Recently the topic of ambition has come up in discussions I’ve had with regard to the three teams I follow; Rochester Rhinos, New York Red Bulls, and Tottenham Hotspur. As I consider myself first and foremost a fan of these teams, and a writer/blogger second, it’s important to me that the club feels the same way I do.
Rochester Rhinos just suffered a seven game winless streak and several fans voiced their frustrations with the “lack of ambition” of the 1999 U.S. Open Cup Champion. Up here in Rochester we are very proud of what our city’s team achieved in the late 90s and early 2000s, but that success is a double edged sword. The other side of the blade is that the Open Cup trophy and several league titles loom over our head.
When a season’s fortunes take a dive, as happened during the seven game winless streak, fans begin questioning the decisions that the organization has made since Rochester was a hot prospect for MLS. League titles have been few and far between, U.S. Open Cup runs have not been as deep, and average attendances have been decreasing since the days of 11,000 fans packing into Frontier Field. Besides the age-old second guessing and urge to live in the past, the Rhinos are more immediately dealing with the effects of deciding to play in division three instead of division two. Several USL-Pro teams are playing on high school fields, a few teams can’t be bothered to set up a video feed to stream their games, Rochester (and every team) has to play back to back games or two games in three nights on the road, and the appeal of a “regionalized” league have not been realized.
Now in 2012, attendances of 5,000 or 6,000 pale in comparison to the good old days and the owner seems disinterested in running the organization; there just isn’t much of a buzz around the team at this time. I look around the country and see Portland and Seattle fans get rewarded for having a generous millionaire, I see Philadelphia get an MLS team despite not having a professional team in the city for over ten years, I see Orlando City Soccer Club implementing a full player development system (even though they bought existing youth teams). And up here in Rochester we continue down a slow downward spiral. I don’t think it’s enough to buy three foreign players because for me, the goal is not simply to make the playoffs or perform well on the field. For me, fans are right to call for more from an ownership group. Fans want the organization to share their own ambitions, ambitions to reclaim the honorary title of best team in America outside of MLS.
New York Red Bulls are going to be announcing the capture of a designated player attacking playmaker in the next few days. Rumors have been swirling on this front of a couple years with names like Stephen Ireland, Ronaldinho, and most recently Kaka. The player signed will go to great lengths to determine whether the club is willing to spend to win MLS Cup this year.
The New York franchise has always been something of a laughing stock of MLS. In its 18 years of existence as both the Red Bulls and MetroStars, the club has not won a single meaningful competition. Fans of the team desperately want to rid themselves of the stink of being the only original MLS team with an empty trophy case. The fortunes of the 2012 season may well come down to the choice of player the team signs on a Designated Player contract.
Tottenham Hotspur are facing another difficult summer. Despite finishing in fourth place, Spurs were unable to secure Champions League football for the upcoming season. This was the main criterion for keeping stars like Luka Modric and Gareth Bale at the team. There was also a frustrating lack of movement in this past January transfer window. Louis Saha and Ryan Nelsen are not signings that improve the team in any way. Negotiations are currently in advanced stages with Belgian international central defender Jan Vertonghen and young midfield sensation Gylfi Sigurdsson. Signing both of those players and a striker or two would show that Tottenham Hotspur are not going to settle for fourth place. The team can and will improve upon recent league campaigns. Failure to land talented players during this summer window and Tottenham set themselves up to be surpassed by big spending clubs like Chelsea and Liverpool.
Today the club announced that Gareth Bale signed a contract extension until 2016. While the team’s official publications are putting this down to Bale wanting to tie himself to the club he loves, the real story is that the Welsh wing wizard is getting a large pay raise to persuade him to stick with Tottenham. This is an early step towards using the club’s financial capabilities to keep and attract world class players. Much has been made in recent years about Tottenham’s strict wage structure which, before Luka Modric’s protracted potential transfer saga last year, saw no one earn more than 75,000 British pounds a week (around 117,000$). The organization has money for transfers and will find more space in their wage bill after continuing to offload backup and squad players (Corluka, Krancjar, Jenas, Bentley, dos Santos, Bassong, Khumalo, Pienaar).
Tottenham Hotspur’s new manager this summer should be given the money to bring in world class players. The man who gets the job, whether it is Andre Villas-Boas, Laurent Blanc, Didier Deschamps, or whoever else has been rumored recently, will have the chance to take the club to even greater heights and fulfill the ambitions of Spurs faithful.
The Red Bulls have a chance to make a big statement to the rest of the league when they announce their playmaker signing soon. Tottenham have done the work of keeping Gareth Bale at the club for the near future and the addition of a capable manager can propel Spurs firmly into the elite of the Premier League. Despite stopping the rot of a seven game winless streak with a hard fought road victory over the weekend, Rochester Rhinos fans are still coming to terms with what it means to play in USL-Pro.