Empire XI: Villa? Xavi? Raul?! Yes – Spain is America’s new Brazil

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Christian Araos
Staff Writer

David Villa is New York City FC’s first player, Raul is reportedly set to be the New York Cosmos’ new striker and the XaviNew York Red Bulls rumors were only recently put to bed.

These are three local teams all looking to raise its profile and they have all looked to Spanish talent to do so. That is not a coincidence; it’s just proof that Spain won.

Spain’s on-the-field success can be proven by the countless articles that dissect Barcelona, Real Madrid, Vicente Del Bosque et al..  However, it’s the off-the-field success — the reason that Villa, Raul and Xavi are seen not only as good players, but prominent ones in the eyes of the New York teams — that is highlights their achievement in convergence.

Spain’s recent success came at the perfect time when viewed in respect to achieving prominence in America. The same could be said with the 1970 Brazil squad which was the first national team many Americans remember — or even paid attention to.  They were not only the greatest team to win the World Cup, but also benefited as the first color broadcast of the tournament, with weekly highlights on ABC’s World Wide of Sports bringing stars like Pele and Carlos Alberto to life.  They benefited the most from that exposure as they played for the original New York Cosmos.

Both remain revered figures in U.S. soccer to this day.

It has to be noted that the fact that Brazil played such an aesthetically pleasing brand of soccer contributed greatly to their players becoming transcendent figures in the sport. America might have been relatively unaware of the sport of soccer, but it was not too naive to ignore the Brazilian’s brilliance at that World Cup and they duly acknowledged that by packing stadiums to see those players in action with the Cosmos.

With Spain, we see a lot of the same factors in effect. Euro 2008 was a landmark tournament for soccer in America in that it proved that there would always be a sizable audience to broadcast international soccer — regardless of who played.  It was also the first mass-exposure to the famed tiki-taka. We all became enamored with Spain’s passing style and how they dominated possession during a time when interest in European soccer was beginning to increase towards the level that it is at now.

Right at the same time Spain completed their ascent as the world’s best team, Pep Guardiola took over as Barcelona manager with players like Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta just beginning to emerge as key players for the club after years inside its youth and reserve teams. We know how the rest of the story went with Guardiola and Barcelona, but it was the fact that we got to see the story unfold that matters.

It is really hard to grasp at the fact that we Americans were able to follow Spain and Barcelona through their respective runs almost as easily as Spanish citizens did. It was possible to legally watch every competitive match Spain played from Euro 2008 to the present day, whether on ESPN television or ESPN3.  Almost every competitive match Guardiola’s Barcelona played was featured on a multitude of networks as well.

In essence, Spain and Barcelona were the first soccer dynasties that America witnessed and noted on a similar scale to recent sporting dynasties like the New York Yankees and the New England Patriots.

Our new found ability to witness and chronicle those dynasties meant that the players who contributed the most to the team’s success were going to be revered and seen as prominent figures within the sport — well after their playing days are done. The funny thing is that how big of a role they played ultimately does not matter. David Villa was a tier below Messi, Xavi and Iniesta. Raul did not win any trophies with Spain and Marcos Senna only won the European Championship. Senna is and Villa will be earning their millions playing in America.  We will wait and see with Raul and maybe Xavi.

Though the message is clear for anybody that played with Spain from 2008-present or with Barcelona under Pep Guardiola, America fell in love with you and we are more than ready to show it with our wallets.

Empire XI

1. Sensible words from New York Cosmos COO Erik Stover on the potential impact a new stadium would have when he spoke to Matthew Levine.  Stover’s point on a new stadium’s impact on attendance is correct when he cited the effect of opening Red Bull Arena on the New York Red Bulls whose average attendance rose 50% in the first season played there.

2. It is very hard to fathom that the Red Bulls and the Portland Timbers, one-two in last year’s Supporters Shield Standings, are 15th and 16th this year. It is very hard for MLS teams to consistently be at the top of the table year after year, but neither the Red Bulls or the Timbers were expected to be this low in the standings as we near the midway point of the season.

