Blanco To Join Chicago

According to various sources, the Chicago Fire will be announcing their new signing on Tuesday: Cuauhtemoc Blanco. He will become the league's third Designated Player. Blanco is known as much for his fiery personality as he is for his skill with the ball. He has had knee problems recently, but appears to be back at full-strength.

The 34-year-old Club America and Mexican National Team star will likely be joining the Fire at the end of the current Mexican First Division season, which wraps at the end of April.

2007 Preview - FC Dallas

2006 Record: 16-12-4 - 52 points (1st in West)
-- lost to Colorado in MLS Cup quarterfinals.

Key additions: Adrian Serioux (Toronto FC), Juan Carlos Toja (Independiente Santa Fe)
Key losses: Ronnie O'Brien (Toronto FC), Richard Mulrooney (Toronto FC), Simo Valakari (released)

After crashing out in the first round of the MLS Cup playoffs last year, FC Dallas has undergone a coaching change - Colin Clarke is out and Steve Morrow is in. But it won't matter who their coach is this year, Dallas will struggle all season to keep their head above water.

Ronnie O'Brien and Richard Mulrooney have both been traded to Toronto FC and new pick-up Adrian Serioux will miss the first half of the season after undergoing knee surgery. Juan Carlos Toja, a largely unknown midfielder from Colombia, has been officially signed and could go a long way in replacing Simo Valakari, last year's captain whose contract was not renewed.

Back-up 'keeper Shaka Hislop will be the starter when the season opens, thanks to Dario Sala's six-game suspension from last year. Hislop has been very inconsistent in his time in a Hoops kit. Sala will likely be handed the starter's job when his suspension is over.

Even though Carlos Ruiz and Kenny Cooper are still part of the Hoops' offensive arsenal, I don't see them repeating last year's successes. In fact, I don't even see them making the playoffs. They will finish dead-last in the Western Conference, costing Steve Morrow his job.

TJ's projected finish: 6th in the West, 12th overall.


2007 Preview - Colorado Rapids

2006 record: 11-13-8 – 41 points (4th in West)
-- lost to Houston in the MLS Cup semifinals.

Key additions: Herculez Gomez (LA Galaxy), Ugo Ihemelu (LA Galaxy), Zach Thornton (Chicago)
Key losses: Joe Cannon (LA Galaxy), Hunter Freeman (Red Bull New York), Clint Mathis (Red Bull New York)

With the opening of Dick’s Sporting Goods Park less than two weeks away, the Colorado Rapids have a new home and a new look for 2007. The team has averaged dismal attendance over the past few seasons, and the hope is that a new soccer-specific-stadium and a late-August visit by David Beckham can help cheer up those numbers.

As for the on-field product, the Rapids have switched out ‘keepers for 2007, with fan favorite Joe Cannon shipped to LA and Zach Thornton brought in from Chicago. Cannon was traded away for two promising young players, forward Herculez Gomez and defender Ugo Ihemelu. Both Gomez and Ihemelu were popular with the Galaxy and have tremendous up-sides. It’s likely that Herculez can net 15 goals this season, if he stays healthy.

Midfielder Kyle Beckerman is getting a look from the Men's National Team, and teammate Pablo Mastroeni was even named captain for the U.S. game vs. Mexico. The Rapids have assembled a lot of talent for this year and will be an improved side - They could go deep into the playoffs as there are no dominant teams in the Western Conference. Colorado is my sleeper pick to make the MLS Cup Finals.

TJ’s projected finish: 3rd in the Western Conference, 5th overall.


Clint Mathis To New York

According to ESPN.com, Clint Mathis has been traded from the Colorado Rapids to Red Bull New York. Mathis, 30, has struggled to regain the form that made him an upcoming sensation on the Men's National Team a handful of years ago and will now join his fifth MLS team in eight seasons. He is expected to join the team in South Carolina where the team is training ahead of their April 7th season opener against Columbus.Complete details of the transaction have not been disclosed.

Fred to D.C.

Just in time to join his new team before the season, D.C. United has officially added Fred to the roster. The signing has been pending while DCU worked out terms with the Brazilian's old team, Melbourne Victory, and the Australian A-League. Fred has already joined the team in Guadalajara ahead of United's second-leg match against Chivas in the CONCACAF Champions Cup.

"Fred has terrific athletic and technical qualities, and has proven to be a dynamic attacking player. He will be an excellent fit with out style of play," said United technical director Dave Kasper.

TJ's take: Fred will join an attack that has already been improved this off-season by the signing of Luciano Emilio. D.C. United looks to have a squad capable of a very potent attack and should help them repeat as winners of the Supporters Shield. From what I've heard from Australian fans, Fred is a dynamic player and will give defenders fits in MLS. Melbourne supporters are very displeased with his exit.

2007 Preview - Houston Dynamo

2006 record: 11-8-13 – 46 points (2nd in West)
-- MLS Cup champions.

Key additions: -none-
Key losses: Adrian Serioux (FC Dallas)

In their first year since relocating from San Jose, the Houston Dynamo captured the 2006 MLS Cup. Apparently, head coach Dominic Kinnear feels the team is strong enough, as no major acquisitions were made by the men in orange this off-season. Houston reportedly even turned down a blank check from AEG to go after a Designated Player.

