killed in a car accident on September 13.

W2W4: NY Red Bulls vs. FC Dallas

July, 23, 2011
With a stinging loss still fresh in their minds, the Red Bulls face one more test before a much-needed All-Star break as they welcome 2010 MLS Cup runner-up FC Dallas to Red Bull Arena on Saturday evening.

New York returns home with its tail between its legs after being summarily trounced 4-1 by the defending MLS Cup champion Colorado Rapids on Wednesday at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. Sanna Nyassi created the offensive spark for the Rapids by netting his first career hat trick, while Thierry Henry spoiled Colorado's clean sheet by scoring his league-leading 10th goal of the season.

FC Dallas has claimed wins in four of their past six MLS regular season matches, with a 1-0 victory over a revamped Toronto FC squad on Wednesday capping their hot streak. Dallas midfielder Brek Shea burned TFC 'keeper Stefan Frei with a bold shot from distance that found the upper 90 of the near post to break a 242-minute scoreless drought for FC Dallas with the game's only goal. It was Shea's ninth goal of the season.

Nothing changed atop the Eastern Conference, as the Philadelphia Union (8-4-7, 31 points) remain two points better than the second-place Red Bulls (6-5-11, 29 points). The Columbus Crew (7-6-7, 28 points) continue to bide their time in third place.

Feel The Burn: As New York prepares to rebound from being burned by the Rapids and to face the MLS squad formally known as the Burn, their most pressing concern will involve the burning sun bearing down on them at first kick. The forecast predicts a temperature of 96 degrees at the start, not to mention the heat index nor what the surface temperature will feel like on the pitch.

Red Bulls coach Hans Backe will need to take great care in not letting his squad overheat en route to finishing the club's last full 90 in MLS play for two weeks -- even if the looming 2011 MLS All-Star Game and Emirates Cup will preclude his squad from resting during that time.

Key Matchup -- Rafael Marquez vs. Brek Shea: Nyassi exposed a fatal flaw in the Red Bulls' back line on Wednesday as he blew past them on all three goals and set up the fourth: Tim Ream and Carlos Mendes lack speed.

Mercifully, Mendes will return to the bench as the Red Bulls welcome Rafael Marquez back to the back line in his first action since leaving the Gold Cup finale with a hamstring injury. New York will need Marquez to quickly plug the hole that Nyassi exploited for a hat trick, or risk FCD midfielders Andrew Jacobson, Daniel Hernandez and Martin Chavez providing service to Shea's lead on the FC Dallas attack through the same gap.

Fixing The Hype Machine: Juan Agudelo continues to carry the weight of lofty expectations on his shoulders after MLS commissioner Don Garber selected him with one of his two picks for next week's All-Star Game.

That unfortunate reality, combined with the lingering absence of Luke Rodgers, means the young Red Bulls forward will be asked to punch above his weight. He has four goals this season -- two during the Toronto FC blowout, one in April against D.C. United, and one in the season opener against Seattle -- and showed a bit of chemistry with Henry up top in setting up the former Gunner's goal on Wednesday.

That chemistry now fuels the Red Bulls offense, whether or not Agudelo is ready for that responsibility.

Scandinavian Shuffle: Backe may be without Teemu Tainio once again as he recovers from a quadriceps strain, which could lead to Mehdi Ballouchy starting alongside Dax McCarty at a holding midfield position, or on the left wing with Joel Lindpere entrenching at center midfield.

If those combinations don't work, the return of Chris Albright could give Backe another option at midfield with Jan Gunnar Solli. Backe has already indicated that Albright will not start on Saturday. But Solli, who has admirably filled the right back role in Albright's absence, is a natural midfielder and could be relieved of his defensive responsibilities with a late Albright substitution to join the Red Bulls attack.

Welcome Home: New York has only one win in 12 games on the road this season, but its home record of 5-2-3 implies that the cozy confines of Red Bull Arena could help lift their spirits. Combining that with an FC Dallas losing streak in New Jersey that stretches back to 2007, and there's a solid setup for the Red Bulls to end the supporters' planned silent protests and give them a reason to cheer.

