Rumor: Figo and AEG Ink Deal

Rumors linking Inter Milan star Figo with a move to MLS have flared up once again, with reports out of Portugal that a deal with AEG has already been signed.Since the addition of the DP, several players' names have consistently come up when talking about who could be the next big-name star to play in America: Ronaldo, Shevchenko, Zidane, and Figo, just to mention a few. But this time around, the Portuguese midfielder may actually be ready to make the jump. Correio da Manha is reporting that the player has reached a two-year deal with Anschutz Entertainment Group to play in America, which will pay him roughly $10.3 million over that span.

AEG currently owns two clubs in Major League Soccer: the champion Houston Dynamo and the Los Angeles Galaxy. The move means the player would have to be counted as a DP, and LA has David Beckham occupying their only such slot. Therefore, either Figo will be joining the Dynamo or Los Angeles has traded for a second slot, if the rumors are to be believe.

Figo is currently recovering from a fractured shin suffered in early November during a clash with Juventus midfielder Pavel Nedved and has said publicly that he plans to retire from football when his contract with Inter runs out in the summer.

At 35, Figo is clearly not a youngster anymore, and he's coming back from a major injury to boot. If the deal does go down, would it be a good one for the league or not?

First Camp of '08 Announced

The United States Soccer Federation today unveiled a list of the 26 players invited to the first U.S. National Team camp of the New Year. Head coach Bob Bradley's choices were again heavily domestic, owing to the fact that the Jan. 19 friendly against Sweden at the Home Depot Center does not fall on an international fixture date. Twenty-three MLS players were named to the roster, with three Scandinavian players completing the inaugural 2008 squad.
A few notes on the roster:

- Houston Dynamo midfielder Ricardo Clark was among those named to the roster. Should he see action on January 19th, it would be his first competitive soccer played since the end of September, when he received an MLS-record nine-game suspension for violently kicking FC Dallas forward Carlos Ruiz during a melee in the box on a set piece. Clark has made 10 appearances for the Nats, recording his first-ever goal for the senior squad in July against Paraguay in this past summer's Copa America.

- Six different players will be looking to secure their first career cap: Clarence Goodson, Will Hesmer, Matt Pickens, Eddie Robinson, Zach Wells and Jeremiah White. Eleven others have earned fewer than five caps, highlighting the youthful inexperience of Bradley's selections.

- Landon Donovan should be in line to make appearance #97 for his country, and will take over sole position of first place on the U.S. career scoring charts with his next goal, which would be the 35th of his already-impressive international career.

- MLS Rookie of the Year Maurice Edu, Goalkeeper of the Year Brad Guzan, and Defender of the Year Michael Parkhurst are also among the invitees.


Full roster by position:

GK: Brad Guzan (Chivas USA), Will Hesmer (Columbus Crew), Matt Pickens (Chicago Fire), Zach Wells (D.C. United)

DEF: Dan Califf (Aalborg BK), Jimmy Conrad (KC Wizards), Ramiro Corrales (SK Brann), Todd Dunivant (Toronto FC), Clarence Goodson (San Jose Earthquakes), Drew Moor (FC Dallas), Michael Parkhurst (NE Revolution), Eddie Robinson (Houston Dynamo), Marvell Wynne (Toronto FC)

MF: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Ricardo Clark (Houston Dynamo), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Maurice Edu (Toronto FC), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA), Justin Mapp (Chicago Fire), Pat Noonan (NE Revolution)

FW: Josmer Altidore (NY Red Bulls), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Eddie Johnson (KC Wizards), Chris Rolfe (Chicago Fire), Taylor Twellman (NE Revolution), Jeremiah White (AGF Aarhus)


Ronaldo Wooed by Many

AC Milan striker Ronaldo is almost certainly in his last days and weeks with the Rossoneri, while many clubs are lining up to woo the often-injured Brazilian superstar. With his contract up in June and his place in Milan's future lost, Milan could try to cash in when the winter transfer window opens up, as interest floods in from every corner of the globe, including MLS.

Signed from Real Madrid in January 2007, Ronaldo has made just a single appearance for Milan and is currently back in his home country to receive treatment for his latest injury.

Among the possible destinations for the 31-year-old:

Flamengo (Brazil): Though the club claims that they have entered negotiations with Milan in hopes of wooing Ronaldo home, FIFA agent Ernesto Bronzetti says no such meetings have taken place. Flamengo could be trying to upstage fellow Brazilians Sao Paolo, who earlier secured the services of Adriano from Inter.

Red Bull New York (USA): Reportedly made an offer for Ronaldo in January of 2007, around the same time David Beckham signed with LA Galaxy. Both of New York's 'Designated Player' slots are currently occupied by Juan Pablo Angel and Claudio Reyna, but there have been whispers that team officials would be open to buying out Reyna's contract if they were in need of a DP spot to sign an international superstar.

In addition to the two clubs above, the Middle East could beckon Ronaldo as a final big payday - an option many former superstars have chosen in recent years. Also, there has been interest from Japan as the country's J-League continues to attract higher-caliber players.


Champions Cup Draw Announced

The draw for the CONCACAF Champions Cup was held on Tuesday, with implications for two Major League Soccer sides participating in the tournament.D.C. United, back-to-back winners of the Supporters Shield, will face Jamaican club Harbour View FC, while the defending back-to-back MLS champion Houston Dynamo will take on Guatemala's Club Social y Deportivo Municipal in their quarterfinal series.

The tournament will begin in mid-March, with United traveling to Jamaica and Houston traveling to Guatemala for first-leg matches that will take place between March 11 and 13. The second-leg matches will be at the homes of the Dynamo and United, respectively, between March 18 and 20.

If Houston prevails in their series, they will face the winner of the Deportivo Saprissa - Atlante series. D.C. would face the winner of the Pachuca - Motagua quarterfinal series.

The semifinals will be played between April 1 and 10, with the final series being played between April 22 and May 1.

D.C. United (1998) and the Los Angeles Galaxy (2000) are the only MLS teams to ever win the Champions Cup trophy.

All-Star Competition Choices

Major League Soccer is in discussions with four of the biggest clubs in world football to be the opponent for the 2008 All-Star Game, to be held at Toronto's BMO Field. The clubs involved in talks include Liverpool FC, Bayern Munich, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, according to a report in the Toronto Star.

Liverpool is considered to be the front-runner as the team is owned by American George Gillett, who also owns the NHL's Montreal Canadiens. They also share a major sponsor with Toronto FC, that being Carlsberg.

Though no date has been set for the mid-summer classic, MLS is looking at a Thursday night in mid-summer, likely either July 24 or July 31.

