By Kevin Koczwara
The Los Angeles Galaxy have come close to winning the MLS Cup the last two years. In 2009, the Galaxy lost in a shootout in the MLS Cup Final to Real Salt Lake. In 2010, the Galaxy were upset by FC Dallas in the quarter-finals of the Cup playoffs after dominating the regular season and winning the Community Shield – given out to the team with the best regular season record in Major League Soccer.
Los Angeles claimed much of, if not all of, the prime-time television slots the MLS owned this year because the team has the league’s most recognizable faces, David Beckham and Landon Donovan and one of best overall attendance record of any team. The Galaxy had the away average attendance and second best home attendance numbers, (Home: 21,436; Away 18,522) thanks to the team’s high profile players and its winning ways.
Galaxy owner Philip Anschutz and his holding company AEG, Anschutz Entertainment Group, have not shied away from splashing cash around for big-name players and top of the line talent. Anschutz wanted Landon Donovan, he got him. Anshutz wanted to bring in Beckham to boost ticket sales and make the Galaxy the most dominant brand in the MLS. He did it immediately after the MLS introduced the Designated Player rule, aka the “Beckham Rule.”
Now, it looks like the Galaxy won’t stop with its pursuit of a one time Ballon d’Or winner.
Rumors have link Los Angeles and Brazilian samba star Ronadlinho for some time now. The AC Milan forward and former Barcelona man has seen his playing time slip this season after Milan signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho on separate loan deals. Ronaldinho’s contract expires at the end of the Serie A season, and he has not impressed the Rossoneri latest manager, Massimiliano Allegri.
As designated players go, Ronaldinho would be another splash like Beckham.
The Brazilian winger brings excitement to the field every time he steps on to the grass. His skill on the ball has never really left him, but the moves were once lighting-fast are now three-quarters that speed. He still has the ability to break a defense at any moment with a great pass through the midfield and around or over a defense. While the pace Ronaldinho used with his amazing dribbling ability has diminished over the years, the Brazilian can still make defenders look outmatched and out classed at times. His skill and ability aren’t seen often by defenders in the MLS, if ever.
The big draw for a team to bring in Ronaldinho as a designated player: his marketability to the American soccer fan.
Ronaldinho’s big smile and puffy hair are recognizable to most Americans, even if they aren’t world soccer fans. He was the face of Nike’s assault on the soccer market in the mid-2000’s, and had one of the companies best commercials. His mug graced the front the popular video game FIFA in ‘06, ‘07, ‘08 and ‘09.
If he moves to Los Angeles, it could be another Beckham experience across the MLS all over again, minus the beautiful and equally famous wife.
But why does everyone feel like Ronaldinho has to be on his way to LA if he comes to the MLS? There have been reports he has agreed to a contract, but nothing has been confirmed (yes, I know Thierry Henry had agreed to a contract in principal with the New York Red Bulls and reports had been denied by all parties until after the World Cup when Henry was signed).
Would it be wild and unbelievable to see Ronaldinho move over the Atlantic to play with the New York Red Bulls?
I don’t think so.
Los Angeles has Hollywood, plenty of famous faces and warm weather. But, New York is the center of the Universe, or so it is perceived. The Big Apple possesses just about everything the Brazilian could be looking for if he moves to the MLS.
The Red Bulls have a new, beautiful stadium just outside New York City. The team has two former Barcelona men, Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez, like Ronaldinho. New York should have plenty of money on the books to make a signing like Ronaldinho after the club let one of its three designated players, Juan Pablo Angel, contract expire at the end of this season.
Ronaldinho makes sense in New York.
His face, along with Marquez and Henry, could plaster the city, make them one of the hottest tickets in town – we all know no one is going to see the Knicks, the Islanders or the New Jersey Nets, and the Mets seem to be in the midst of an injury curse comparable to the Black Plague. And the Rangers, well, they are still the Rangers and the NHL season shouldn’t interfere with the MLS season unless the Rangers somehow make a remarkable run in the playoffs.The only team the Red Bulls have to compete with for fans at home games during the MLS season is the Yankees, and only the richest of the rich can afford tickets to the new Yankee Stadium.
Soccer keeps making strides, especially in the major markets, and Ronaldinho would be another brand name face for the league. If he has already decided on Los Angeles, then the rest of the league has a lot of catching up to do. If he has a change of heart and decides on New York, then we could witness a shift in power and see the Red Bulls claim its first MLS championship very soon, as well as become the hottest ticket in the league.
Kevin Koczwara can be reached at Kevin.Koczwara@thesoccerguysonline.com.