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Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Updated: August 5, 10:59 AM ET
Will Marquez turn Bulls into dynasty?

By Leander Schaerlaeckens
ESPN.com

Each week, Leander Schaerlaeckens will answer five pressing (to him) soccer questions without (enough) regard for the consequences of what he is saying.

Does the addition of Rafael Marquez and Thierry Henry to an already-strong team now make New York Red Bulls the best MLS team of all time?

In order to be the best of all time, you have to win some hardware. So in terms of achievements, D.C. United -- thanks to their trophy haul in the late 1990s -- is still the greatest MLS team there has ever been.

That said, NYRB, at least on paper, boasts a squad that, over the next few years, could compete with that D.C. team of yore and become the greatest in league history.

With a spine consisting of, from front to back, Juan Pablo Angel, Thierry Henry, Joel Lindpere, Rafael Marquez, and super rookie/central defender Tim Ream, NYRB could be splendid. But they will have to fill out that lineup with capable role players. The defense especially warrants an upgrade in several spots.

The signing of Mexico's captain Marquez does add legitimacy to a squad that looked top-heavy. At 30, Marquez is still in his prime of his career. Plus, he'll bring considerable defensive value for years to come.

Reader question: I know Landon [Donovan] played well for Everton last season and he had an excellent World Cup, but is a transfer to Europe this season still necessary to validate American soccer? I hope that when I go to see Union host Galaxy that Donovan is not there. I really believe he needs to help show the world the U.S. can produce top-level footy talent. Thoughts? -- Nick Youngstein, Mount Laurel, NJ

That's an argument that seems to come up a lot, Nick.

But I'm not buying it. For starters, I don't think the weight of American soccer and its credibility rest entirely on Donovan's shoulders. He shares that burden with the rest of the men's national team. And all but a few USMNT starters have earned their respect in Europe. With the notable performances of Clint Dempsey -- who many in England rate higher than Donovan -- Jay DeMerit, Brad Friedel, Marcus Hahnemann and Tim Howard, Americans have built a good reputation in England. So Donovan playing there and building on his strong spell with Everton wouldn't have an enormous impact in terms of how the world views U.S. soccer.

The interests of American soccer would be best served by Donovan staying in MLS. His reputation got such a shot in the arm at the World Cup that he is now the first American truly capable of drawing people into stadiums. David Beckham and Henry are marquee attractions, of course. But the American public will ultimately have to be conditioned to come to see top U.S. talent if this league is to attain any sort of relevance on a domestic sports scene dominated by NFL, MLB and NBA. We're so concerned with MLS' image abroad that we sometimes forget that.

Are referees doing a good job, after all?

Referees get it right more often than we can reasonably expect them to, according to scientists who study the human brain.

While the 2010 World Cup became synonymous with refereeing blunders, these scientists say that officials are doing an outstanding job given the capacity of the brain to judge action on the pitch. The gist of the study suggests that the time officials need to make a decision is less than your mind requires to properly process multiple pieces of information, such as an offsides call that involves multiple players. What's more, the scientists say that a single referee can keep track of only up to four players and see everything those players do.

Does this mean that all is forgiven for the Frank Lampard goal that wasn't given? Hardly.

It's just another reminder that we need instant-replay technology. Otherwise, we're asking too much of referees and then blasting them -- often unfairly -- when they get it wrong.

Take note, Flat Earth Society -- and FIFA too.

Publicly reprimanding your national soccer team for six hours is not cool, Kim Jong-il. Or is it?

Wee North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-il, wasn't amused by his country's clobbering at the World Cup. Apparently under the impression that the three-month training camp he subjected them to and the tactical advice he had bestowed on his coach would allow a team very short on talent to compete in South Africa, Kim Jong-il must have been thoroughly embarrassed.

So what does a good dictator do when he is embarrassed? He takes it out on others, of course.

Reports have started trickling in from a wide array of sources that almost the entire North Korea team -- save for two Japanese-born players -- had been called in to a public shaming shortly after returning home. For six hours, the players and the coach were allegedly excoriated for their mistakes and ideological imperfections by all manner of ministers, officials and other regime hangers-on. The players were then forced to criticize their coach, a big no-no in a society which places a premium on hierarchy and honor.

If these reports are true, we have to ask: Where's FIFA? The sport's governing body is quick to condemn and harshly punish political interference in the operations of one of its member soccer federations. France, for its decision to call coach Raymond Domenech before parliament to offer a much-needed explanation for the World Cup debacle, had played with fire. FIFA had let the country know as much. Nigeria, whose president announced after his country's ouster from the tournament that he would be withdrawing the team from competition for two years to rebuild, got an equally stern telling-off, not to mention the threat of a lengthy suspension.

But on North Korea? Crickets. We know Sepp Blatter & Co., aren't too busy delving into the intricacies of instant-replay technology. Yet they've been conspicuously silent. If there is any truth to what we're hearing -- and FIFA should make it its business to find out -- only the harshest of condemnations and punishments should do. But the sport's governing body is only good at playing the big dog when it knows its opponent will back down without a fight.

Is the spree of possible foreign takeovers of EPL clubs bad for the league?

Not necessarily, but it depends on how those foreign owners run the club.

On the day that former Syrian international and businessman Yahya Kirdi announced that he isn't terribly far from buying up Liverpool in an attempt to cut Chinese investor Kenny Huang off at the pass for the Reds, India's Ahsan Ali Syed targeted Blackburn for acquisition.

All promise fortune and fame, honoring the big-spending tradition fostered by foreign investors at Chelsea and Manchester City. The approach contrasts to the more prudent, belt-tightening and ticket price-raising strategy of American owners, the Glazer family at Manchester United and Tom Hicks and George Gillett at Liverpool.

Indeed, in many ways the Glazer-model is preferable. An owner who has a vested interest in the club's bottom line won't treat it like a toy. In other words, he's less likely to get bored and eventually abandon and sell the club, which has grown accustomed to a life of riches and is left saddled with a payroll to match.

Finances in the EPL have spiraled out of control in the past decade. Bringing in a wealthy foreigner to buy championships doesn't solve the long-term issue of clubs that are in the red season after season.

Sugar daddies come and go. It's what happens when they decide to leave that should worry the Premier League.

Got a question, rant or musing tangentially related to soccer that you’d like Leander to answer? Write him at leander.espn@gmail.com.