"At this point, there is no clear favorite, the source said. MLS may not finalize its decision until February or March. The league continues to track other English, German and South American opponents in case their preferred four fall through."

Atiba Harris Traded to Chivas

Real Salt Lake has traded forward Atiba Harris to Chivas USA for a third-round pick in the 2008 MLS SuperDraft, the team announced Wednesday.
The draft pick (#37 overall) gives RSL four picks inside the top 40 in January's draft, with the 3rd, 14th and 17th picks also belonging to the club. Chivas, on the other hand, will have just one selection to make when the draft rolls around. Their only pick comes as the first of the fourth round (43rd overall), a spot they gained when back-up keeper Preston Burpo was traded to San Jose.

Harris, 22, has scored four goals in his two-year MLS career, though he was blanked in 2007, registering only a single assist in 1,259 minutes played. He became the first player from St. Kitts and Nevis to sign with a European club, when he did so in 2004 with Spanish club Cadiz. He also became the first player from the tiny island nation to play in MLS. Harris has also featured on his country's national team since 2000, scoring seven times in 22 appearances.

In February 2006, he was the focus over some off-color comments allegedly made by then-D.C. United head coach Peter Nowak. After an RSL-D.C. preseason exhibition match, Real officials claim Nowak said the player should be "sent back to Africa," a claim disputed by Nowak to this day.


Aston Villa, Others Chasing Edu

Maurice Edu, Major League Soccer's 2007 Rookie of the Year, is being pursued by several clubs, including a handful from the English Premier League, according to Toronto FC head coach Mo Johnston.
Selected first in the 2007 SuperDraft, Edu tallied four goals and an assist in his first year in the league and has apparently caught the eye of several teams around the world who are interested in arranging a transfer for the 20-year-old.

"There's a couple teams who have contacted us," said Johnston. "You'll have interest any time you have a great young talent. It is great for Maurice but until it happens, he's still part of Toronto FC."

Aston Villa is reportedly leading the chase to get Edu, with the English club getting a first-hand look at the lad during an exhibition at BMO Field this past summer. But the youngster, for now, claims he is happy playing for TFC.

"I love it in Toronto and the club and city have been really great to me," said Edu. I have aspirations to play in Europe so when opportunities come, I'll consider them and determine if I think they are a good fit or not."

Johnston, pointing to the strength of the league, hopes Edu will decide to stay a member of his club for many years to come, saying: "The MLS is getting stronger and stronger every day and there really is no need for the top players to leave. We try to keep all our best players here, but sometimes you get an offer of money that you just can't turn down."

Perkins Transfer Official

D.C. United has reportedly reached an agreement with Norwegian club Valerenga on a transfer fee in the range of $750,000 for goalkeeper Troy Perkins.The 2006 Goalkeeper of the Year, Perkins, 26, will make roughly $200,000 annually over the next five years, which represents a 150% increase over his 2007 salary of $87,500 with D.C. He becomes the first player from the American continent to sign with the team, and the sixth American to feature in a Norwegian club's lineup.

Perkins compiled a 16-6-7 record with D.C. in 2007, posting a 1.10 GAA to go along with eight shutouts. In 77 career games in the league, Perkins went 36-19-22, with a 1.22 career GAA and 19 shutouts.

United began preparing for his departure last week, when the club arranged a trade with the Houston Dynamo for their back-up 'keeper, Zach Wells.

About Valerenga: Founded in 1913, Oslo-based Valerenga has been crowned champions of the Tippeligaen five times, with their most recent triumph coming in 2005. The '07 season saw the club finish 7th out of 14 clubs in the country's top division, going 10-6-10 during the regular season.

Beckham to Train with Arsenal

Los Angeles Galaxy and England midfielder David Beckham is set to train with Arsenal of the English Premier League for around a month of the MLS off-season, according to Gunners skipper Arsene Wenger.
Beckham, who last suited up for the Galaxy in the team's 3-1 exhibition victory over A-League side Wellington Phoenix at the start of December, is hoping to keep his profile high in the mind of new England coach Fabio Capello ahead of a February 6th friendly against Switzerland. If selected to the squad, it would be Beckham's 100th career cap, a milestone the superstar has long had his sights set on.

"We will help him to get fit and prepare for the season. There's a good chance that he will come in January, but it's not decided. He has 99 caps and I hope he will get 100, if not 100 then 120," said Wenger. "At his age, he needs to keep fit."

Wenger immediately dismissed the possibility of the club trying to add Beckham to the lineup permanently, however, saying: "He comes (only) to keep fit and work hard."


Kinnear Contract Renewed

The back-to-back champion Houston Dynamo have extended the contract of current head coach Dominic Kinnear through the 2010 season, the team has announced.Kinnear, 40, has led the club to championships in each of the franchise's first two years in Houston. It was the first time in 10 years that a team has gone back-to-back in MLS, and only the second time in history.

"We believe that Dominic Kinnear is one of the best coaches in the league," Dynamo president Oliver Luck said. "His success with the team over the past two years speaks for itself. We are delighted that Kinnear is under contract for the next three years."

Kinnear has compiled a 53-30-41 record all-time in his coaching career, and has won four MLS Cups, two of those coming as an assistant with the San Jose Earthquakes in '01 and '03. Prior to this year's championship game, San Jose had requested - and was denied - permission to speak to Houston's skipper about a possible return to the Bay Area, possibly prompting a rush on new contract talks in Houston.


KC Development Plan Passes

The Kansas City Wizards path to a soccer-specific stadium of their own just got a little smoother. The infamous $949 million Three Trails redevelopment plan for the run-down Bannister Mall area was approved unanimously by the Kansas City Council on Thursday.
In a stunning turn of events, KC Mayor Mark Funkhouser dropped his objections to the project's use of a special tax incentive called super tax increment financing, and fully backed the development. Last-minute negotiations apparently changed Funkhouser's mind. "Thank you for working with me to get us to a position where I am able to support this and still feel in good conscience," he said. "What we're doing in the long term is good for Kansas City as a whole."

The developer, Lane4 Property Group, wants to build an 18,500-seat soccer stadium for the Wizards, a 12-field tournament soccer complex, a 250-room hotel, up to 1.1 million square feet of retail, and up to 1.7 million square feet of office space.

"We are convinced this will turn our area around," said Councilman John Sharp, whose district includes the closed Bannister Mall.

"Voting yes makes real a field of dreams - soccer dreams," said Councilwoman Cathy Jolly, who also represents the area. "It is our time, and I couldn't be more pleased.

