When you've had an extremely eventful couple of days like the Philadelphia Union of Major League Soccer have experienced this week, you're sure to get the whole spectrum of American soccer circles talking.
And there aren't many observers better positioned than ESPN's Max Bretos to sort out what it all really means. After years of serving as "the voice" of Fox Soccer Channel, Bretos moved to the big boys of American sports broadcasting in Bristol, Conn. Bretos can be followed at Twitter at mbretos.
Think about it ... the Union announced a $12 million, four-year shirt-sponsorship deal with Mexican bakery giant Bimbo (pronounced BEEM-bo, as the multiple billboards placed along the Atlantic City Expressway and Route 42 in southern New Jersey in recent months proclaim) on a snowy Tuesday at PPL Park in Chester, Pa.
That was followed by picking three young players (University of Maryland goalkeeper Zac MacMath, age 19; University of North Carolina midfielder Michael Farfan, age 22; and University of Maryland-Baltimore County striker Levi Houapeu, age 21) as additions to the team's core at Thursday's MLS SuperDraft in Baltimore.
The mind reels when considering the dollar amount (it's extremely generous as MLS shirt-sponsorship deals go; 13 of the league's 18 teams now have shirt deals, which is the norm in Europe and South America) ... but it's not as if the announcement of the Bimbo deal was greeted with universal open arms among the Union fanbase.
We'll tackle this topic first, before we move on to the draft picks. The Union Nation was split on this from the very get-go. But, keep in mind, this topic is also couched in a whole heap of nuance. Careful evaluation isn't a concept that comes naturally to an American culture that values "shock and awe" over substance and long-term reflection.
But when you choose a company called Bimbo as your shirt sponsor, you have to be prepared to defend the negative connotations ... as it relates to the English language and the obvious degradation of women.
Some of my Hispanic friends (more on that in a bit) are over the proverbial moon about this deal, and Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz and Bryan James, the president of the vital Sons of Ben supporters group, told the Philadelphia Inquirer they're fine with it all. It seems like all fronts in a potential "culture war" have been muted.
But Bretos, of Cuban descent and proud of his Hispanic roots, thinks the detractors (many of whom are female and expressed their displeasure online in various forums when the deal was announced) could very well have a valid point.
"Seeing the word 'Bimbo' on the front of the jersey is always going to prick up many ears," he told me exclusively on Thursday. "We have seen this with many MLS clubs that have worn Latino shirt sponsors. They've never really taken off, and Bimbo may not either.
"But after speaking with several general managers and learning about what makes the league work, it's all about the (financial) bottom line and keeping teams out of the red. So, in those parameters, it's a good deal for the club and the league."
Bretos hopes the Union's link with Bimbo isn't another episode in a long line of well-meaning outreaches to the Latino community that just don't bear tangible fruit.
"I used to be more excited about shirt sponsors and player signings to excite the Latino element and draw them to MLS," he said. "None of it has really worked, yet that market is still out there and would take the league to another level if they could be absorbed.
"In order to do that, you need more of a commitment. You need to train more Latinos to be part of the MLS front-office model as executives, like (general manager) Ruben Amaro Jr. with baseball's Philadelphia Phillies. And, we need more player development in the Latino neighborhoods, for both MLS and U.S. Soccer.
"That's where the real legacy will be made."
In an attempt to "take the temperature," so to speak, of the Latino community where I live in southern New Jersey, I spoke to one of my bellwethers: Alejandra Figueroa, of Linwood, N.J. I coach her son, Victor, in indoor soccer, and she's a reliable, strong-willed member of southern New Jersey's Latino community. She was thrilled with the Bimbo-Union partnership.
"Bimbo is a huge company, like Coca-Cola or Corona," she told me Tuesday. "It's very gratifying to see a Mexican company with that stature supporting an American soccer team."
Figueroa's pride in this development is palpable. Maybe Bretos' dream of a Latino affinity for MLS (and mine, too, I must add) will make some small inroads this year with the Bimbo deal. But I still wouldn't blame a school administrator for sending home a kid wearing a sponsored Union jersey. It's too much work to explain to a superintendent that Bimbo doesn't mean "bimbo."
Just my opinion. Any-hoo, on to Thursday's SuperDraft. The goalkeeping nightmare that was University of Maryland alum Chris Seitz's performance last year has been rectified by the Union drafting ... Maryland keeper MacMath, still a teenager. Hmmmm, it looks like Brad Knighton gets another year in goal.
Bretos was measured in his assessment of the Union's three picks on Thursday.
"It was a solid draft by Philadelphia," he said. "I'm not a big fan of taking a goalkeeper in the first round. However, teams that have made that early pick with a 'stud' goalie, such as Chivas USA with Brad Guzan and Stefan Frei of Toronto FC, have been rewarded."
Bretos was especially impressed by the Union's capture of Farfan of UNC.
"I had the pleasure to announce a couple of U.S. National Team U-17 games featuring Farfan, and I was very impressed then," he said. "I was surprised he didn't emerge more in the collegiate ranks than he did. Iope his best years aren't behind him."
I'm so emotional when it comes to the Union, almost to a fault. While most of my friends spend the summer living and dying with every Phillies pitch, I'm dreaming of the build-up to a goal engineered by Union midfielders Roger Torres or Eduardo Coudet at PPL Park.
But, at least I have the counsel of my Union season-ticket buddy Andy Stubbs, a resident of Fairless Hills, Pa. ... by way of London ... to fall back on. We are both West Ham fans (a team currently at the bottom of the English Premier League, so we have some practice in futility), so the trials and tribulations of a second-year club in MLS pale in comparison.
That's when I implore Andy for some good advice, as the questions roll off my tongue. "Do you think we'll make the playoffs? Will we keep our attendance numbers above 18,000? Can we win the U.S. Open Cup? Whose coming to play us at PPL Park in a friendly this summer?"
He usually stops me in mid-sentence with a simple question: "Whose turn is it to go for the beers, then?" To use time-honored soccer parlance: Well-played, Andy ... well-played. Thanks for reminding us what's really important. I wouldn't want to watch it without you.