MLS: Getting Serious

I have to admit up front that working up much - or even any - sympathy for Bruce Arena is next to impossible for me.

Along with most other fans of U.S. Soccer, I held my nose for all those years when he ran the national side, but the day Captain Queeg left that job we could finally breath again and go back to the natural state of things, ie. hating his guts.

Nevertheless, the Richard Nixon of American soccer finds himself in a tough spot at the moment, having to rebuild a terminally crappy team and not having the first clue how much money he can spend doing it.

At the moment, something like a third or more of his available salary cap money is tied up in two guys who may not be there come Spring. With camp scheduled to open in a couple weeks and the season due to kick off in under two months, Arena either does or doesn't have about $800,000 to spend on players.

And as the clock ticks down on the January transfer window, it doesn't look like he'll have an answer anytime soon.

It does appear that Landon is gone, at least if Landon has anything to say about it. He's being quoted as saying he'd "like to stay longer" than his current two month stint at Bayern.

Likewise David Beckham, aside from the ignorant mewlings of the increasingly desperate for attention Panayotis Lalas, may be wavering a bit on his rock-solid pledge to return to LA, telling the assembled drooling, spittle-flecked frontrunning foreign football press that he'll be in Milan at least until March and then "we'll see".

(Say what you want about Steven Goff, Jack Bell, Shawn Mitchell et. al: not even Gareth Wheeler has ever been called "spittle flecked")

Additionally, selling Landon Donovan would likely involve one whopper of a transfer fee, meaning that in addition to a huge pile of available cap money Arena would also have an equally nice pile of cash to spend.

Maybe.

It doesn't look like il Bruce will have many - or even any - answers until just before the start of the season. For now, he has no choice but to operate under the same financial parameters that the previous management team ("management" being a relative term in this case) labored under, at least for now.

Which means it's entirely likely that the team he starts the season with may bear but little resemblance to the one he goes into September with.

Honestly, it's hard to say which he'd rather have - the money to spend however he wants or Donovan and Beckham in uniform. The suspicion is that, all things considered, he'd prefer the cash. There's only room for one superstar in his locker room, and he's it.

And if his arrogant, snobbish, abrasive excuse for a personality isn't enough to keep you from feeling for the guy, there's the fact that, more often than not, Arena has proved to be a flat-out killer on draft day.

In case you've forgotten, the last time he was calling the shots (for les Taureaux Rouges) he didn't have a first round pick and somehow left the room with Dane Richards and Sinesa Ubiparipovic in his knapsack.

Both of them started for the Bulls in MLS Cup.

The always-interesting (this time of year) FROM COLLEGE TO THE PROS blog has an interesting approach to which teams stand to walk away from the draft with a few guys who can help them out.

Of course Toronto ends up on top of the list, with Mo Johnston's Stack O' Picks, and Columbus - with no pick at all before #30, the last selection in the second round - might as well sleep in. At the least it would be less painful than sitting there for two hours watching the cream of college soccer march off to play for somebody else.

A lot like getting up Christmas morning and watching all the other kids open really cool presents while you try to act like you don't care that after a while someone is going to hand you a couple pairs of socks.

As we all know, the key dynamic at the Combine seldom occurs out at Lockhart Stadium, but rather in the cocktail lounge of the Sheraton Yankee Clipper.

Each team's staff tends to stake out their space and then entertain whoever comes over for a freindly chat. Normally, these conversations begin with someone offering you their clubhouse boy for your All Star forward - can't shoot a man for trying, right? - but then turn to more realistic scenarios.

But because all the same guys are due to reconvene in a couple days in the city where the draft will be held - to the great relief of the waitresses at the Sheraton, whose fannies have been pinched and their tips shorted until they're ready to go on strike - it's unusual for much of anything to get finalized.

Today is maybe the most interesting day of the off season, a day when most avid fans would trade their firstborn for a seat in the room when the team staffs make the hop to the NSCAA convention, where they will then sequester themselves, order room service and look at their options.

What offers do they have for which players? Who is willing to give you what for that first round pick? Debates over which players will be available when their pick comes, and which one they really want and whether he'll still be there when their turn comes and if they're in love with him enough to trade up and make sure and who has a pick high enough and what would they want for it and on and on.

It's crunch time for these guys.

And this year, the cast of characters sitting there holding their cards close to the vest is almost more interesting than all those players who'll spend most of tonight staring at the ceiling of a St. Louis hotel room.

Sigi and Bruce, Stevie and Dom, Mo and Frank, Schellas for the first time, Jason for the second. Tom and the DC bunch badly needing a home run or two, Denis who knows time is running out for him to win, Juan Carlos having to somehow duplicate an impossible season, Curt who needs a whole lot of stuff, Preki who may not need much at all.

Serious guys who know that while the Superdraft isn't the be-all and end-all of putting together a team but who also know that it's possible to hit the jackpot.

This is fun stuff here.

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