The project will require $273 million in tax incentives and other assistance from the city and state, about 29% of the eventual cost. The most heavily subsidized part of the project is the first phase - the construction of the soccer stadium, amateur soccer complex and the hotel.

The Wizards want the city to own the facility, but the team would be responsible for maintenance, capital repairs and any operating deficits.

"It's an incredibly exciting day," said Wizards executive vice president Greg Cotton. "This is the culmination, for some of us, of a four-year ordeal. From the time Lamar Hunt put the team up for sale until just 15 minutes ago, the future of the team in Kansas City was in doubt. This is a huge step for not only Kansas City and the fans of the Wizards, but the fans of Major League Soccer who didn't want to see a great soccer city like Kansas City lose its team."

"We need to move forward. We need to get into the stadium in the spring of 2010, so we need to start as soon as possible," said Wizards president Robb Heineman. "We can't physically get everything going until probably by Jan. 31. We still have to do a pretty large demolition project before we can start digging. But our intent would be to start digging the stadium sometime in the September time frame."

Borgetti Weighing MLS Offers

Mexican star Jared Borgetti is mulling over offers from a pair of MLS clubs.
The Cruz Azul striker has finished the first 12-months of his two-year deal with the team, but has the option to leave after completing his first year, under terms of the contract. After rejecting offers to move abroad to Ukraine or Russia, Borgetti, has revealed that the Colorado Rapids and Kansas City Wizards have both expressed interest in signing him.

"The truth is we are looking at some options, but I don't rule out the possibility of staying with Cruz Azul. There is nothing concrete at the moment," he said. "In the United States, the way clubs manage transfers is different, so depending on the people there we could hold talks with one team or another. We have already talked to Kansas and Colorado, looking at what possibilities we have. Anyway, I won't pick up the first offer that appears. I will try to stay on in Mexican football."

Borgetti, 34, has been a regular with El Tri since 1997, scoring 43 goals in 87 appearances. His greatest club success came as a member of Santos Laguna, scoring an amazing 189 times in 295 games from 1997-2004. Most recently, he played for Bolton Wanderers in the English Premier League, scoring in league play, the FA Cup, and the Carling Cup for the club before being released in 2006. After a brief stint with Saudi Arabia's Al-Ittihad, Borgetti returned home, signing with Cruz Azul in '07.

Veron Deal Dead

Several domestic sources, including Steven Goff and Ives Galarcep, are reporting that the Juan Sebastian Veron-to-D.C. United deal is DEAD!After several months of build-up, the club's signing of the Argentinean star was all but official. It was widely expected that United would unveil their new Designated Player sometime next week. But now, it seems as if La Brujita has had a change of mind, opting to stay with his home club, Estudiantes, instead of coming to play in America.

A story from Ole.com - translated on The DCenters blog - goes something like this:

Veron had agreed in principal to a multiyear contract with D.C. United that would have paid him close to $4 million annually. United was so confident in the deal that Veron was scheduled to leave Argentina on Tuesday and be in Washington D.C. for a Wednesday afternoon press conferences where he would be presented with his new jersey and meet his new teammates. It was his old teammates, however, that prevented him from making the move.

"I'm staying because of the fans and my teammates. The truth is that I couldn't say goodbye," Veron told Ole.com. "My teammates' request for me to stay was very important. And I couldn't ignore the fans' affection. It is impossible not to be touched when you are an Estudiantes fan."


Miami Expansion Talks Heat Up

Major League Soccer could be on its way back to the city of Miami in the not-too-distant future, according to several reports.

League officials have "been in discussions with Miami City Mayor Manny Diaz to secure funding for a soccer stadium that would serve as home to an MLS expansion team," said Dan Courtemanche, senior vice president of marketing and communications.

Before any city can be awarded an expansion franchise, they must prove that they either have an existing soccer-specific facility or, at the very least, have a legitimate plan in place to build one. The site of the Orange Bowl seems to be a perfect fit for construction of such a stadium. A soccer-specific stadium would take up roughly 10 acres of the 40-acre Orange Bowl site, with plans being floated to also build a new baseball stadium for the Florida Marlins there.

The city once hosted an MLS franchise, Miami Fusion FC, from 1998-2001. Despite winning the Supporters Shield in '01, low attendance led the league to cease club operations at the end of that year. The team's average attendance of 11,177 in their final year was up nearly 50% from the year before (average attendance: 7,460), but could not spare them from contraction.


Boswell to Houston

The proposed mega-deal between Los Angeles, D.C. United and FC Dallas has apparently not materialized, but there is a trade to pass on this morning.

United has agreed to ship 2006 Defender of the Year Bobby Boswell to the champion Houston Dynamo in exchange for back-up goalkeeper Zach Wells and a future draft pick, according to Steven Goff.
D.C.'s desire to pick up another keeper stems from recent interest by a Norwegian club in their current starter, Troy Perkins. By acquiring Wells from Houston, it is an almost-certainty that Perkins will be transferred to the Scandinavian club, Valerenga, in the coming days.

Wells has seen limited action, stuck behind veteran Pat Onstad since coming to the Dynamo from New York in 2006. He started three games in 2007, conceding a single goal in 282 minutes played, which equates into a phenomenal 0.32 GAA. Wells has a career 1.17 GAA through 23 games, which is nothing to sneeze at.

Boswell, 24, started 22 games last season for United, but had a bit of a falling out with new coach Tom Soehn. In his three years spent in the nation's capital, Boswell has started 78 games, compiling four goals and four assists. He was also named to the Copa America roster over the summer, playing the full 90 minutes in the Americans' 1-0 loss to Colombia.


Fishy Trade Brewing

Steven Goff of the Washington Post and the Soccer Insider blog is reporting that there is a mega-deal in the works.

The multi-team deal would involve FC Dallas sending Carlos Ruiz to the Los Angeles Galaxy, while the Galaxy would send D.C. United their current goalkeeper Joe Cannon, with the Hoops receiving D.C. defender Bobby Boswell and cash.

At this point, it isn't clear whether the deal has been vetoed by the league, as was rumored, because L.A. already has one Designated Player (David Beckham), and would have two grandfathered-in DPs if the deal goes down (Ruiz, Landon Donovan).TJ's take: I find it hard to believe the league would be the one to kill the deal, or at least for the reason stated above, only because MLS has gone out of its way to bend rules for teams in the past (especially the Galaxy). Los Angeles tried several times in '07 to get the Guatemalan forward back in a Galaxy uniform, so it looks like - one way or another - El Pescadito will be playing alongside Becks and Landy-Cakes in 2008.

