Mid-afternoon Wednesday on an absurdly busy news day in Major League Soccer, ESPN’s Taylor Twellman dropped a lulu on Twitter: long-suffering striker Jozy Altidore was heavy into negotiations for a return to the league where he first made his pro bones.
On any other day, this would have kicked Twitter into a frenzy. This is crack cocaine for we soccer nerds, right? But the reaction on this particular Wednesday was quite telling. More than one of us thought (and a few even voiced the sentiment): Taylor, give us a chance to breathe. Please.
See, “busy news day” doesn’t begin to tell the story of Jan. 7, 2015. Let’s go with: most hectic offseason MLS news day since a certain frigid January day in 2007 when rumors of David Beckham’s ballyhooed move merged into reality. Nothing on Wednesday was so profound, but stacked together, this was one insane day in MLS buzz.
Here’s how it unfolded:
9:36 a.m. Eastern …
Action: New York fires Mike Petke, who won a Supporters Shield in 2013 and then took the Red Bulls to last year’s Eastern Conference final. The guy was all Red Bull through and through, a former player who won over fans in a place where so few have. Not to mention that he was 30-19-19 in league play, nothing short of remarkable for a club that historically can’t get out of its own way.
Reaction: Cue the outrage … and understandably so. What was this new sporting director Ali Curtis’ doing? Or was the call made higher up by … well, whichever of the suits in the byzantine Red Bull hierarchy is making the day’s choices. But before we could even begin to sort that one, another big shoe was about to fall around Red Bull Arena. Read on …
10:45 a.m. Eastern …
Action: League champion LA Galaxy announce that Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard has indeed been signed for StubHub Center duty.
Reaction: This one was no shocker; the news emerged from Liverpool over the weekend, first that “Stevie G” would vacate his long-held place at Anfield and then that the Galaxy was his destination. Still, the official announcement is important; when it comes to Designated Player doings, nothing is done until it’s done – just ask your nearest NYCFC supporter.
12:03 p.m. Eastern …
Action: Jesse Marsch is your new Red Bulls manager!
Reaction: Marsch, a Bob Bradley protégé, was relatively successful in his one year in charge of expansion Montréal. Hard to say where the disconnect was around Stade Saputo; Marsch can be opinionated and a bit stubborn, but the Impact’s front office has never quite screamed “stability” either. At any rate, history says this: Marsch may be Rinus Michels and Jose Mourinho all rolled into one, but when it comes to managers at this stumble-prone organization, we just turn over the hour glass and wait for the sand to run out. After all, it’s fired some good ones now, including Bradley, Bruce Arena and now Petke. So … uh … good luck Jesse!
1:00 p.m. Eastern …
Action: Citing sources, Goal USA reports that the Red Bulls are in negotiations to acquire U.S. international and Anderlecht midfielder Sacha Kljestan.
Reaction: Dude had a good run in Europe, eh? Kljestan spent four-plus successful years at a mid-level Euro outfit. Now he’s likely headed stateside, and you know what? Who cares what Jurgen Klinsmann thinks about this one; the U.S. boss didn’t take Kljestan to Brazil anyway!
As for where this gust fit in Wednesday’s ongoing drama:
2:02 p.m. Eastern …
Action: Major League Soccer announces the full 2015 schedule. So, home openers, rivalry dates, big matches, TV games, some new “flex scheduling” for TV, FIFA breaks and long overdue simultaneous kickoffs on the final match day … the whole shebang!
Reaction: There’s really so much news here, but maybe it takes a wider lens to spot the larger, more important substance: It’s the league’s 20th schedule. 20th! I really did want to print it out, roll it up and go around playfully swatting a few people who once told me, “That league will never last.”
2:02 p.m. Eastern …
Action: As first reported by Brian Straus at SI.com, the league’s playoff field will indeed expand by two teams, from 10 to 12. MLS made it official in the same press release, alongside the schedule details.
Reaction: So now the sixth-place teams in both the Eastern and Western Conferences qualify, eh? Well, the single table advocates will have a field day with this one. To their point: in adding more forgiveness to those who cannot quite get their “S” together through the spring and summer but still join the postseason party, it does make the regular season less relevant.
2:15 p.m. Eastern …
Action: Story drops out of England that U.S. defender DeAndre Yedlin has completed his first training session with Spurs.
Reaction: I mean, yeah, on any other day this would rate some mention. Plus, we’d still be picking apart yesterday’s news biggies, Roger Espinoza’s return to Sporting Kansas City and Garth Lagerwey inheriting a big role with the Seattle Sounders. Today? Sorry, boys … gotta move on.
2:30 p.m. Eastern …
Action: As mentioned above, Taylor Twellman tweets that Altidore is plotting that escape from Sunderland. Like, now! MLS is among the groups interested.
Reaction: Doesn’t the whole Frank Lampard mess seem like it happened about three weeks ago? At any rate, Twellman says Toronto, Portland and the Red Bulls are all pressing noses against the store window here. New York was Altidore’s original pro club, but Timbers owner Merritt Paulson has dropped tasty morsels of hints lately that a big U.S. name may be en route to Providence Park. Hmmmm.
Either way, Altidore is unlikely to fetch anything near the $10 million fee to Spanish side Villarreal paid MLS back in June 2008.
Into the afternoon …
Action: Wait, Atlético is playing Real Madrid today? Well, pooh! No time for that. Especially as more reports emerge that clubs are kicking the tires on Kljestan. And with Thierry Henry’s retirement, speculation continues to fall on the Red Bulls (who have two DP spots open). Of course, it won’t be Kljestan if Mix Diskerud is in the pipeline, as mounting media reports have suggested. I mean, as long as we’re just tossing names around willy-nilly, can’t Juan Agudelo get some rumor love on a day so full of it?
Somewhere in there, Portland center back Liam Ridgewell went on loan to Wigan, Ben Olsen reshuffled his assistant coaching staff and Curtis, the spanking new Red Bull sporting director, just 36 years old and apparently attempting to establish himself as domestic soccer’s Theo Epstein, stepped up to take ownership of Petke’s shocker ouster. On another day, we’d have a little bit of time chew on that one, wouldn’t we?