Returning to the squad are perennial Goal of the Year nominee Dwayne De Rosario, Hawaii’s favorite son Brian Ching, and Kenny’s kid Paul Daglish, as well as veteran ‘keeper Pat Onstad. The core of the team remains untouched – Adrian Serioux is the only notable departure (expansion draft, then FC Dallas) – but with almost every other team in the West making big moves, Houston may find themselves left in the dust.

The Dynamo will struggle to make the playoffs this year in a crowded Western Conference and will be battling for the last playoff spot up through the final week of the season. I predict they will just sneak in at the last minute, and could make some noise in the playoffs if everything clicks at the right time again.

TJ's projected finish: 5th in Western Conference, 8th overall.


US vs. Guatemala

The U.S. friendly against Guatemala is just underway from Frisco, TX. U.S. is going with a younger lineup and troublesome Eddie Johnson up top with Landon Donovan. I'm looking for good things from the Feilhaber/Bradley combination in midfield.

Halftime - 0-0 at the half. Neither side has looked particularly impressive in the first 45 minutes. Eddie Johnson showed signs of life towards the end of the first half and Justin Mapp has been a bright spot on the left flank.

Eric Wynalda called out the Red Bull New York management and FIFA chief Sepp Blatter during his Yellow Card/Red Card segment. His only praise went to Landon Donovan, who is about to pass Wynalda on the all-time scoring list for the MNT.

Final - Game ends in a disappointing 0-0 draw. Neither team looked good offensively - it was an ugly game to watch. Respectable showings from Justin Mapp and the young back line. Didn't see anything good from Clint Dempsey in this one, and though Eddie Johnson got better as the game went along, he's not where the team needs him to be in his development as a player. Landon Donovan was almost completely shut down, so kudos to Guatemala for keeping Landy Cakes quiet for the first time this year.

These two teams will meet again in the Gold Cup this June.

Touched by an Angel?

According to SoccerAmerica.com, Red Bull New York is in negotiations to bring Juan Pablo Angel to the club from EPL side Aston Villa. RBNY is reportedly offering the Colombian striker around $2-million/year, which is far less than the $4.92-million/year being offered by Angel's old Argentine club River Plate. Red Bull has negotiated a transfer fee with Aston Villa, but has yet to reach terms with Angel.

The article also speculates that Angel, 31, could just be using MLS as a bargaining chip. He said recently that he'd like to stay in England for a few more years and was on his way to Arsenal but the transfer fee couldn't be agreed upon.

2007 Preview - Real Salt Lake

2006 record: 10-13-9 - 39 points (6th in West)
-- Missed playoffs.

Key additions: Freddy Adu (D.C. United), Luis Tejada (Plaza Amador)
Key losses: Scott Garlick (retirement)

Real Salt Lake made the biggest off-season acquisition not involving an Englishman this winter, bringing Freddy Adu in from D.C. United. It gives Freddy a chance to play as an attacking midfielder in the center, a position he has always wanted to play, but wasn't able to in D.C.

In Utah, Adu will be able to link up with another new acquisition, Luis Tejada, who was signed out of Panama. The 25-year-old forward will be partnered up top with Jeff Cunningham, who should’ve been named MVP last year (16 goals, 11 assists). With Adu feeding Cunningham and Tejada all year, RSL looks to have one of the most potent offensive attacks in the league.

Eddie Pope continues to be one of the best center-backs in the league and should help the defense take some of the pressure off of keeper Nick Rimando. The stadium issue is (for now) solved, so the team can focus on playing some quality football. I expect them to be the sleeper pick of the year – Not only will they make the playoffs, they will be the #1 seed in the West. Most of the pieces have fallen into place for this team to make a run and play solid consistently.

TJ's Projected finish: 1st in Western Conference, 3rd overall.

Franchino Takes Leave of Absence

Joe Franchino, midfielder/defender for the New England Revolution, has taken a leave of absence from the team to deal with a personal matter. He left the Revs during training in New Orleans. No timeframe for his return or reason for leaving have been given.


2007 Preview - Chivas USA

2006 record: 10-9-13 - 43 pts (3rd in West)
-- Lost to Houston in MLS Cup quarterfinals.

Key additions: Amado Guevara (Red Bull New York)
Key losses: Juan Francisco Palencia (UNAM Pumas), Juan Pablo Garcia (Tigres), Bob Bradley (USMNT)

Rebounding from being the worst team in MLS in 2005, Chivas USA finished a respectable third in the Western Conference in 2006, behind strong play from rookies Jonathan Bornstein and Sacha Kljestan and veteran striker Ante Razov. Joining them for the '07 campaign is former MVP Amado Guevara, swapped from Red Bull New York for Chivas' DP slot. The Honduran midfielder ended the 2006 regular season with a hat trick that sent his team into the playoffs and could regain his MVP-form

Despite his addition, the team will have to make up for the loss of Juan Pablo Garcia and Juan Francisco Palencia, who both opted to go back to Mexico to gain more national team exposure.

Even greater than the loss of those two, Chivas USA begins 2007 with a new head coach, Preki, as former head coach Bob Bradley is currently doing a bang-up job with the U.S. Men's National Team. There is a solid core of key players on the squad, but with an aging Claudio Suarez (38) anchoring the defense, keeper Brad Guzan will be tested often and will also have to fend off Preston Burpo for his starting spot.