Backe picks Red Bulls trio as MLS All-Stars

July, 18, 2011
Hans Backe will have some familiar faces at his disposal as he prepares for the national spotlight.

The Red Bulls coach picked Thierry Henry, Juan Agudelo, and Tim Ream to play among the 22 players who will represent the best of MLS against English Premier League powerhouse Manchester United in the 2011 AT&T MLS All-Star Game at Red Bull Arena next week. Backe, who was named MLS All-Stars head coach in June, finalized his selections for the star-studded squad on Monday.

Unlike other American sports leagues that tap their own All-Stars in recognition of their in-season contributions, Backe's selections reflect an emphasis on fielding a competitive squad against a ManU side that claimed a decisive 5-2 win over the MLS All-Stars in the 2010 edition at Reliant Stadium in Houston.

Henry and Ream, along with Red Bulls defender Rafael Marquez, were originally selected by the fans in the All-Star First XI vote earlier this month which guaranteed their place among the All-Star squad but not necessarily a starting role or even playing time. Backe already confirmed last week that Marquez will miss the festivities as he recovers from a groin injury.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber previously designated Agudelo as one of the game's two Commissioner Picks last Saturday. However, Backe has final say on who will be on the pitch to kick off against ManU.

Among Backe's other notable picks include Los Angeles Galaxy midfielders David Beckham, who will face his former EPL side, and Landon Donovan, Chivas USA midfielder and New Jersey native Nick LaBrocca, and San Jose Earthquakes forward and 2010 Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski.

The 2011 AT&T MLS All-Star Game will take place at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday, July 27. First kick is scheduled for 8:30 p.m.

The final roster is below:

Goalkeeper: Tally Hall (Houston Dynamo), Faryd Mondragón (Philadelphia Union)

Defenders: Corey Ashe (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo), Bobby Convey (San Jose Earthquakes), Sean Franklin (LA Galaxy), Jámison Olave (Real Salt Lake), Heath Pearce (Chivas USA), Tim Ream (New York Red Bulls).

Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), David Beckham (LA Galaxy), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Jack Jewsbury (Portland Timbers), Shalrie Joseph (New England Revolution), Nick LaBrocca (Chivas USA)

Forwards: Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls), Omar Bravo (Sporting Kansas City), Omar Cummings (Colorado Rapids), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Inactive All-Stars*: Kasey Keller (Seattle Sounders FC), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Rafa Márquez (New York Red Bulls), Brek Shea (FC Dallas)

*Inactive All-Stars will be replaced via player voting at a later date.

W2W4: NY Red Bulls at Chicago Fire

June, 26, 2011
The New York Red Bulls wind down their three-game road trip in the Prairie State as they face the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park in a Sunday matinee (2 p.m. ET, ESPN, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes).

New York hopes to leave its defensive lapses behind them after dropping a 4-2 result on Thursday to the Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field. The return of Dane Richards and an own goal by Sounders defender Zach Scott helped New York answer two early goals by midfielders Eric Friberg and Osvaldo Alonso, but Roger Levesque's second-half brace clinched a win for the home club in its newly-renamed stadium.

Chicago carries and eight-game unbeaten streak into Sunday's contest after battling to a scoreless draw against Real Salt Lake on Wednesday. That unbeaten run includes an active streak of five draws at home and three overall. Fire captain Marco Pappa returned from Gold Cup duty with Guatemala to solidify a midfield that created several scoring chances against RSL.

A decisive Philadelphia Union 3-2 win over Chivas USA at PPL Park on Saturday evening leaves New York three points behind first place in the Eastern Conference.

Ready to Reload. The Red Bulls will receive an offensive boost from the return of Thierry Henry, who missed Thursday's match while serving a one-game suspension for receiving a straight red card towards the end of last Sunday's match at Portland. The return of Henry -- who will likely start up top next to Dwayne De Rosario as Luke Rodgers continues to rest the plantar fasciitis in his left foot -- enables Richards to move back to his regular right midfield position, which should help add speed and creativity to a section where New York fell flat against Seattle.