Rising Stars: Chris Rolfe

Over the coming weeks, The MLS Zone will post a series of exclusive interviews with young stars from around the league. The focus of our first-ever Rising Stars feature is Chicago Fire forward and United States National Team member Chris Rolfe.

Name: Chris Rolfe
Age: 24
Height: 5'8"
Weight: 145 lbs.
Hometown: Kettering, OH
Position: Forward
Team: Chicago Fire
National Team Caps: 6

2007 Stats:
Regular season - 6 goals, 3 assists (19 games, 18 starts)
Postseason - 2 goals, 0 assists (3 games, 3 starts)

The MLS Zone: Chicago was one of the hottest teams down the stretch. What was the biggest change over the summer that turned the team into serious contenders?

Chris Rolfe: Some may think the biggest change of the season was the addition of Blanco, but in my opinion it was the acquiring of Juan Carlos. He helped bring some life back into the team and was very influential in other areas like defining player roles and instilling confidence.

TMZ: Heading into the final game of the regular season against Los Angeles, was there any doubt that the club could lock up the final playoff spot? What was the atmosphere like for that game? Was it satisfying to know that your club was solely responsible for keeping David Beckham and the Galaxy out of the postseason?

CR: We believed going into that game that we would be moving onto the playoffs, which I would assume was the same for L.A. We had been on an unbeaten streak and knew we had the ability to beat them, especially at home.

There was a buzz in the air before that game that I hadn’t witnessed before for an MLS match. I don’t know if it was due to the fans’ expectation of Beckham, our unbeaten streak, their unbeaten streak, our final regular season game, the importance of the game or a combination of it all. Whatever it was, that energy made for an exciting and emotional game.

TMZ: In the playoffs, Chicago was eliminated by the New England Revolution for the third consecutive year. Has there been any satisfaction in watching New England go on to lose in the final?

CR: Not really. I was happy to see Nate Jaqua win a cup this year, but I was also disappointed that Steve Ralston got so close again and went home empty-handed. New England has been fortunate to play in a good number of finals, but they are hard to get to. Hopefully, that wasn’t Steve’s last opportunity to win an MLS Cup… well, actually, I suppose I hope it is because we need to bring some trophies back to Chicago – sorry Steve.

TMZ: The Fire opened a new stadium – Toyota Park - in 2006 and went 6-3-6 in their first full season there. What are your feelings about the new soccer-specific stadium and do you think it’s important that all teams in the league have a similar facility?

CR: I think it’s great to have our own facility with a practice field on-site. As more teams get their own stadiums, I think it will increase the public’s interest in going and watching the games live. The atmosphere created in a soccer-specific stadium is significantly better than that of any non-soccer specific stadium in the MLS. So, yes I do think it’s important for all teams to have their own stadiums specifically built for soccer as soon as it’s possible.

TMZ: Chicago opted to sign a Designated Player, Cuauhtemoc Blanco. Can you talk about the effects of his signing from both on-field and off-the-field perspectives?

CR: Cuauhtemoc has been a great addition to our team. He has been great on the field as well as off the field. He’s got a great personality and he’s a great competitor. Of course, he is very talented on the field and the type of player that we were in need of at that time. Overall, his addition was key to our successes last year.

TMZ: How is Temoc’s English? How is your Spanish?

CR: His English when he left was closely limited to “What’s up man?” or something close to that! My Spanish education consists of 4 classes taken during high school. However, I had some great teachers back then that actually made me learn the subject (how we hated them...), so I have been known to put together a coherent sentence in Spanish from time to time.

TMZ: Not every signing can be as successful as Blanco and defender Wilman Conde (see Paulo Wanchope). Looking ahead to 2008, what areas do you think the team needs to focus on most to get over the hump and make it to MLS Cup?

CR: That’s a very difficult question, but Juan Carlos just made it very simple for me to answer – we need to focus on finding a coach.

TMZ: You started two games for the U.S. national team in 2007, both early in the year, but were not called up for either Gold Cup or Copa America. Has coach Bradley communicated anything to you about your status with the national team as the U.S. heads into a World Cup qualifying cycle?

CR: This summer was tough for me because of my ankle injury, but it was great to watch us win the Gold Cup in Chicago. However, I haven’t heard anything from Bob about this summer and the upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

TMZ: An ankle injury shelved you for several months early in the season, at a time when you were setting the league on fire, no pun intended, by scoring four goals in your first six games. How hard was it to be sidelined for an extended period of time while your team struggled to score goals without you?

CR: That was one of the more difficult stretches of my soccer career. I believed that I could help the team get out of the funk we were in if I could just get healthy. I went through a similar situation in college my junior year when I had a mis-diagnosed sports hernia. It is one of the worst feelings I’ve experienced (but maybe that’s a sign that I’ve lived a very fortunate life).

Just knowing that I could personally be the missing link that could help my friends/teammates fulfill their goals and dreams was the most difficult part for me during that time. The feelings that I had in college are still with me today, and I’m sure these feelings will be also.

TMZ: As a forward, which defenders in the league do you least look forward to going up against?

CR: There are some very good, athletic defenders in the league, some of which are on our team. Eddie Pope, Jimmy Conrad and Eddie Robinson are just a few.

TMZ: What part of your game improved the most in 2007. Where could you stand to improve more?

CR: Thanks to Coach Osorio, I was able to learn more about playing in the midfield. I’d say 95% of my playing time after injury was in the midfield and I had a great group around to help me learn the position quickly. Chris Armas, Logan Pause, Cuauhtemoc, and Coach were all key players in helping me make that transition. Everything still needs improving…

TMZ: Going overseas to play in Europe is a goal for many of the young American players. How important is this to you and where would you most like to play?

CR: Going overseas is something that intrigues me. I am interested in making a move to another league at some point, but I’m not sure where. Once I pinpoint that I’ll write back and let you know.

TMZ: Which players do you emulate or idolize?

CR: To be completely honest, I’m not much of a professional soccer fan, so I can’t pull out the name of some random player and impress you all. However, I’ve been impressed with Brian McBride’s successes both here and in England, so I really respect what he’s done. I’ve also had the benefit of working closely with Chris Armas, and he would be the player that I would like to emulate on and off the field.

TMZ: What are your plans for the off-season?

CR: My off-season will be full of relaxing, reading and enjoying the aspects of the city of Chicago that I couldn’t while in-season. Of course, I will be able to spend the holidays at home with my parents and family.

TMZ: In closing, is there anything you’d like to say to the team’s fans?

