Hello, and welcome to another edition of the L.A. Times soccer newsletter. I’m Kevin Baxter, The Times’ soccer writer, and we’ll start today by catching up with Edson Buddle, a fan favorite during his playing days with the Galaxy.
Timing was a big part of Buddle’s success and it’s how he became one of just 11 players in MLS history to score 100 regular-season goals, 17 more than former teammate Robbie Keane.
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Buddle also timed his trade to the Galaxy just right, joining the team four weeks before David Beckham’s debut and 13 months before Bruce Arena arrived. He scored a goal in his first game, then went on to help the team win a Western Conference title and a Supporters’ Shield while winning team MVP honors.
His timing was perfect in 2010, too, when he scored a career-high 17 times to win a spot on the World Cup team.
But this year? Not so much.
Buddle’s dream has always been to follow his father into coaching, one that was about to become reality last October when he was named manager of his hometown team, the Westchester Flames of the fourth-tier USL League 2. But the timing proved bad because before Buddle had a chance to put a roster together, the season was halted by the COVID-19 pandemic – and it’s unlikely to start soon.
“I’m not heartbroken yet. I still have my fingers crossed and I think things will get back to normal,” Buddle said by phone from his parents’ house in New Rochelle, N.Y., one of the early U.S. epicenters of the novel coronavirus. “I didn’t get a chance to do the scouting. I was really looking forward to the beginning of the season. We were ready to go.”
Buddle’s father Winston, who named his son after Pele, the brilliant Brazilian star, has run the Golden Touch Soccer Academy since 1994. The younger Buddle not only developed there but returned often to help his dad. That’s where the coaching bug bit him so in 2009, shortly after the Galaxy’s loss in the MLS Cup final, Buddle got his coaching license.
“I’ve always been around it, whether it was after school helping out, coaching one-on-one,” he said. “My dad, I would just wait for him to show me what to do. And now, realizing that I’ve been in environments that my dad hasn’t gone into at the highest level, it’s up to me to take what he’s shown me and, along with the things I’ve experienced, [and] put that together going forward.”
USL League 2, which has 82 teams in the U.S. and Canada – among them the Ventura County Fusion and Southern California Seahorses – is a spring/summer developmental league made up primarily of elite college players. Teams play 14 regular-season matches, seven at home and seven on the road. The 2020 season was scheduled to start May 9.
In addition to working with his father, Buddle played under three of the best coaches in U.S. soccer history in Arena, Bob Bradley and Sigi Schmid and he says he learned from all of them.
“I’m definitely my own person. And I’m taking stuff from everybody, trying to make myself better,” he said. “That’s my main goal, to maximize each player and help them reach their goals.
“I feel like anyone could make it if they have the right supporting cast and information.”
Buddle, 38, scored his final goal for the Galaxy in 2012, when he played 16 minutes in the team’s MLS Cup final win over the Houston Dynamo. Three players from that team – Landon Donovan, Keane and Pat Noonan – have gone on to become professional coaches – while David Beckham and Todd Dunivant are working in team management.
“It has a huge spot in my heart,” Buddle said of Southern California. “I met some great players there. The staff. I just love the people in L.A.”
Dave Sarachan, as assistant for the Galaxy that season, said he never saw Buddle going into coaching.
“Honestly, I’m surprised,” he said. “I never got the feeling that’s what he wanted to do. Now that he’s decided to do it, he’s got certain qualities that could come through. He’s got experience. He’s played at a high level. He’s been with the national team. And he’s a good person.
“So he’s got certain qualities. But if you had asked me then I wouldn’t have thought that that would be where he wanted to go.”
It is. The question now is when will he get there?
For the timing being, Buddle said he is spending his time sheltering on one floor of his mother’s two-story home. He is trying to keep a regular routine, doing yoga or going for a run each morning, something he says has given him a new appreciation for the relationship between fitness and mental health.
“I didn’t realize that exercise and training from soccer is all connected to your mental [state] and your endorphins. I just did it because I wanted to be good at soccer,” he said.
Now he wants to be good at coaching and all he needs, he says, is a chance.
“I get some time to scout even more and fine tune. So I look at it kind of like a blessing in disguise,” he said of the current lockdown. “With preparation, I think I’ll be even better.”
Will Lazio, Immobile enjoy Italian renaissance when play resumes?
Everybody has lost something to the COVID-19 pandemic, which makes it hard to get too worked up over someone’s individual soccer stats.
But having said that, I feel bad for Ciro Immobile, the 30-year-old Lazio striker whose 27 goals in 26 games lead Europe’s major leagues. He scored in two of Lazio’s final three matches before the club’s season was halted on Feb. 29 and, averaging more than a goal a game with 12 matches left, he had a shot at breaking Gonzalo Higuain’s four-year-old Italian record of 36 goals in a season.
It was shaping up to be a magical season for his team, too. The Biancocelesti, who haven’t won a league title this century – in fact, they’ve finished as high as third just twice – haven’t lost since September and trailed eight-time defending league champion Juventus by just a point in the table when play stopped.
Lazio may get a chance to make up that point since Serie A players have been cleared to resume individual training next week and team training on May 18. There are hopes the season could resume between May 27-June 2 and finish in early August, through there have been no official announcements.