On the bright side, people are already mentioning John Cunliffe as a potential rookie-of-the-year candidate, an honor won by Chivas' Bornstein last year.

TJ's projected finish: 4th in Western Conference, 6th overall.

MLS Season Under Two Weeks Away

It's been a long and historic off-season in Major League Soccer. With kick-off of the league's 12th season less than two weeks away, The MLS Zone will be previewing each team's chances of de-throning Houston and taking home the MLS Cup.

First up is the six-team Western Conference, so stay tuned...


Galaxy Wins USL-MLS Challenge

The Los Angeles Galaxy have won their first trophy of 2007 - they were crowned champions of the inaugural 2007 USL-MLS Challenge in Puerto Rico with wins over the Rochester Rhinos (3-2) and the Puerto Rico Islanders (2-1). Going 2-0 in the tournament, the Galaxy now boast a pre-season record of 8-1-2 with one match left before the season begins. The L.A. goalscorers in the tournament were Chris Albright, Nate Jaqua and Kyle Martino. Albright boasts four goals in this pre-season, two more than any other Galaxy player.

MLS Zone Player of the Week

So where are all of those LD haters now? The first ever MLS Zone Player of the Week award goes to Landon Donovan, forward for the Los Angeles Galaxy and U.S. MNT. He scored three times in yesterday's friendly vs. Ecuador (1', 66', 67'), giving him five goals in the team's three friendlies in 2007. He opened the scoring just 41 seconds into the game and came close several other times in the 3-1 victory, looking very potent in the attack throughout the game.

Donovan's reaction upon hearing he won the MLS Zone POW honor.

My take: Critics are calling out Donovan because of the way he "disappeared" during the '06 World Cup and because he's said he wants to skip the Copa America later this summer to be with his club. With a crowded summer schedule coming up, Donovan's decision makes sense. He is a leader on the Galaxy and if he's away for the better part of two months again this summer (like in '06), his team could sink out of contention while he's gone.

On the international side, Donovan is clearly out to make a statement this year and can excel in Bob Bradley's new system when surrounded by the right talent. If he continues to improve his play and can stay healthy, 2010 may be a great year for United States Soccer.


Galaxy Acquire Defender Thomas

The Galaxy have finally addressed their lack of depth in defense and have traded for Kansas City central defender Shavar Thomas. In exchange for the 26-year-old Jamaican international, Los Angeles will give up a conditional second round pick in the 2008 MLS SuperDraft.
Thomas should be familiar with his new partner in L.A.'s center of defense. He and Tyrone Marshall are both veterans with the Jamaican National Team - Thomas has earned 12 caps with the National Team.

Thomas has three goals and one assist in 91 career MLS games.


Galaxy Jersey Sponsor Deal Announced

It's not the $49-million Citibank sponsorship deal the Galaxy were hoping for, but today they have agreed to a front-of-the-jersey sponsorship deal with nutritional products manufacturer Herbalife. The deal, which was first reported in the online edition of the Wall Street Journal last night, is reportedly worth up to $5 million per year through 2011.

Shawn Hunter, president of AEG Sports, called the Galaxy sponsorship pact "a milestone event in American sports marketing." The Galaxy are now the third team to have a company logo or name featured prominently on the front of their jerseys, behind Real Salt Lake (XanGo) and Red Bull New York (Monster energy drink... or not).

DSG Park Hits The Lights

On tuesday night, the first test of the lights at Dick's Sporting Goods Park was held. Here are some photos of the new stadium from MLSNet.com. Looks like a very impressive stadium! The Colorado Rapids will open their season in DSG Park on April 7th, versus D.C. United (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET).


Keller Hopes To Be WC Starter in 2010

U.S. international Kasey Keller says he wants to be the team's starting goalkeeper in the 2010 World Cup... at the age of 40. Sure, 40 isn't old for a tree, or a Galapagos turtle, or even a world-class goalkeeper, but it surely must be too late for Kasey Keller to hold his starting spot on the squad. Keller didn't look overly sharp in the '06 World Cup and his German side Borussia Moenchengladbach is now sitting in dead-last and is soon to be relegated in the Bundesliga.

Keller's main competition should be Tim Howard and Marcus Hahnemann. The latter is ranked the #1 goalkeeper in the EPL and Tim Howard recently posted a clean sheet against rival Mexico. With either one of these two on the field for the national team, the future should be bright. Unfortunately, Kasey Keller feels he still has something to prove and if he insists on fighting for the starting spot, may only be standing in the way of good, young 'keepers like Troy Perkins of D.C. United.

Keller has been called into camp for the upcoming friendlies against Ecuador and Guatemala and will likely start one of the two games. It will move him to within a handful of Tony Meola's record 100 caps. If Bob Bradley wants to see Keller pass Meola, then so be it. But after that, the focus should be on the future, not on a guy that was with the team for the '90 World Cup and hopes to be around 20 years later.

If KK has any pride left after a disappointing World Cup and a sorry Bundesliga season, he'll announce his international retirement like Eddie Pope, Brian McBride and Claudio Reyna did. They all knew when it was the right time to hang up the cleats.