CR: Sure... quit setting off flares in our goal mouth when we are defending a corner/free kick. Thanks – The Team.

Oh, and thanks for all the support even during the rough times! We love you. But seriously, quit throwing smoke bombs at Pickens.


Gansler Leaving Toronto FC

Toronto FC assistant coach Bob Gansler has decided to leave the team, while Mo Johnston insists that the departure does not indicate that he will be taking a front-office position. His decision was motivated by a desire to spend more time with his family.

Gansler, 66, previously was the head coach of the Kansas City Wizards from 1999-2006, leading them to their only MLS Cup victory (2000) and only U.S. Open Cup title (2004). Before that, he served as head coach to the United States national team from 1989-1991, including the 1990 World Cup, the Americans' first appearance in the tournament since 1950.

The search now begins for a coach to replace Gansler, with the team focusing on someone who "will be highly regarded in soccer, something like Bob - only with a different background," said Johnston.

There had been speculation that MoJo would take a front office position when a new coach is named, as he currently is filling the roles of manager and head coach. "Eventually, who knows? That may happen, it may not. We're looking at making this whole thing better."

Two names floating around for the Toronto job are current New England Revolution head coach Steve Nicol and assistant coach Paul Mariner, but Johnston went out of his way to shoot down those rumors recently, saying he has talked to "numerous people," but some of the speculation has been "silly."

Ives: Osorio to Coach in New York

Ives Galarcep is reporting exclusively on his blog, Soccer by Ives, that the New York Red Bulls have reached an agreement with the Chicago Fire to sign away their head coach, Juan Carlos Osorio.Osorio joined the Fire mid-way through last season and turned the team's fortunes around. The Colombian 'professor' guided the club from the bottom of the league into the conference finals, one win away from an MLS Cup appearance. He was also instrumental in bringing defender Wilman Conde to the Chicago backline from Colombia for a reported $300,000 transfer fee.

Trying to fill the vacancy created when former U.S. national team head coach Bruce Arena stepped down following the end of the disappointing 2007 campaign, the Red Bulls made no secret of their interest in Osorio, but had also interviewed at least one other current MLS head coach, that being Preki from Chivas USA. Also rumored to be on the short-list was former MLS coach, Peter Nowak, currently in charge of the U-23 program.

According to Ives, the deal was sealed when Chicago agreed to a compensation package as part of the deal to let Osorio out of his contract, which had two years remaining.

This will not be Osorio's first go-round in the Big Apple; he was an assistant coach of the then New York/New Jersey MetroStars in 2000. Following his time in NY, he became an assistant at Manchester City from 2001-2006, including several years when current Red Bulls midfielder Claudio Reyna donned a Citeh uniform.

Who should be considered to fill Chicago's coaching vacancy? Bruce Arena? Fabio Capello? Jose Mourinho? Someone else?


Update: St. Louis Expansion Plans

Yesterday we gave you a look at the status of Philadelphia's expansion plans. Today we are turning the spotlight on the other leading candidate city for the 16th team in MLS: St. Louis.

A group called St. Louis Soccer United is behind the effort to land a franchise in the area. Led by local businessman Jeff Cooper, the group's plan would put a state-of-the-art soccer complex in Collinsville, Illinois, ten minutes from downtown St. Louis, featuring an 18,500-seat stadium.
Other elements of the project:
- 400 acres of mixed-use, new urbanism development
- 300,000 square feet of retail opportunities
- 200,000 square feet of office space
- two 120-room hotels
- 1,200 residential units
- internal bike and walking paths linked to more than 85 miles of scenic trails

According to the group's site, the entire development, including the stadium, is funded through a public/private partnership that was approved by the City of Collinsville on September 10. Groundbreaking at the site, located at Interstates 270 and 55-70, will take place once an MLS expansion franchise has been awarded to St. Louis.

Cooper was awarded a franchise in the new Women's Soccer League, which is scheduled to begin play in 2009. It is also Cooper's vision that the facility would host numerous other events, including World Cup qualifying games, international friendlies, high school tournaments and many other blue chip soccer attractions.

Approximately 10.2% of St. Louis-area residents participate in soccer, compared to a national average of approximately 7.1%. Roughly 1,500 soccer fans have signed up for season tickets, and a fan club has also been established - the Gateway City Supporters Club.

"Any degree of success that the sport of soccer enjoys today in the United States is directly attributable to St. Louis as one of the game's prime movers," said Bill McDermott, ESPN/ABC Soccer Commentator. "Now that MLS has brought a newfound awareness to soccer in our country, it logically follows that St. Louis should play a part."

The only hurdle that seems to be holding back the St. Louis effort revolves around the ownership group.

"MLS would like us to really finalize our ownership group, which we're in the process of doing," said Cooper. "They would like Philadelphia to finalize its stadium deal. Both things will be done in the near future, and both cities will have teams in the league, if I had to read the tea leaves. Whether we start in 2009 or 2010 would be up to the league's discretion."

Commissioner Don Garber echoed those sentiments. "We're bullish about the St. Louis market. It's hard to imagine when you have a strong ownership group, a facility and a market and us not having a team in that market. If Philadelphia comes in, it doesn't preclude St. Louis coming in. Once we make a decision on the 16th team, whether it's Philadelphia or St. Louis, we'll figure out what to do with the market in the next round."

Ruiz, Yes; Denilson, No?

Buzz Carrick at the FC Dallas-focused blog 3rd Degree is reporting that the team has picked up their 2008 option on forward Carlos Ruiz, while at the same time declining the '08 option on Designated Player bust Denilson.
What that means for the club is that, effectively, Denilson is now a free agent and can be signed by any team. Carrick says the Dallas Morning News has quoted FCD coach Steve Morrow as saying the club hopes to bring back the Brazilian next year, but at a much lower price. If the club had exercised their option, Denilson would be guaranteed over $1 million in 2008, but his play up to this point has clearly not been up to snuff for Hoops officials.

After being pursued for much of the summer, Denilson was officially signed to a contract on August 23, 2007, becoming the league's fourth Designated Player amid much fanfare. On the field, however, the results just weren't there. Starting seven games down the stretch, Denilson scored just once - on a penalty kick - and had zero assists. Sure, the trickery was abundant, but it seemed to be more of a distraction to the team's chemistry. In the team's semifinal 1-0 victory over the eventual champion Houston Dynamo, coach Morrow opted to bench Denilson and did not even see fit to sub the former World Cup winner into the match.

So, unless he is willing to take a massive pay cut, it sounds like Denilson will not be in an FC Dallas uniform next year.

