MADRID SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 15: Gregory van der Wiel (L) of Ajax duels for the ball with Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid during the UEFA Champions League group G match between Real Madrid and Ajax at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on September 15 2010 in Madrid Spain. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
Tonight is the first of three international friendlies included in the season ticket holders package. Essentially these are games that don't really matter and are more just fun for people who like to see and watch other teams from around the world play in our own back yard. While it might seem like a useless waste to some of the more hardcore soccer supporters, I, personally, enjoy international friendlies.
Anyway, tonight's game is against the legendary Dutch club AFC Ajax (henceforth just known as Ajax). Now, unless you're a rather diehard soccer fan, you probably have absolutely no idea who these guys are, why they're playing against the Portland Timbers tonight, and why they're an important team on the world's stage. Let this article serve as a guide to AFC Ajax.
Keep note, however, I'm not an expert on the team either. I admire them and have enjoyed watching their games but I don't claim to be their biggest fan and I certainly don't know all the small details about the club.
Who They Are
Ajax plays in the Netherlands in a league that is called the Eredivisie. To be perfectly honest, the Eredivisie is not one of the best leagues in Europe and is certainly not as strong as the English Premier League, Spain's La Liga, or the German Bundesliga. That said, I would still place the overall quality of the Eredivisie higher than that of Major League Soccer. They have higher quality players, they play in a more competitive continental conference and they don't implement any sort of salary cap limits.Within the Eedivisie, Ajax is seen as one of the powerhouse clubs (one that has also been around for 125 years). They have won a total of 30 Eredivise titles including the most recent 2010-2011 title. Yes, that's correct, tonight the Timbers will be hosting the recent Champions of the Netherlands. They've also won a combined 10 international championships in the form of various European and intercontinental cups. That said, the last time they won an international championship was in 1995.
Needless to say that when the Portland Timbers were entering into their first ever NASL season as a team, Ajax, at that point was considered one of the most storied football clubs in the world taking home many championships.
Today, Ajax isn't quite the powerhouse they were in the early 1970s, but that still doesn't mean they won't be a delight to watch. Ajax in today's modern footballing age has taken on another form, one that is, in some ways, more exciting than that of world champions.
Why They're Important
As I already mentioned, Ajax is no longer a world power on the footballing stage, at least not in the traditional sense. Instead, Ajax has become one of the premier development clubs in the world. Now, when I write "development club" I don't want you to think that what we'll see tonight is a bunch of 16 year olds. What I mean is that Ajax has a habit of churning out some of the best players in the world who then get sold to larger, powerouse clubs.
For example, Ajax's most recent developmental project and sale was Luis Suarez. If you paid attention to last year's World Cup, that name should sound awfully familiar as he was the player who beat back a goal from Ghana using his hands. It was quite controversial. Beyond the controversy, however, Luis Suarez is actually a very gifted striker, one of the best in the world actually. He was recently sold to Liverpool FC of the EPL where he made an immediate impact.
Other notable players developed and churned out by Ajax include:
- Zlatan Ibrahimovic
- Rafael van der Vaart
- Edwin van der Sar
- Johan Cruyff
Amongst others. That last name should be a little familiar to anybody who followed or has researched the NASL as he played for the Los Angeles Aztecs during that time.
The reason why I'm writing this is because Ajax has a track record for creating and developing these kinds of players. While I can't point out a specific player on their current roster who will turn out to be "one of the best," I can say that there's a chance we could look back at one of the player's who play tonight in a few years and say "I saw him when."
There will certainly be those out there tonight who would wish that this game wasn't happening. In some respects I agree with them. The regular season should be first and foremost on the minds of the team and FO. Still, this game is happening regardless. If you have the opportunity I'd recommend checking this team out. It's pretty rare Ajax does an American tour...
Tonight's game kicks off at 7:00 PM. The Timbers will be hosting a live broadcast feed online HERE.
I'll have my Match Thread up in a couple hours.