Key Matchup: NY's Back Line v. Chicago's Midfield. While goalkeeper Greg Sutton carries a chunk of the blame for New York's inability to keep Seattle from finding the back of the net, the struggles of Stephen Keel and Carlos Mendes have left a deficiency in the defense for other teams to attack at will. The Red Bulls will finally have Rafael Marquez and Tim Ream back later this week after Mexico defeated the United States in the Gold Cup Final on Saturday, but Keel and Mendes will need to hold down the fort for one more match in the interim.

That Fire attack has mustered a meager two goals in five June matches, but has seen some chemistry build between midfielders Patrick Nyarko and Dominic Oduro over that stretch. Add in the return of Pappa and suddenly Chicago's offensive capabilities look considerably stronger. Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas may not use all three at the same time on Sunday, but will look to them to create chances for the home side while forward Christian Nazarit serves the second leg a of a two-game suspension.

If Keel and Mendes want to leave their starting jobs on a high note, they'll need to break up whatever Nyassi, Oduro, and Pappa try to create for Chicago in the offensive end.

Thirteen. According to, that's how many set piece goals New York has surrendered via set piece since battling the LA Galaxy to a 1-1 draw on May 7. That came to ahead on Thursday as Seattle created two early goals in the ensuing scrums following corner kicks, with Sutton unable to steal a shot.

It's easy to say that New York should simply defend better, but one wonders if Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe can unlock the combination for his zonal marking system to defend against the set piece. It has to get better because it can't possibly get any worse.

Bouna Bound? Sutton has started every match since the May 21 draw to the Houston Dynamo at Robertson Stadium. Thursday's loss was Sutton's first in that stretch, with no clean sheets over that seven-game run to counter it.

Sutton has also started twice in the last seven days, with his lack of reaction in the area costing New York dearly in their loss at Seattle. Backe likely should strongly consider starting Bouna Coundoul in net, if only to give Sutton a chance to rejuvenate from his heavy workload. Sutton may still be Backe's guy, but he won't be for long if Coundoul can't give him a break anytime soon.

Big Mouth. New York took a hit in the pocketbook on Friday as MLS commissioner Don Garber handed down a $10,000 fine to Red Bulls GM Erik Soler for the latter's criticisms of the unbalanced officiating at Portland last Sunday. While that won't directly affect New York's play on the field, it remains to be seen whether Soler should continue to point the finger at the U.S. Soccer officials or his own players.

RBNY Notebook: Soler calls foul on Portland refs

June, 21, 2011
After his squad accrued a season-high 25 fouls -- including Thierry Henry's third career red card -- on Sunday, Red Bulls GM Erik Soler joined the fracas by crying foul about the officiating.

On Monday, Soler released the following statement with regard to the foul imbalance that transpired between the Red Bulls and Timbers during Sunday's match at Jeld-Wen Field:
“We have carefully reviewed the film of our match against Portland last night and I can safely say that the level of refereeing was absolutely below the standards of what is required for a MLS match and completely unacceptable. First, the red card given to Thierry Henry was inexplicable. There was no violent conduct on his part whatsoever and this decision was made by a linesman who was more than half a field away. Second, in any soccer game, there is no way that one team can draw 20 more fouls than the other team, especially in a match where one team drew just five fouls. I have never seen this occur in my 30 years in the game.
We are aware that U.S. Soccer and MLS are working hard to improve the officiating in this country and we support those efforts wholeheartedly. However, if we want to continue increasing the level of play, we cannot let these types of refereeing performances occur. We look forward to speaking with the League to appeal Thierry’s automatic red card suspension and expect that it will be rescinded so that he is available for our match Thursday in Seattle.”

Unlike other North American sports leagues, Major League Soccer does not possess any direct influence over the referees overseeing the matches. Instead, U.S. Soccer supplies and oversees the referee corps assigned to every match -- meaning the buck stops with U.S. Soccer and not MLS in terms of clarification of referee controversies. MLS can review and adjust penalties given by referees, but cannot dictate policy as to how referees administer their rule enforcement responsibilities.