Ruiz may not return either, for what it's worth, but his exodus would have to be mediated through a trade with another club, as Dallas will retain his rights through the 2008 season by picking up his option. Rumors throughout last season had Ruiz returning to the Los Angeles Galaxy, but nothing ever materialized. One of three players to be included in the DP grandfather clause (along with Landon Donovan and Eddie Johnson), Ruiz is set to earn $435,000 in 2008, but a trade would mean new contract negotiations with his new team.

FC Dallas has already lost one key player from last season; Clarence Goodson was left unprotected and subsequently selected by the San Jose Earthquakes in last month's expansion draft. Goodson was the heart of the club's defense and his head was always dangerous when coming forward on set pieces, thanks to his 6'4" frame.


Update: Philadelphia Expansion Plans

With Philadelphia locked in a dogfight with St. Louis over who will be awarded the 16th team in Major League Soccer, the Pennsylvania legislature is currently taking up a plan that would call for $45 million in state funding to help build a stadium in the city of Chester.The effort to bring professional soccer back to the City of Brotherly Love is being led by an investment group that includes iStar Financial CEO Jay Sugarman, Wilmington developers Christopher and Robert Buccini, and chairman of the Swarthmore Group financial advisors James Nevels.

Some reasons why Philadelphia may have the inside track on St. Louis:

1.) The non-existant team already has a fervent supporters group - Sons of Ben - going strong, with over 1,000 members and nearly 2,000 pledges to buy season tickets.

2.) Delaware County officials are on-board, having already pledged $30 million toward construction. Add to that the support of Governor Ed Rendell, who believes the project could help transform the Chester area.

3.) The Mexican population in Pennsylvania and nearby New Jersey, a key demographic for any pro soccer franchise, grew 74% between 2000-2006.

4.) Recent exhibitions featuring international clubs like Manchester United and FC Barcelona have easily sold-out Lincoln Financial Field, proving there is a solid, educated market for the sport in the area.

"It isn't brain surgery. The numbers are there," said Nevels. "We've got the market." He went on to say that he was "incredibly optimistic" that state funding would be approved and an MLS expansion club awarded. He predicted "an announcement very soon."

Garber, on the other hand, didn't sound quite as positive.

"Philadelphia is very close," said Garber recently. "It's at the finish line. We have no doubt that we want and hope to have a team in the country's fourth-largest market. If [the funding] happens, then Philadelphia has the inside track. If it doesn't happen, Philadelphia could go way down the list. If that deal falls apart, we have no sense as to when it could come back together; whether the county's package will stay in place."

If Philly's plan falters this time around, the city may still be in line for one of two projected expansion spots in 2010; Garber has stated that the league is planning to have 16 teams by '09 and 18 by 2010, and will take a break after that to ensure that all markets are successful.

Ives: Reyna's Return Likely

Ives Galarcep writes on his blog, Soccer by Ives, that New York Red Bulls midfielder Claudio Reyna is leaning toward returning to play out the final year of his contract, even though there have been whispers of the club wanting to buy him out.
Reyna, 34, joined the Red Bulls from Manchester City before the beginning of the 2007 season as the team's first Designated Player. Former coach Bruce Arena was said to be instrumental in bringing the midfielder to MLS as Reyna played under Arena as captain of the U.S. national team for several years. Towards the end of their disappointing 2007 season, however, rumors had surfaced that there was a deep divide between Arena and several of his players, including Reyna.

Captain America did not score in his debut MLS season, adding just three assists in 21 games. He missed nine games with injuries, somewhat living up to his reputation as a fragile player, but will hopefully return healthy for his final professional season, so that he can ride into retirement on a high note.

That being said, there is still the possibility that the club will try to buy Reyna out so they can free up one of their two Designated Player spots if the option to sign another big-name player pops up. The Red Bulls have already succeeded in this area once before, signing Colombian forward Juan Pablo Angel to their other DP slot in early 2007. Angel went on to be one of the league's best players throughout the season, eventually finishing runner-up to Luciano Emilio for the MVP award.

With New York being an attractive city for foreign stars, anything is possible. Red Bulls fans, which player out there (realistically) would you like to see the club bring in for 2008?

FSC Adds a Sponsor

From Adweek: Fox Soccer Channel has signed Jose Cuervo Tradicionale, a Diageo brand, as title sponsor for its primetime lineup.

David Sternberg, evp and COO of emerging networks at Fox Cable Networks Group, said since FSC passed the 30 million household mark (nearing 33 million), it has attracted a lot of new advertisers to the network.

"A lot of it [growth of the network] can be tied to the overall awareness of MLS and soccer in this country," he said.

The Cuervo brand officially kicked off as presenting sponsor this month. It has a media buy across the network during FSC's block of programming from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. During that time, Cuervo's "Drink Responsibly" ads are featured, as well as image and brand commercials that showcase multiple Diageo products including Crown Royal and Captain Morgan.

The buy extends into matches, with FSC providing "clock-chip" sponsorship (with the logo running adjacent to the clock and score for five minute segments), as well as via in-game animated billboards

Zurawski Linked to Galaxy

Celtic's Maciej Zurawski is being pursued heavily by the Los Angeles Galaxy, according to the Scottish Daily Mail. The Polish striker, who joined the Hoops in 2005 from Wisla Krakow, is said to be upset over his lack of playing time under Gordon Strachan so far this season.
"The offer from Galaxy is very serious," agent Jerzy Kopiec said. "They are really determined to sign Maciej and treat him as a big star. I am flying to Los Angeles this weekend to make things official."

Zurawski, 31, scored 101 times in 153 appearances for Wisla Krakow, but has seen his production drop off since joining the Scottish side, scoring 22 times in 64 appearances. He also has played for his county 67 times, notching 16 goals at the national level.


Earthquakes Update

The San Jose Earthquakes announced today that they have sold out of premier midfield seats for all of their 2008 home games at Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara. Sure, there are only a total of 800 seats in those sections, but at $50 per game over 17 games, the total comes to $680,000.

"Some people said people won't pay for soccer," said executive vice president David Alioto. "It kind of eliminates that excuse. We have a long way to go by all means, but to get that number in there is kind of exciting."

Alioto went on to say that the club was coming up on 2,000 season-ticket holders for their inaugural season, which starts in less than four months. Their temporary home will be Buck Shaw Stadium, on the campus of Santa Clara University, and will hold roughly 11,000 seats once additional temporary stands are installed. The plan is to cap ticket sales at 8,000 if it comes to that, but it's a long ways off at this point.