Galaxy News Bits

- From AS.com, Real Madrid will be traveling to the United States in late June. President Ramon Calderon has confirmed that the Galacticos will face the Los Angeles Galaxy in a friendly where David Beckham will play the first half with Real Madrid and then switch jerseys at halftime and finish the game with the Galaxy. Pretty cool idea if it's true. Additionally, Real Madrid will also play a match in Washington and another in either Chicago or Salt Lake City during their 10-day visit.

- A few weeks ago, it was reported that Citibank had offered $49 million over five years to become the jersey sponsor for the Los Angeles Galaxy. According to Steven Goff of the Washington Post, the deal will not be happening. No reason was cited for the sudden end to negotiations, but Goff speculates that it may have something to do with banking rival Chase being a league sponsor. Herbalife has also been mentioned as a possible front-of-the-jersey sponsor.

- The Galaxy have launched a Spanish-language site. It can be found here.


Cobi's Final Season

As expected, Cobi Jones announced today that 2007 will be his final season in MLS. He goes into his retirement as one of the most popular and important players to the Los Angeles Galaxy, MLS and U.S. soccer. He is the only player to play for the same team since the inception of the league and won two titles with the Galaxy (2002, 2005). At 36, he may have lost a step, but he still gets the loudest cheers at Galaxy home games, and rightfully so: #13 stands as the Galaxy's all-time leader in almost every major statistical category, including games played (281), goals (66) and assists (86).

"It's been an honor and a pleasure to represent my country and the city of Los Angeles over the span of my career... I hope that people remember me, not only for the accomplishments that I've had, but also how I've conducted myself on and off the field," Jones said during his press conference today.

Unhappy Captain - Revs' Joseph To Demand Trade

New England Revolution defensive midfielder and newly-branded captain Shalrie Joseph says he will demand a trade when the team convenes for practice on Wednesday. Joseph, a driving force behind the Revs' back-to-back MLS Cup appearances, last month was named captain of the team, but now says he will relinquish the captaincy to seek more money.

Says Joseph: "I have been patient and I have been the good boy they wanted me to be, but I can't wait any more... I had a great offer from Celtic and I should be paid what I am worth. There are always compromises on both sides, but they didn't come willing to negotiate." Joseph was referring to the reported $1-million offer made by Celtic FC that was turned down by the Revolution.

Joseph has two years left on his contract, which is worth $167,500/year. According to Joseph's agent Ron Waxman, the Revs offered Joseph $200,000 annually before training camp started last month and later upped their offer to $300,000 on the eve of training camp. Joseph is seeking a three-year guaranteed contract, Waxman said.

My take: Although Joseph is one of the rising stars and better talents in the MLS, the Revs should have sold him when they had such a good offer. He clearly doesn't want to be in a Revs uniform, so they should get what they can and use the money from the sale of Joseph and Clint Dempsey to go after a DP. Very unlikely at this point, though.


Three Uncapped Players Plucked For U.S. Roster

U.S. MNT coach Bob Bradley has announced his roster for the upcoming exhibition games against Ecuador and Guatemala. It consists of 13 foreign-based players and 11 MLS-based players, and should give Bradley his first good look at some of the "premier" American talent from overseas.

Eleven of the players named are World Cup veterans, including goalkeeper Kasey Keller and forward Landon Donovan. Three have never donned a U.S. jersey: defenders Frank Simek and Jay DeMerit, and midfielder Benny Feilhaber. Here's a little more about them:

Jay DeMerit is a 27-year-old defender for Watford, currently the bottom team in the EPL table, and 11 points from safety. He played for the Chicago Fire Reserves, but wasn't offered a contract by any MLS team and headed to Europe, working his way through the ranks. Now he will put on a U.S. jersey for the first time. Great story.

Frank Simek is a 22-year-old defender who currently plays for English club Sheffield Wednesday of the English League Championship. He was signed by Arsenal to a developmental contract and at one point assumed the captaincy of the reserve side, but had difficulty breaking into the first team. He is now a regular at right back for Sheffield Wednesday.

Benny Feilhaber, also 22, plays for Hamburger SV in the German Bundesliga. He played his way onto the U-20 MNT in the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship, where his performances caught the attention of several European scouts. He signed with Hamburg in July of 2005.

The U.S. MNT will take on Ecuador on March 25th (12:00 p.m. EST, ESPN2) and Guatemala on March 28th (9:00 p.m. EST, ESPN2). After these games, the only other tune-up scheduled before the summer is an exhibition vs. China on June 2nd in San Jose.


Beckhams Bid for Bel-Air Mansion

Victoria and David Beckham have finally found a home in Bel-Air. The $20-million mansion - once the home of actress Meg Ryan - boasts seven bedrooms, six baths, ocean views, a game room, a private gym and sauna, a swimming pool, a backyard garden... you get the idea.

Said Joel Cunningham, Bel-Air real estate agent, "Mrs. Beckham was very impressed with the property overall, especially the ocean views which can be enjoyed from the bedroom." On the security (from papparazzi) that the property boasts: "In addition to the large eight-foot-high security fence surrounding the property, there is also a front wall and gates that are even higher than the massive fence, at a massive 11 feet."

The Beckhams should find out whether or not their offer for the home was accepted by the end of next week.


