Considering the negative publicity that engulfed soccer recently, it was truly a breath of fresh air when last Tuesday CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb recognized Mexican club Santos Laguna with the CONCACAF Fair Play award. Santos Laguna finished runners-up to another Mexican club, Monterrey, which rallied from a 2-0 deficit to win 4-2 and capture this year’s CONCACAF Champions League trophy in a very competitive game at Monterrey. During the trophy presentation, Santos Laguna players formed two lines to create what was referred to as a ‘column of honor’ and applauded as the champion Monterrey players walked through to receive the Champions League trophy and their medals.
“Acts like the one carried out by Santos Laguna demonstrate the best qualities of our sport; the respect for rivals even in the most difficult moments, as after a defeat in an important finals match,” said CONCACAF’s President, Jeffrey Webb. “For that reason, I’ve decided to recognize Club Santos Laguna, its players, coaches, administrators and executives for elevating the ideal of Fair Play and promoting this message of unity and respect to our region — a clear example to follow.”
Webb’s gesture could not have come at a more opportune time. On Saturday, April 27, 46-year-old Salt Lake City referee Ricardo Portillo was punched in the face by a 17-year-old player and died two days later at nearby Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, a Salt Lake City suburb. The referee called a foul against the goalkeeper, who retaliated with a punch to Portillo’s head. After arriving at the hospital, swelling developed in the referee’s brain, which led to his death.
There was the abhorrent act by Liverpool player Luis Suarez, who, during an English Premier League game versus Chelsea last month, bit Chelsea defender Ivanovic on the arm; Suarez was suspended for a mere nine games. There was also last month’s the damning CONCACAF report, which revealed years of mishandling of funds by former CONCACAF president, Jack Warner, and general secretary, Chuck Blazer. Racist taunts are still prevalent at games despite condemnation from fans, players and officials.
Soccer officials must be more aggressive to guard the ‘beautiful game’ or we’ll be left with frustrated fans unable to enjoy the game. Clubs and officials should take a page from Webb’s play book and promote and reward good sportsmanship and character amongst players. Conversely, they must mete out harsher penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct, so that players truly understand that such conduct is absolutely not tolerated. Kudos to Santos Laguna – a true model of excellent sportsmanship.
FERGUSON TO RETIRE
Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson, considered the most successful coach in English soccer, will retire from the sidelines at season’s end, according to a report on the club’s website. Ferguson’s last game as coach of the Red Devils will be at West Bromwich Albion on Sunday, May 19.
“The decision to retire is one that I have thought a great deal about and one that I have not taken lightly,’’ said Ferguson, who led United to its 20th English league championship this season and its 13th Premiership title. “It is the right time.”
“It was important to me to leave an organization in the strongest possible shape and I believe I have done so,” continued Ferguson. “The quality of this league winning squad, and the balance of ages within it, bodes well for continued success at the highest level whilst the structure of the youth set-up will ensure that the long-term future of the club remains a bright one.”
RED BULLS ON TOP
The New York Red Bulls (5-4-2, 17 pts.) climbed atop the MLS Eastern Conference standings when it won its third straight away game in a 1-0 encounter at Columbus Crew last Saturday. Cahill, who has scored three goals in the last four games, headed in a rebound after Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum failed to hold onto a Jonathan Steel shot. The Red Bulls announced that it will host an international friendly between the women’s national teams of the USA and Korean Republic on June 10, at Red Bull Arena in Harrison (NJ).
In other MLS news, Kansas City’s Kei Kamara’s successful loan stint in the English Premier League with Norwich City FC is over and the player returned to MLS last week. Norwich did not extend the deal or offer to buy the player. Said Kamara: “I want to thank the Norwich City organization for everything they did for me. Not everyone gets to live their dreams, but they gave me mine.” The player also thanked the fans and said that there will be a “….place in my heart for Norwich.”
TRINIDAD PLAYERS TO BE PAID
After a seven-year battle, the Trinidad and Tobago Football (Soccer) Federation finally will pay the 13 players from the 2006 World Cup squad who were owed World Cup monies, according to a report in the local Express newspaper. Player representative Brent Sancho told the Express that he was especially thankful to new Federation president Raymond Tim Kee for resolving the situation.
Meanwhile, the country’s men’s national team, in preparing for the CONCACAF Gold Cup in the USA this summer, will travel to Europe for international friendlies against Romania and Estonia in early June. Trinidad Soca Warriors open Gold Cup play versus El Salvador (July 8) at Red Bull Arena; then play Haiti (July 12) and Honduras (July 15).