There is more Earthquakes news to pass on tonight: Due to the unexpected success of the school's teams, stadium alterations on Buck Shaw had to be pushed back. As a result, San Jose will not be hosting the New York Red Bulls on March 29th, as had been previously reported. Instead, a mid-April home opening sounds more likely, so the revamped facilities can be spotlighted in completion.

"When we open, we want to put our best foot forward," Alioto said. An official announcement regarding the schedule change is expected next week.

Pablo Being Shopped

United States midfielder/defender Pablo Mastroeni is apparently being shopped around by the Colorado Rapids this off-season, according to Steven Goff of the Washington Post. On his blog, Soccer Insider, Goff says that the leading team in the chase for Pablo is the expansion San Jose Earthquakes, but there is no rush to get the deal done as the off-season has just begun.
Mastroeni, 31, has started 107 games for Colorado since joining the team. He was the first overall selection of the 2002 MLS Allocation Draft, brought on by the contraction of his previous team, the Miami Fusion.

For the 'Nats, Mastroeni has made 57 appearances since earning his first cap in 2001, including selections to the '02, '05 & '07 Gold Cup squads, as well as the '02 & '06 World Cup teams. He notoriously received a red card in the Americans' second game of the group stage in Germany for a hard foul on Andrea Pirlo.

Report - Veron Close to Signing with D.C.

SoccerAmerica.com says D.C. United is extremely close to finalizing the signing of Argentinean midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron. After months of speculation that a deal was imminent, Veron's wife has reportedly been house-hunting in the area. Also, D.C. coach Tom Soehn was recently in Argentina to do some scouting at a player combine, though club officials would not confirm if a meeting with Veron was on the schedule.At 32 years of age, Veron is currently a free agent after his contract with Estudiantes de la Plata has been allowed to expire. Named as one of the FIFA 100, a list of the 125 greatest footballers according to Pele, Veron has played for some of the most established teams in the world, including Manchester United, Lazio, Chelsea, Parma, and Inter Milan.

At the national level, La Brujita has been a regular with the Argentine national team, making more than 60 appearances for the Albicelestes since 1996. Most recently, he was a starter for his country's run to the final of Copa America 2007.

If and when he signs with D.C. as their designated player, United officials will need to find a way to stay under the MLS salary cap. Though only $400,000 of Veron's final salary will count towards the cap, the club is also in the midst of negotiations with former MVP Christian Gomez (who is threatening to go elsewhere), and league-leading goal-scorer and current MVP Luciano Emilio (who wants a big raise).


Celebrity Soccer Challenge

U.S. women's soccer legend Mia Hamm and Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Nomar Garciaparra will be hosting a charity soccer match at the Home Depot Center on January 26, 2008, at 1 p.m. Called the Celebrity Soccer Challenge, proceeds raised by the match will benefit bone marrow patient and family services at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles and the Mia Hamm Foundation.
Players scheduled to appear:
Landon Donovan
Chris Albright
Brad Guzan
Alexi Lalas
Cobi Jones
Kristine Lilly
Abby Wambach
Julie Foudy
Brandi Chastain

Individual tickets are $20, with discounted tickets of $15 for groups of 15 or more. For more information, visit www.miafoundation.org/soccerchallenge.


Shevchenko Coming to America?

Andriy Shevchenko's tumultuous stay at Stamford Bridge may soon be coming to an end. Could the Ukranian striker follow in David Beckham's footsteps by linking up with a Major League Soccer team this winter? The Daily Mirror sees it as a distinct possibility.A previous European Footballer of the Year, Sheva was signed to a record contract by English powerhouse Chelsea from Italian powerhouse AC Milan in 2006, but has mustered a paltry five goals in league play since joining the Blues 18 months ago. As a result, the 31-year-old has seen a decrease in playing time and is reportedly no longer in owner Roman Abromovich's plans for the future.

Enter Major League Soccer. The New York Red Bulls and the New England Revolution are listed as potential suitors for Shevchenko when the January transfer window opens. His wife, model Kristen Pazik, grew up in the Washington, D.C. area and both husband and wife are said to be keen on raising their two young children in America. Add to that previous comments by the player himself on wanting to finish out his career in the United States, and the recipe could be perfect for another foreign invasion.

Shevchenko would undoubtedly be considered a Designated Player, meaning he could be signed to a massive contract while only counting $400,000 toward the strict MLS salary cap. It should be noted that the New York Red Bulls currently have both of their DP slots in use, assigned to former U.S. captain Claudio Reyna and Colombian forward Juan Pablo Angel. New England's DP slot is unused as of now, but that could change if they feel that a player on the market could take them from MLS Cup finalist to MLS Champion.

What do you think? Would Shevchenko do well on U.S. shores? Which team is in the best position to sign him? What effect would his signing have for the league?

First Kick 2008

Scheduling for the opening weekend of the 2008 MLS season has been released.

Saturday, March 29th:

D.C. United @ Kansas City Wizards
Chicago Fire @ Real Salt Lake
Houston Dynamo @ New England Revolution
Toronto FC @ Columbus Crew
Los Angeles Galaxy @ Colorado Rapids
New York Red Bulls @ San Jose Earthquakes*

Sunday, March 30th:
Chivas USA @ FC Dallas

* In process of being finalized.

Dick's Sporting Goods Park will be the first facility to welcome the Beckham circus - '08 edition, seeing as how they missed out on last year's promised visit from the Golden Child when Beckham went down to injury in the SuperLiga final.

Opening weekend will also sport a re-match of MLS Cups '06 & '07 as the Revs will get an early shot to exact some revenge on the back-to-back champion Dynamo.

The league decided to finalize dates for opening weekend now so front offices can take full advantage of the holiday season - the remainder of the schedule won't be unveiled until February.


Mission to Mali

Chicago Fire midfielder Diego Gutierrez and Houston Dynamo midfielder Dwayne De Rosario will be traveling to the African nation of Mali as part of a UN Foundation delegation that includes spokespeople for the Nothing But Nets campaign. While there, the two MLS stars will observe the distribution of over two million long-lasting, insecticide-treated bed nets to children and their families, in hopes of combating malaria.

More than 800,000 cases of malaria are reported annually in Mali, a nation of 11 million people, but the actual number of infections is probably closer to two million, according to the country's Health Ministry.

Malaria is a life-threatening parasitic disease transmitted by mosquitoes. The World Health Organization's statistics say malaria accounts for 17% of child deaths in Mali. One in five Malian children die before their fifth birthday, making the country one of the unhealthiest places to be born in the world.