Toronto FC Sells Out Season Tickets

Major League Soccer's newest team has done something that no other league side has accomplished: Toronto FC has completely sold out of season tickets. A cap was placed at 14,000 and just five months after tickets went on sale, they are all gone. BMO Field will hold roughly 20,000, which leaves 6,000 tickets available for walk-up buyers or through various ticket plans."We've had phenomenal momentum since launching Toronto FC last May and the response we've got with respect to season seat sales tells us that soccer fans across the GTA are excited about their new team," said Tom Anselmi, executive VP and COO of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, Ltd.

Toronto will play its first game at BMO Field on April 28th and David Beckham is scheduled to visit town with his new Galaxy teammates on Sunday, August 5th.


Fred In D.C. By Tonight

According to Steven Goff of the Washington Post, A-League star Fred will meet his (future) D.C. United teammates tonight before their CONCACAF game against Chivas. "A DCU rep has met him in Latin America and will accompany him to Washington," Goff says.

It may not be a smooth transition, however. Fred is still under contract with the A-League until June 30, but his deal with his (former) club Melbourne ends this month. From Goff, resident D.C. United expert, "It is a common practice internationally for clubs to terminate the last few months of a contract with a departing player... Melbourne apparently is not willing to do this, perhaps thinking they can claim a transfer fee."

D.C. United will almost certainly not send Melbourne any cash for Fred, and, thus, may have to wait until July 1st to add him to the roster. They could also attempt to have the June 30 date invalidated and hope to add Fred on April 1st. Both sides are working on a resolution to the dispute as we speak.


Galaxy Update

- The Los Angeles Galaxy have sold over 12,000 season tickets for the upcoming season. Though well ahead of last year, they are still behind expansion team Toronto FC who have reportedly sold 14,000 season seats for their first season. The Galaxy recently announced a July 21st game against Chelsea that is expected to futher increase the number of season tickets sold.

- The G's & star midfielder Cobi Jones have called a press conference for Monday, March 19th. The reason for the gathering was not announced, but it is widely expected that Cobi will be announcing 2007 to be his final season as a player.

- Galaxy head coach Frank Yallop announced recently that the squad will be switching from a 4-4-2 formation to a 4-3-3, with Alan Gordon, Landon Donovan and Nate Jaqua up top. When David Beckham arrives this summer, he is expected to be slotted into the center of midfield. "For me it's a good system for players to express themselves and not be static and have to stay in certain areas," said Yallop.


Bundesliga-MLS Announcement

MLS and Bundesliga are, like, so BFF. The heads of the top league in Germany met with the heads of the top league in the USA in Miami today to announce a new partnership between the two. They will work together to share experience, expertise and best practices.

According to an MLS press release: "Some of the areas being focused on include player development, stadium design, marketing strategies, broadcasting logistics, competition rules and officiating services."

Said Christian Seifert, the Bundesliga CEO, "We look forward to learning from MLS, an exemplary organization and a modern league with an eye on the future. Likewise, we are proud to contribute to the continued rise of soccer in the United States."

My take: Sure, this is another step forward for MLS. But as a fan, I was hoping for something more, maybe a Super Liga-style tournament with German clubs, at the least. Having said that, I know the partnership will pay off in behind-the-scenes operations of the league and only move us forward.

Red Bull Park Webcam

For those of you interested in watching the construction progress at the future site of Red Bull Park, there is now a webcam devoted to keeping an eye on action at the site, which is located in Harrison, NJ.

The soccer-specific stadium will have a capacity of about 25,000 and is expected to be opened sometime in 2008 (though delays have pushed back key dates in the park's progress). It will feature a full European-style roof that covers most of the seats in the stadium, but not the playing field.


MLS & Bundesliga Announcement On Tap

Top MLS and Bundesliga officials have called a press conference for tomorrow afternoon in Miami, Florida. Commission Don Garber and Deputy Commissioner Ivan Gazidis will join Bundesliga CEO Christian Seifert and Vice President Tom Bender for an "international soccer announcement" at 1 p.m. EST.

The press conference will be held in conjunction with the Miami SPORTEL America event - it is the premier venue for sports programming content to be showcased to networks worldwide.

Could the announcement have something to do with MLS TV rights in Germany? Possibly, but more likely it will be a tournament held between the two leagues, similar to the upcoming Super Liga, to help German teams cash in on the American market, and vice-versa.

Houston Dynamo Turn Down AEG Money

The Houston Dynamo don't need no stinkin' DP. The reigning MLS champions, another AEG-owned entity, were apparently offered the financial ability to go after a designation player, but the team said 'no, thanks' to Uncle Phil's hand-out. According to AEG executive Tim Leiweke, (that guy you saw all over the TV during the Beckham announcement), "We told them that we would give them the financial ability to [sign a DP] because we are working on a new stadium down there, but they've been pretty adamant that they like the cards that they've been dealt."Speculation is that Houston is hanging on to their DP slot so they can trade it to the Los Angeles Galaxy next year - the Galaxy are in the market to grab another DP as Landon Donovan will count as one next year, unless he plans on taking a massive pay cut. Since Houston and Los Angeles are both owned by AEG, the powers-that-be could just shift the spot to Los Angeles to ensure that the G's can keep Beckham AND Donovan in 2008.