That timetable would allow teams to complete their full schedules, although it would be difficult to expect Immobile and Lazio to return at the same level they were playing at in February. In addition, not everyone is in agreement with the return. President Massimo Cellino of cellar-dwelling Brescia saying earlier this month his team would forfeit its remaining games and accept relegation rather than play if the season were resumed.
That could help Lazio, which would pick up three points if Brescia forfeited its penultimate game of the season; Brescia has finished its season’s work with Juventus so the leaders wouldn’t be impacted. A forfeit might hurt Immobile though; he scored twice against Brescia when the teams met in January so not playing the second leg would cost him the opportunity to add to that total.
Let’s hope it doesn’t cost him a shot at Higuain’s record.
Meanwhile in the rest of the world…
Speaking of leagues resuming their seasons, that won’t happen in the Netherlands nor, probably, in Argentina. But clubs Germany, Sweden, Spain, France and England are all hoping to join Italy in resuming play soon.
The rest of the Dutch Eredivisie season was canceled in a video-conference call last week meaning Ajax, which led AZ Alkmaar on goal differential with nine matches left, will not be crowned champion nor will any teams be promoted or relegated. Qualifying places for European tournaments will be decided by the current standings.
The decision followed the Dutch prime minister’s move to ban all sporting events until September and it didn’t please everyone with Henk de Jong, manager of second-division leader Cambuur, who called it “the biggest disgrace in the history of Dutch sport.”
Cambuur seemed certain of promotion back to the Eredivisie for the first time since 2016.
On Monday, Argentine seemed likely to join the Dutch in shutting down with federation president Claudio Tapia saying the AFA’s executive committee would meet Tuesday to finalize plans to end the season.
In Germany, meanwhile, teams have already returned to training while observing social-distancing requirements. Last week the Germany Football League (DFL) said it is ready to resume play in empty stadiums on May 9 but that plans needs approval from Chancellor Angela Merkel and state leaders, who are scheduled to meet Thursday. More than 6,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Germany and many health officials are opposed to soccer’s return, so Bundesliga officials have tried to pressure the government with dire warnings about soccer’s future.
“It’s about nothing more and nothing less than saving football,” Borussia Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke told Sky Sport News. “If we don’t play for the next few months, the whole Bundesliga will go under. It will no longer exist in the form we have known it.”
The plan is to resume games without fans, limiting essential personnel – from players and coaches to referees and TV camera operators – to less than 220. However thousands of Borussia Monchengladbach fans have ordered cardboard cutouts of themselves to be placed in their home stadiums to provide the appearance of a crowd.
In England, the return of the Premier League has already won the backing of the government but what the EPL doesn’t have is a date to start up again. The 20 EPL clubs have scheduled a conference call Friday to discuss options for completing the season’s 92 remaining league games. Clubs will be required to meet specific criteria, including the availability of testing.
The earliest play could resume is June 8, although that date is considered overly optimistic. The league aims to finish play by Aug. 8.
Spain, which has seen more than 23,000 people die from COVID-19 – trailing only the U.S. and Italy – remains under a state of emergency through May 10. As a result, La Liga has set May 11 as the day for teams to resume training.
Finishing the season in empty stadiums, said league president Javier Tebas, would cost La Liga about $380 million – but not finishing it at all could cost millions more. Provisionally, Tebas added in a digital forum last week, all top-flight games in Spain are likely to be played behind closed doors through December.
In France, where several clubs were reportedly facing bankruptcy if the season didn’t resume, teams are expected to return to the pitch in mid to late June while Sweden is planning to restart its league June 14 with fans in the stands. UPDATE: French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced Tuesday that “the 2019-20 season of professional sport won’t be able to resume.” The top two divisions in French soccer both had 10 league games left to play.
MLS has no firm dates for resuming either group training sessions or the regular season, which was suspended March 12 after two games. Last week the league announced it was extending the stoppage in play for a third time, through June 8 although it seems unlikely any games will be played that month.
FIFA calls for additional subs in crowded calendar
When play in Europe does resumes, many teams will have to play a crowded schedule if they hope to finish their league and European tournament schedules. Manchester City, for example, could play as many as 19 games — 10 in the Premier League, up to six in the Champions League and up to three in the FA Cup — in as few as 10 weeks while Juventus could need 20 more matches: 12 in Serie A, up to six in the Champions League, and two Coppa Italia games.
As a result, FIFA detailed a temporary plan Monday that would allow players to use five substitutes a game, two more than the rules currently allow. An additional sixth substitute would be allowed in knockout games that go to extra time.
“One concern in this regard is that the higher-than-normal frequency of matches may increase the risk of potential injuries due to a resulting player overload,” FIFA said in a statement.
FIFA would like to see the proposal, which must be signed off by soccer’s rule-making panel known as IFAB, extend through next season since league play is likely to start later and be condensed into a much smaller window. It would also apply to all national-team games through December 2021.
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“In football, suddenly young men and women athletes are having to cope with social isolation, a suspension of their working lives and doubts about their future. It is a time of huge uncertainty for the players and their families due to the insecurity of their future and the social isolation.”
Vincent Gouttebarge, the chief medical officer for the international players’ union FIFPRO, speaking to Reuters about the sharp rise in the number of players reporting symptoms of depression or anxiety since soccer was locked down because of the COVID-19 outbreak.