3. That shocking drop already has the Timbers looking to once again solve their center back issues as Futty Danso was traded to the Montreal Impact for a second round pick in next year’s Superdraft. As Taylor Twellman reported, the Timbers are looking to make former Manchester City Center Back Joleon Lescott the richest defender in MLS but Lescott is also being linked to as many as three Premier League teams. Lescott is also out of contract, so any sort of Man City-NYCFC loan rumor would be false.

4. Question for Red Bulls fans: which is a bigger game in your eyes – this Sunday’s match at the New England Revolution or the Open Cup tie against the Cosmos? As mentioned in this space, the Open Cup should not be that big of a deal for the Red Bulls but the team is out of form and will be without Tim Cahill and Roy Miller because of the World Cup and Thierry Henry and Jamison Olave given the turf which makes them underdogs against the Revolution.

If the Red Bulls lose on Sunday, the same selection problems would persist for the Open Cup game. It has to be acknowledged that the thought of a fanbase, already annoyed at the way the season is going, would get further angered with a loss to the Cosmos. This thought would force Head Coach Mike Petke’s hand and play more starters against the Cosmos than he would have normally preferred.

5. It’s always a good sign when the number one play in SportsCenter’s Top Ten on Monday, Fabian Espindola’s long curler for DC United, could not crack the five nominees for MLS’ Goal of the Week.

6. Speaking of MLS online, voting is now open for the MLS All Star Game. I went the fan vote way and named my team with a 4-4-2 formation in mind: Luis Robles (Red Bulls); David Horst (Houston Dynamo), Bobby Boswell (DC United), Chad Marshall (Seattle Sounders), Michael Parkhurst (Columbus Crew); Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Sounders), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution); Jermain Defoe (Toronto FC), Bradley Wright-Phillips (Red Bulls).

Obviously this would not be the actual starting XI that would start the All Star Game but just my opinion on who has been the best player in each position. DC United Left Back Christian was not on the nominees list but is a worthy candidate, same applies with Vancouver Whitecaps Striker Erik Hurtado who has been that good since making his first team debut; Montreal Impact Winger Justin Mapp, Chicago Fire Winger Harry Shipp and Colorado Rapids Goalkeeper Clint Irwin were the players just left off of my eleven. Fan voting closes July 11.

7. The easiest way to frame any thoughts you have about the US Men’s National Team’s chances in Brazil off of the performances during the team’s first two friendlies is to treat it the same way you would if this were the NFL Preseason. The direct link between the USMNT and your favorite NFL team is that the US are playing four friendlies before their first competitive game, but more crucially, the friendlies are giving Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann samplings of his players in game situations.

8. The simplest way to see that is in the fact that 22 of the 23 players on the US World Cup roster have played in the last two games with Klinsmann pretty much scheduling his subs for both games. We do not know the formalities of the final pre-World Cup match against Belgium in that if it will be a formal match behind closed doors or more of a test match as was the case in 2006.

With that in mind, expect this final sendoff game against Nigeria to be like your favorite NFL team’s third preseason game with the likely starters for Ghana starting the match and with fewer early outfield substitutions. It would make some sense for Nick Rimando to get a half of gametime so do not be surprised if that is the case on Saturday not only since it gives Klinsmann a sampling but because each player on the World Cup roster deserves some playing time in front of the home fans.

9. Fabian Johnson is now the fifth player who, if healthy, you can write in stone as a starter for the USMNT against Ghana. Jermaine Jones could become the sixth with a good performance against Nigeria but it still looks like he is figuring out his responsibilities as the player at the base of the midfield diamond. Kyle Beckerman knows his responsibilities much better given his role with Real Salt Lake and it is something that Klinsmann is well aware of. However, if the US were to revert to the 4-2-3-1, Jones is going to start.

10. Not to make an excuse for his late game mistakes but Timmy Chandler took a knock while tracking back in the second half against Turkey that contributed to his overall fatigue which led to the costly giveaway late. It was a mixed performance from Chandler but the starting left back job is going to go the player more likely to not make defensive mistakes and DaMarcus Beasley has the edge in that category as of right now.

11. Spare a thought for Luis Montes, Falcao, Romulo, Alvaro Saborio and all the other players who would have made their country’s respective World Cup squads had it not been for the serious injuries they picked up.