The only known transparency of referee oversight comes in the form of the 2011 Referee Week in Review blog located on U.S. Soccer's web site. After recapping the circumstances surrounding Henry's ejection, MLS referee Michael Kennedy offers the following assessment in this week's blog regarding how the referees handled the situation:
Despite all the variables at play, the referee crew does a good job of maintaining their focus on all elements of the game. The referee and assistant referee do an excellent job of communicating to make sure the misconduct is addressed. This incident happens in stoppage time of a closely contested game and is a great example of why referee crews must be vigilant and maintain their concentration until the final whistle.

That statement celebrates the referees' vigilance, but offers little in contextual terms of the dialogue between the referee and the assistant referee that led to the French striker being sent off. Soler will likely ask for further clarification during his appeal to the league later this week.

What a Coincidence. Timbers coach John Spencer watched Sunday's match from the owners' box as he served a one-game suspension and paid a $2,500 fine for publicly criticizing the referees during and after his club's 1-0 loss to the Colorado Rapids on June 11. Whether Soler or the Red Bulls receive a similar fate is up to MLS commissioner Don Garber.

Low Level. While Dwayne De Rosario answered Henry's ejection by converting the Red Bulls' first successful penalty kick of the season to salvage the 3-3 draw, the former Gunner could not endorse the resiliency of his shorthanded club in stoppage time.

“I don’t think Portland deserved to draw the game, and I don’t think we did deserve to draw the game either,” Henry said to “They deserved to win.”

Henry was nominated for AT&T Goal of the Week honors after lifting a shot past Timbers 'keeper Tony Perkins inside the near post for his league-leading eighth goal of the season, but remains unavailable for Thursday's match against the Seattle Sounders pending Soler's appeal to the MLS Disciplinary Committee.

Wilpons send up MLS trial balloon with Greece, Ecuador friendly

May, 11, 2011
Tickets went on sale at 10 a.m. Tuesday morning for an exhibition match between Ecuador and Greece at Citi Field. While the friendly represents the first non-baseball professional sporting event in Citi Field’s short lifetime, the implications of its success could impact the future of Major League Soccer in New York.

Or, more importantly, MLS’s next expansion team. Next season, MLS will welcome the NASL’s Montreal Impact as the league’s 19th team. In order to keep an even number of teams in each conference, MLS commissioner Don Garber has indicated his intentions on several occasions to expand the league to 20 teams starting in 2013. Garber frequently couples those sentiments with his preference to award the next expansion club to New York.

In an interview with Sports Illustrated prior to MLS First Kick last March, Garber has said publicly that he has held several conversations with New York Mets owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon regarding that 20th team.

“We remain in discussions with them,” Garber said to’s Grant Wahl in March. “They continue to have interest in MLS, and they also have a pretty darn good stadium site.”

Now, the home of the Mets -- which is privately owned by the Wilpons -- will host a friendly this summer. What a coincidence.

While the Wilpons’ entanglement in the Madoff trustees lawsuit may limit their financial plans indefinitely, MLS may need to move soon to give a new ownership group time to bring a soccer franchise up to league speed.

However, Garber may wait until the last minute to award the franchise in hopes of a prominent and long-standing MLB ownership group sorting out its troubles and signing on to join the MLS fray.

“I have a lot of respect for Fred and Jeff Wilpon,” said Garber last March. “And I think there’s more to that story that’s still to be told. I hope they’re able to solve whatever their short-term issues are.

“I’m sure they’ll get through their issues, and our decision here is going to be one for a generation. We’ve got to be sure we’ve got the right owner for the long term.”

The last two expansion teams, the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps, received their league invitations two years prior to each team’s MLS debut last March. Both of those franchises had the benefit of a pre-existing organizational structure from its prior involvement with the NASL. The Impact possess the same luxury ahead of their 2012 MLS debut.

And the Wilpons? Their journey to bring an MLS franchise to Queens may need to begin with a first kick between Ecuador and Greece in June.

Adam Rubin has the press release regarding the Ecuador-Greece friendly here.