Statistics show that use of insecticide-treated bed nets can reduce transmission as much as 90% in areas with high coverage rates. One bed net costs just $10 to buy and deliver to individuals in need. One bed net can safely last a family for about four years because of a long-lasting insecticide woven into the net fabric.

Check out the Nothing But Nets site here and please donate if you can.


Saluting Shaka

The curtain has officially come down on a stellar 15-year career for Shaka Hislop. A star of the surprising Trinidad & Tobago '06 World Cup run, the 38-year-old goalkeeper is calling it quits, taking off the gloves for good at the conclusion of the Shaka Hislop Tribute Cup, a four-team mini-tournament played in his honor on the islands.
Hislop suited up for 15 minutes with his final professional club, Major League Soccer outfit FC Dallas, and then switched sides for ten minutes of action with the local Pro League All-Star team in the testimonial match, played on Sunday at Hasely Crawford Stadium. In the end, Hislop would allow the only goal of the game, a skillfully crafted strike from Devon Jorsling that left Shaka scratching his head just three minutes after entering the game.

"I was thinking, 'geez, I haven't touched the ball yet," he said after the competition. "I found myself a bit exposed but it was a really well-worked goal. I just had to laugh. I really enjoyed myself though."

Brazilian club Atletico Paranaense proved to be the superior side in the competition, walking past a home-grown T&T all-star squad by a score of 4-1 to take home the honors in the inaugural edition of the tournament.

As the final game wrapped up, the celebration of Shaka's accomplishments was just beginning. The former Newcastle, West Ham and Portsmouth netminder was saluted by the 2,000 fans in attendance with a standing ovation and also picked up a $100,000 from the Pro League. Out of that money, $30,000 will go to the Football Players Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT), of which Hislop is the honorary president. Similar sums have been allotted to the Cotton Tree Foundation and another Tobago charity yet to be determined.

"I have had 15 fantastic years in football and to go out like this is very special," said Hislop. "I feel very honored and I was really taken aback by some of the tributes, particularly the kind words expressed by callers while I was on various radio and television programs over the past few days."


Iraqi Game Draws Thousands

In a sign of the improving conditions in Iraq, several thousand supporters turned out in the capital city of Baghdad recently for a game between two local teams. The match, between Police College and Baghdad's most popular club Al-Zawra, marked the return of premier league football to a land torn apart by war and sectarian violence.Played on a dusty field inside Al-Shaab Stadium stadium, many spectators sported the green jerseys of their country's national team. With the facility protected by Iraqi tanks and armored vehicles, as well as the occasional patrol by U.S. humvees, the game went off without incident. It was only the second time in 18 months that Baghdad was able to host a match, as mortar attacks had previously forced authorities to move games out of the capital for safety reasons.

Violence in the country has fallen to a two-year low, attributed in part to a military surge of 30,000 additional troops that was unpopular at home, but seems to now be paying dividends.

"Soon we will see large crowds again. Iraqis love football. Fans will return," said Khalid Mahmud, a sports shop-owner from central Baghdad.

Iraq's national team made headlines in July when they defeated Saudi Arabia to secure the AFC Asian Cup crown, and also booked a place in the 2009 Confederations Cup, to be held in South Africa. There, they will face some of the world's best soccer programs, including Brazil, Italy and the United States as a prelude to the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Beasley Sidelined for Months

U.S. international and Rangers left-winger DaMarcus Beasley could end up missing the rest of the SPL regular season as a result of a knee injury sustained on Tuesday night.

The speedy attacker damaged ligaments in his knee when he collided with VfB Stuttgart 'keeper Raphael Schafer during Tuesday night's 3-2 loss in Champions League play and has returned stateside to undergo surgery."It's not a cruciate injury, he doesn't have to have reconstructive surgery done or anything like that," said Rangers manager Walter Smith. "But it's a couple of ligaments at the side of the knee which need to be operated on.

"You are looking at a three- to four-month recovery period after the operation and the awkward part is he would be coming back towards the end of the season. The worst case scenario is that we can discount him for the rest of the season.

"It's a blow because he has been playing well for us," continued Smith. "It's disappointing for both DaMarcus and for us."

Beasley has played a big part in Rangers' 10-3-1 start in the SPL, leaving them just a single point adrift of Celtic for the league lead. Besides being sidelined for club play, the injury may also affect his availability for his country as well, with the U.S. opening their World Cup qualifying journey in June against the winner of Dominica/Barbados.

Galaxy Rip Wellington Phoenix

Despite falling behind early on, the Los Angeles Galaxy scored four unanswered goals to close out their post-season tour of Oceania with a 4-1 victory over the Wellington Phoenix. The sell-out crowd of 35,000 - the largest ever for a soccer game in New Zealand - got their money's worth as star-of-the-night David Beckham set up several goals before hammering home a penalty late in the game for his second goal in as many games.

Having been thoroughly defeated by Sydney FC earlier in the week, things looked none too promising for the G's in the opening minutes of this match, either. Joe Cannon was forced into a big diving save in the seventh minute, giving the home side a corner kick, a chance they would take full advantage off when the ball squirted free of the crowd to captain Ross Aloisi, who skied his attempt over Cannon and into the roof of the goal to give WPFC the early advantage.

The lead wouldn't last long, however, as Beckham led the Galaxy down the field in the 16th minute, launching a long pass to Landon Donovan that the U.S. star chested down in the box before turning and firing on goal. Though Donovan's shot was initially knocked away by the Wellington 'keeper, the rebound fell directly into the path of the recently-acquired Clint Mathis, with Cletus blasting the ball into the back of the net to even the score.

The game would remain knotted until just before halftime, with Los Angeles getting a go-ahead goal in the 45th minute. Forward Edson Buddle took on a pair of defenders at the line of the 18-yard box, turning to his left and slipping as his shot was deflected back to Donovan. This time, Donovan would not be denied, beating the Wellington keeper between the legs with a left-footed effort for the Galaxy's second goal.

It would only take Los Angeles a few minutes into the second half to cash in once more, this time when a Donovan cross from the left side was redirected back across the front of goal by Mathis to second-half substitute Carlos Pavon. The Honduran international, widely considered a huge flop in his first MLS season, easily knocked the ball across the goal-line to stretch the Galaxy lead to two, 3-1.

Pavon would create the final goal of the night by being tripped up inside the area to hand the Galaxy a penalty kick. The normal PK-taker for Los Angeles, Donovan sensed what the crowd wanted, waving Beckham in to take the spot kick, with the English midfielder slamming the effort home to cement the final scoreline, 4-1 Galaxy.

"I was surprised because I am not a penalty taker but Landon told me to have it and I was happy to," said Beckham after the game.