According to Italian media reports, Miroslav Klose, the former German international, world champion and World Cup record goal-scorer who currently plays for Lazio Roma, will in winter decide whether he will be plying his trade in the Major League Soccer (MLS) from March onwards. At the moment though, the fans are being enthralled by the thrilling season-ending play-offs – three of the four top teams in the regular season have qualified for the two Conference finals. The big favourite for the title is New York Red Bulls.
Whilst the current season is fast approaching its climax, planning for the next MLS campaign is already underway. The league is again looking to attract some big names to North America – the best-known candidate at present is the world champion Miroslav Klose.
According to the Italian newspaper “La Republicca”, the 37-year old Lazio striker has an offer from a MLS club and will decide in the winter break whether he wants to embark upon a new challenge in North America from March or not.
Already done and dusted is the appointment of France’s world and European champion Patrick Viera as the head coach at New York City FC. His former teammate in both the national team and at Arsenal, Thierry Henry, is pleased for Viera and is eager to see how he does at the helm of a senior team. Previously, the Frenchman was the youth team coach at Manchester City, a franchise partner of NYC FC. “I wish him the best of luck, he’s earned it too. He’ll love New York – but he’s chosen the wrong team,” joked Henry, who retired in 2014 as the second best goal-scorer in the history of the local rivals, New York Red Bulls.
Klose, the World Cup record goal-scorer with 16 goals, and Viera can convince themselves of the strength of the MLS as the play-offs have produced a spectacle of the highest class. With the Conference semifinals now over, four teams are left in the running for the title. Facing each other in the final of the Eastern Conference will be Columbus Crew and New York Red Bulls. The first leg will be played on Sunday, 22 November (11.00 pm CET). In the Western Conference, Portland Timber will take on Dallas later on Sunday night (23 November at 1.30 am CET).
With Columbus (4th), New York (1st) and Dallas (2nd) still in the competition, it means three of the top four teams from the regular season have made it to the last four. After finishing third, Vancouver is the only one to miss out on a place in the semis. However, the Whitecaps did only pip the successful semifinalists Portland Timbers (5th) in the league on goal difference.
The big title favourite is however the New York Red Bulls. After topping the table in the regular season, the MLS Supporters Shield, the club has continued its winning ways in the Conference semifinals to record two 1-0 wins against D.C. United from Washington. The team’s success has surprised many pundits in North America as Red Bull, after Henry’s departure last year, tightened their belts and refused to make expensive signings. The contract with Tim Cahill, the Australian international and former Everton star, was also not extended. Instead, Oliver Mintzlaff, the chairman of the German second division outfit RB Leipzig and the director of football at Red Bull, has turned to talented young players and in doing so has saved about 30 million dollars. With a budget of just 3.8 million dollars, NYRB has the lowest in the league. RB Leipzig’s head coach Ralf Rangnick, who is well-informed about everything happening at the sister club, is pleased about the development. “It is confirmation that even without designated players and the lowest budget, New York is as successful as never before,” he said when speaking to the “Mitteldeutschen Zeitung”, a German newspaper. It’s true both on and off the pitch. With crowds averaging over 20, 000, the club is well on track to setting a new record.
With their fans behind them, New York is aiming to overcome Columbus Crew in the two Conference finals on 22 and 29 November. Their opponents progressed at the expense of Montreal Impact which also ended the title dreams of Chelsea legend Didier Drogba who had enjoyed a fantastic start to his first six months in the MLS by scoring 12 goals in 14 games. At Columbus Crew, hopes before the duel with New York rest on the shoulders of striker Kei Kamara from Sierra Leone. The 31-year old scored 22 goals in the regular season and only missed out on becoming the league’s top scorer as Sebastian Giovinco from FC Toronto (also 22 goals) provided more assists. He since has conserved his form for the play-offs where he contributed two goals – including the vital third goal in extra time (111th min) – in the 3-1 victory against Montreal.
In the west, the encounter between Dallas and Portland is electrifying American football fans. For Dallas, it will be the first Conference final since 2010 and the enthusiasm has been boundless ever since the 4-2 penalty shoot-out win against Seattle Sounders in the decisive game in the previous round. After winning the first leg 2-1, Seattle and their former Bundesliga player Andreas Ivanschitz were on the verge of progressing up with six minutes to go in the second leg as both teams had failed to find back of the net. The game then sparked into life – and how. First Dallas go 1-0 up, Seattle then equalises in added time but Dallas promptly goes back in front 2-1 – extra time. Penalty shoot-out. Ivanschitz and others miss, Dallas goes through and their fans amongst the 17,300 crowd go wild – now they are eagerly awaiting the next round of the play-offs.