Fire GM Guppy Traveled To Mexico

John Guppy, the Chicago Fire general manager, reportedly took a trip to Mexico over the weekend. According to a source, he visited Pachuca, where Cuauhtemoc Blanco's Club America side took on Pachuca on Sunday. Blanco has been rumored to be the target of the Fire's designated player slot and it appears more likely than not that he will be in a Fire uniform at some point this year.

He is currently the second-leading scorer for Club America with four goals. According to The Red Card's Luis Arroyave, Blanco is still one of the Mexican league's most popular as well as one of its most dangerous forwards, despite his advanced age of 34.

Earlier reports have placed his salary demands in the $1.5 million - $2.0 million range.

Columbus Triumps In Pioneer Cup

In a tribute to the late Lamar Hunt, the two teams that Hunt owned at the time of his passing met in the first-ever Lamar Hunt Pioneer Cup in Frisco, Texas, yesterday, with the Columbus Crew scoring a 3-0 victory over FC Dallas.

At Pizza Hut Park, the match looked like a classic pre-season game, with few scoring opportunities in the first half. After halftime, Columbus was the better side, spending much of the second half in the attacking third. In the 51st minute, Joseph Ngwenya struck a ball from the left-side that beat FCD keeper Shaka Hislop, but couldn't bend inside the far post, instead caroming harmlessly away from the box. Seven minutes later, Danny O'Rourke hit a rocket that slammed off the crossbar, with Ngwenya in the perfect place for the rebound. He slotted it home to give the Crew a 1-0 lead.

In the 62nd minute, Kei Kamara got into the action, receiving a pass from Stefani Miglioranzi and beating Hislop at the far post for a 2-0 advantage.

The men in yellow weren't done yet. In the 86th minute, Aaron Chandler added an insurance goal for Columbus. His shot was initially stopped by Hislop, but managed to trickle into the back of the net.

Other notes: Newly acquired Robbie Rogers made his debut for Columbus, coming on in the 76th minute... Stefani Miglioranzi recorded assists on all three Columbus goals. Miglioranzi was acquired in the off-season after a brief stint with the Los Angeles Galaxy last year... Crew defender Frankie Hejduk was back in the lineup for the first time in almost a year after suffering torn knee ligaments in 2006 - he is looking fully recovered.


Lamar Hunt Pioneer Cup

With about a month to go before the MLS season officially starts, those of you itching for some action on the pitch can take in the Lamar Hunt Pioneer Cup. Named in honor of Lamar Hunt, one of the pioneers of the MLS, the game will feature the two teams owned by Hunt Sports Group, Columbus Crew and FC Dallas, in a charity match to be held at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas. The game will raise funds for Dallas Scores, a program that helps inner-city youths.

Lamar Hunt passed away in December 2006, after a battle with cancer. "If it wasn't for Lamar Hunt, U.S. soccer wouldn't be the same," said FCD second-year midfielder Dax McCarty. "He was a true innovator and one of the true believers in the game to succeed here." Hunt was one of the founders of both Major League Soccer and its predecessor, the North American Soccer League, and was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1982.

The game will air on Fox Soccer Channel today at 6:00 p.m. EST/3:00 p.m. PST. FC Dallas will also unveil a commemorative 'LH' circle patch that will be worn on the right sleeve of the uniform this season.

Lamar Hunt
1932 - 2006


Blanco Update

SoccerAmerica.com says negotiations are going very well between the Chicago Fire and Cuauhtemoc Blanco - so well that the two sides are discussing length of contract and salary terms. According to a source close to the negotiations, Blanco wants between $1.5 million and $2 million per year and also wants more than a one-year deal.
At 34, a long-term contract may be a risk, but Blanco's appeal would likely help ticket sales and would add a personality to MLS that precious few could match, good or bad. Since he is still with Club America, Blanco would most likely not join the Fire until after the secondary transfer window opens on June 15th, but it sounds like MLS is pushing to get this deal done.

From Soccer America: "MLS and its marketing arm, SUM, are determined to have Blanco play in the United States this summer - either in the Super Liga competition with Club America, or in MLS with the Fire."

My take: Love him or hate him, Blanco is a polarizing figure that can evoke emotions from even casual soccer fans - both because of his skills and his alleged "dirty" tactics on the pitch. Even at 34, he's got the skills to compete and excel in MLS, if his work ethic is good. At $2 million/year, he would provide instant name recognition among Hispanics in the Chicago area.

I'm not sure Chicago, with or without Blanco, is going to be contending for much this year. They DO have a beautiful new soccer-specific stadium - Toyota Park - and there is a strong core fanbase that AEG should focus on growing by putting a quality soccer team on the pitch consistently.

Galaxy, Chelsea Make Announcement

The Los Angeles Galaxy and Chelsea have announced their participation in the newly created World Series of Football. The four-team tournament, also featuring Korean side Suwon Bluewings and Tigres from Mexico, will take place at the Home Depot Center in Carson. Chelsea are scheduled to play the Galaxy on July 21. It should be noted that David Beckham IS expected to suit up for the Galaxy in this tournament, and it could be his debut for Los Angeles.

