The 3-5-2: Crewd Behavior, Bad Yanks and McReturn

Goal.com USA's Greg Lalas comes out shooting from the hip, giving opinions on everything from the racial incident in Columbus last weeekend, the U.S. National Team's loss to England and Brian McBride's upcoming return to MLS.

By Greg Lalas

3...Thoughts on the Ugly Scenes at Crew Stadium

Streamers are not the enemy. I was in Columbus on Saturday night, calling the Crew-Revolution game for radio, and I watched the Crew fans douse New England captain Steve Ralston with streamers. On the air, I defended the fans, calling them a fun, colorful bunch supporting their team with real passion. This is what we’ve always wanted, isn’t it? Sure, it makes corner kicks frustrating, but American soccer freaks have been lamenting the lack of European-style support for so long, how can we honestly decry a cascade of streamers?

Idiots are the enemy. The problem is that I’m a romantic idealist. Perhaps a naïf. I’m a veteran of the league’s early years, when it seemed impossible that anyone could care enough about an MLS team to take his support beyond the pale.

But that’s exactly what happened in Ohio. It is a slippery slope from good fun to idiotic threat, as seen by the quick escalation of events at Crew Stadium. Suddenly, smoke bombs, coins, and bottles rained down on Ralston and the rest of the Revolution. What kind of moron throws a bottle at a player? The re-enactment of 1980s-style hooliganism is about as pathetic as it gets.

Racist remarks need to be dealt with harshly and swiftly. This cellphone video of the Revolution’s goal (they won 1-0), scored by Zimbabwean striker Kheli Dube, includes a racial epithet hurled by some fan toward the celebrating Revs. It’s impossible to see the speaker. But his words are clear enough: “You n****r.”

This reprehensible act has no place in the world, let alone in MLS, but it is one of the uglier consequences of growth and success. The league must do something about it now. It must set a precedent. Columbus, which admits they did little to police the fan section, should be fined and docked points.

At the same time, the Revolution’s Shalrie Joseph, who reportedly flipped off the Columbus fans  after the goal --- it’s difficult to see on the video the exact gesture he makes -- should be fined and suspended for his actions, if they are proven conclusively.

5...Reflections on England-USA

Yes, it was as bad as it looked up top. Josh Wolff can’t start for his mediocre 2nd-division team in Germany, yet he’s starting for the U.S.? To be honest, I would’ve rather seen Nate Jaqua out there. At least Jaqua has played games in the last few months -- and scored goals. Eddie Johnson is still clueless about how to hold the ball up, or even how to get to the ball. How often did John Terry beat him to the ball?

The holding midfielders were worrisome, too. Michael Bradley was not his usual cocky, precise, hard-tackling self, and Ricardo Clark gave away possession too often. And both failed to stay with their runners or apply adequate pressure to the service (see: Steven Gerrard’s goal). In Bob Bradley’s box-like Chelsea-style midfield, these two are the key. They are Makalele and Essien, and they need to do a better job of staying with runners, maintaining proper spacing, and communicating with the backs. After some decent performances of late, this game was a step back in this area.

There were some positives (though seen through the lens of a negative). Absence makes the heart grow fonder, as some poetic bugger once said. And so, I’m not above saying that my heart is fonder of Landon Donovan today than it was two days ago. In LD’s absence, due to a groin strain, the U.S. team had no attacking creativity, no screw-you threat, no game-changing quickness.

LD’s absence also says something about how far the American player has changed since 1994, the last time the U.S. played at Wembley. The previous generation of American players, the “1994 Generation,” if you will, which included the likes of John Harkes, Alexi Lalas, and Eric Wynalda, wouldn’t have missed this game unless they had a broken femur. And then there better be bone showing through the skin. Many of us glorify this older ethic.

But Donovan is not the same type of green, wide-eyed, gee-I’m-so-lucky-to-be-here kind of player that comprised the 1994 Generation. He’s the modern, confident American player who sees himself on par with his global counterparts. Kaka’ or Lionel Messi wouldn’t kill themselves to play a friendly at Wembley, why should Landon? If he’s hurt, then playing for romanticism makes no sense. I applaud this attitude.

Freddy Adu did okay. He at least tried to inject a little oomph into the game with some clever flicks, probing passes, and a shot (gaps!). But he’s not ready for this level yet. He needs more games at Benfica, or whatever team his new agents at IMG find for him.

 2...Hurrahs for Brian McBride’s Return

He’s even more than he seems. McBride is 36, but he plays like he’s 30. He’s fit, strong, and so vastly experienced now, that he can make up for any age-related physical deficiencies. His aerial ability gets the flashbulbs going, but he is even more valuable for his back-to-the-goal hold-up play, his off-the-ball running, and his tireless defensive work.

Chicago are now clear favorites to win MLS Cup. The Fire, led by Cuauhtemoc Blanco’s ingenuity, have a league-best +13 goal differential -- without a dead-eye finisher like McBride. Chad Barrett and Chris Rolfe have done well enough, but McBride, who is rumored to be Chicago-bound, is an entirely different level. With Blanco providing the service, McBride’s scoring ability raises the threat level in Chicago to fire-engine red. Look for them to cruise to the Eastern Conference and make a run for their first Cup since 1998.

The Keeper...Bill Gates, soccer fan?

Since MLS teams started selling jersey sponsorships a few years ago, the first deal was in Salt Lake, of all places. Xango.com, a TK company, appeared on the Real Salt Lake jerseys in 2006. This was progress, except for the fact that no one had any clue what Xango was. If a man is judged by the company he keeps, then a team could be judged by the company it endorses. Xango seemed to say MLS was still minor league.

Since the RSL deal, however, some big-name sponsors have come on board: Herballife in LA, Best Buy in Chicago, Glidden in Columbus. This year, two multinational giants have signed on: Volkswagen’s iconic blue circle now graces D.C. United’s shirts, and yesterday it was announced that the Seattle Sounders, who join MLS in 2009, had struck a $4 million-a-year deal with Microsoft. Sounders jerseys will read “X-Box 360” across the front.

Microsoft. It doesn’t get any more major league than that. So far, the Sounders are doing everything right.