"We are very happy that we are going back to the U.S. for pre-season and we have done it every year since my arrival," said Chelsea skipper Jose Mourinho. "The fact that David Beckham is there brings something extra to the tournament and to the game. This gives me the chance to wish him big success in the U.S. He will be very important for U.S. soccer and for the relationship between US soccer and European soccer."

Chelsea will take part in the event in 2009 and 2011 as well.


Freddy Out, Fred In

According to everyone's favorite Washington Post sportswriter Steven Goff, the deal is done: Fred will be in a D.C. United uniform this season. The team is waiting for Fred to get international clearance and a work visa before they officially announce the signing, but it could be announced next week, a source close to the negotiations said.

Fred's deal will be for four seasons and he will reportedly earn $150,000 in 2007. United plan to play him as a right-side attacking player. Fred helped the A-League's Melbourne Victory claim the Australian championship last month.

United surprisingly shipped away one of the league's stars in Freddy Adu, but with the lineup they are assembling, people in D.C. will be saying, "Freddy A-Who?"

My take: D.C. United clearly has the global scouting thing down and has come up big this off-season. Without using their DP, they have secured two international playmakers - Fred and Luciano Emilio. Everyone else will be playing catch-up in the Eastern Conference to these guys this season. Good signing for D.C., good signing for MLS.

Columbus Crew Win Lottery

No, it wasn't the $390 million Mega Millions jackpot, but the Columbus Crew got a nice consolation price today: The Crew won the weighted lottery held to determine which team would get Robbie Rogers, who is returning from Dutch club SC Heerenveen. Columbus had the best odds of winning the Rogers lottery, with each team being assigned a probability in reverse order of recent performance.

Rogers, 19, will be signed to a developmental contract. "It is tremendous to be able to add a young attacking talent who is going to be a mainstay for the U.S. in the upcoming U-20 World Cup," head coach Sigi Schmid said. Rogers tallied one goal and three assists in the recent CONCACAF Qualifying Tournament in Panama.


Fire After Blanco?

A report has surfaced claiming that the Chicago Fire are contempleting making an offer to Mexican attacker Cuauhtemoc Blanco. Blanco, 34, is a veteran on the Mexico National Team, scoring 30 goals in 82 appearances for his country. He currently plays for Club America.

Blanco was controversially left out of the squad for the 2006 World Cup, but has since returned and was in the lineup last month when the U.S. National Team defeated Mexico, 2-0 in Arizona.


D.C. United Chasing Fred

According to Steven Goff of the Washington Post, D.C. United are quietly chasing after Helbert Frederico Carreiro da Silva, better known as Fred. A Brazilian, Fred currently plays for current champion Melbourne Victory of Australia's A-League. He's 27 and usually plays attacking midfielder or striker. Fred tallied four goals and nine assists in 20 appearances in the 2006-07 season for Melbourne. In the '07 A-League Grand Final, he recorded four assists in Melbourne's 6-0 victory over Adelaide United.

Could he be another steal like Luciano Emilio appears to be? The rest of the league is definitely going to have to step it up in terms of worldwide scouting, as D.C. United is far beyond any other MLS team in that respect.

Beckham Injury Update

Real Madrid have confirmed that David Beckham will miss around a month of action after injuring a ligament in his right knee. He sustained the injury in Sunday's 1-1 tie with Getafe after running into the advertising hoardings behind the goal. Though he initially stayed in the game, Beckham had to be substituted off just five minutes later, visibly in pain.

He underwent further testing on Monday to determine the extent of his injury. According to the team's website, "[Beckham] has suffered a grade II sprain to the internal lateral ligament of the right knee."

This comes as a real blow to Beckham's hopes to get back into the England squad. He will also likely miss the next three Primera Liga games for RM and a charity game against Manchester United, set for March 13th. Beckham has not plyaed for England since they were knocked out of the World Cup by Portugal in the World Cup.

The Los Angeles Galaxy made an official statement on the injury, with general manager Alexi Lalas telling the media, "We do not expect this injury to affect [Beckham's] arrival in Los Angeles or his debut with the Galaxy." Beckham is expected to make his Galaxy debut in August.

Toronto FC Adds Casey, Busch

After a brief wait, Conor Casey has been officially signed by Toronto FC. Casey, 25, had been training with the team while waiting for the deal to go through. He has spent several seasons in Germany and has also been capped on the U.S. National Team, though the last time he was called up was in 2005. About Casey, coach Mo Johnston said, "He's a striker that adds a different flavor. We are strong up front and Conor is a good blend with our other guys."

Toronto also snatched up keeper Jon Busch in Monday's MLS waiver draft. Busch, 30, joins TFC after being cut by the Columbus Crew, rather unceremoniously. Columbus coach Sigi Schmid chose Will Hesmer and Bill Gaudette, both injured, over Busch, who is coming back from a knee injury suffered last year. "Being waived or cut is part of sports and I'm okay with that, Busch told the Columbus Dispatch. "But I'm not okay with the way it happened - I was, in essence, waived for two injured guys who did not have to earn the spot."


Beckham Injures Ligaments

We all knew this was a possibility, but now it appears to have happened: David Beckham has suffered a "potentially serious knee injury" in a Primera Liga match against Getafe. He appeared to sustain the injury when he hit some adverising signs while he was trying to chase down a ball. He stayed in the game for a while, but was substituted off in the 68th minute, visibly limping.
According to Real Madrid coach Fabio Capello, Beckham has sustained ligament damage in his knee and will miss this week's Champions League match at Bayern Munich. "It looks serious but I do not want to say how bad until the doctors do the scan."

Clubs doctors described it as "an injury to the lateral-internal ligament of the right knee."

He will undergo further tests tomorrow and we should know more then. Beckham will likely be out for up to six weeks.

If the injury is more serious, then you have to believe Alexi Lalas and AEG will be kicking themselves in the arse for not ponying up the money for a transfer fee when they had the chance. However, as it stands right now, Becks should be good to go by mid-April in the worst-case scenerio.

Q&A Time

Okay, it's time I started answering reader questions (or at least trying to). If you have a question regarding the MLS or U.S. Soccer, send it to LA.Galaxy.2006@gmail.com and I'll take the best ones and post the replies on The MLS Zone. I'm gonna try to do this feature about once a week, so we'll see how it goes.

Marty asks: "What happened to John O'Brien?"
TJ says: John O'Brien, perhaps the brightest shining star for the U.S. in the '02 World Cup, has been hampered by patellar tendonitis since June and has also suffered various other injuries. He came to Chivas USA last year and made a reported $270,000, according to the Washington Post. Unfortunately, his injuries limited him to five, yes FIVE, minutes of playing time all year.

This year, Chivas USA has decided not to pick up the club's option on him and he is free to join any club outside MLS. If another MLS club wants to acquire him, they would have to trade for his rights.

Currently, he is un-attached to a club, but Chivas USA still owns his rights. At this point, it appears O'Brien is focusing on full recovery (if it is ever bound to happen) and not putting a timetable on his return. I think he set himself back a few months when he tried to play hurt in the '06 World Cup.

It's too bad about O'Brien - he truly was one of the best American players in recent years. He played the second half of the Czech Republic game in the 2006 World Cup, which still boggles the mind. How Bruce Arena could see him as the best option at a time when he hadn't played for several months before I'll never know. Almost a year later, he's no closer to getting back on the pitch. But if O'Brien ever does get healthy again, I'd expect him to head to Red Bull New York to team up with Arena one more time.


Freddy Adu Hopes For Spain Move

Real Salt Lake attacking midfielder Freddy Adu would like to play for Real Madrid one day. Adu is currently training with the rest of his team in Spain - they are set to play a friendly against a Madrid Select XI. He hopes to impress Primera Liga scouts enough to be offered a chance to make the move, saying, "My desire to come here still stands... Maybe one day, Real Madrid's going to come knocking."On his move to Real Salt Lake, Adu told RealMadrid.com, "I couldn't be happier. Not a lot of people know this, but it was something I wanted. I'm an attacking midfielder and I knew this team was going to give me an opportunity to play in that position."

Adu recently had a two-week trial with Manchester United, but says he knew immediately that he would refuse a move to the Premiership if offered, because he wouldn't be allowed to play his natural position.


Toronto FC Season Tickets Going Fast

Expansion team Toronto FC is selling season tickets like they're going out of style. The club has already sold 13,500 season tickets for its inaugural season, plus all of its corporate suites at BMO Field, which has a capacity of 20,000. Expect all of those seats to be filled on August 5th when Los Angeles comes to town - it's likely to be David Beckham's first regular season game with the Galaxy.
In other TFC news, coach Mo Johnston says the team is in good shape a month into pre-season training and another two or three players with international or MLS experience should be added before the start of the season. "We just brought in Andy Welsh, who played for Sunderland. He has been very impressive so far," Johnston said.

Johnston went on to say that he is still searching for another experience keeper to join the team: "We are talking to one overseas keeper right now," he said. "Hopefully something positive can come of that."


Chinese Player On Trial In L.A.

Chinese defender Yao Lijun will soon be on trial with the Los Angeles Galaxy, according to reports. He was invited by the club and is now awaiting a visa. "I will kick off the tour right after my visa is ready. I am well prepared." Yao told Eastday.com yesterday.

Yao plays for Shanghai Shenhua and says he feels lucky because the bosses in Shenhua have fully supported his U.S. tour.

The Los Angeles Galaxy are looking for depth in defense. They traded away promising young defender Ugo Ihemelu to the Colorado Rapids this offseason and will also likely be without U.S. National Team call-up Chris Albright for part of the upcoming MLS season due to national team duty.

Conrad Stays At Home

After several European teams inquired about his services, Kansas City Wizards defender Jimmy Conrad has agreed to a four-year deal to stay in the MLS. "He's excited about the new direction in Kansas City," said agent Lyle Yorks. The terms of the deal have not been disclosed.
Last month, the MLS rejected a transfer offer of $550,000 from Norwegian team Lillestrom FC and several Budesliga clubs also had interest in the 30-year-old, according to Yorks. "Over in Europe, with any club, every game matters. Being able to play in those circumstances would be just different than what it is here... It's just a matter of time before MLS can get there," Conrad said.

On the new ownership in Kansas City, Conrad said: "Everything they said they were going to do, they've done... I think we have a good team and I think we're going to do some damage this year."

Conrad has also found success with the U.S. Men's National Team - he scored the first goal in the 2-0 victory over Mexico in February and also saw time in two games in the 2006 World Cup.