Saturday, March 17

Stories Of the Day: Powerhouses

Tonight, I take a look at two completely different aspects of the game, but with arguably its two powerhouse clubs.

Big Money = Big Advantage: ESPN-LA writer Scott French reports on the impact of the Los Angeles Galaxy’s newly announced 10-year extension of its sponsorship deal with Herbalife. He quotes AEG president and CEO Tim Leiweke about how the local deals - Herbalife and broadcast deal totaling 99 million over 20 years combined – give the club a significant edge in comparison to the other clubs that have a much larger percentage of their revenue coming via the league’s single-entity system of sharing. Two areas in particular benefit from the addition revenue. The less glamorous side is the youth development programs the club operates. The high profile area is in money available for Designated Player salaries. While other clubs search for bargains that hopefully won’t be busts, the more local money the club brings in frees the Galaxy to spend money on players that are almost certain to be successful in the league.

Wave Drown Opposition Again: Can anyone dethrone the Milwaukee Wave? It doesn’t look like it, even with one of the Major Indoor Soccer League’s other perennial contenders, Baltimore Blast, going up against them in the championship series, which kicked off Friday. Game 2 is set for Sunday with a mini-game scheduled for immediately after should the Blast be victorious.

Friday, March 16

Stories Of the Day: Head Games

Sometimes it is all in your head. That may not just be a saying anymore. My top stories from today…

Angel Newest Concussion Concern?: Although Scott French reports that Juan Pablo Angel was not diagnosed with a concussion and the star striker says he is recovering from concussion-like symptoms, one has to worry that he is the latest in the line of MLS players that have seen their careers ended with head injuries. Taylor Twellman, Alecko Eskandarian and Jimmy Conrad, a fellow Chivas player, all recently retired in the past two years from concussion-related issues. The Goats already have enough issues pulling themselves up from the bottom – the last thing they need is to lose their star player at the start of the season.

Patience: A good story from about Toronto's Milos Kocic showing the great mental practice of patience, slowly waiting for his chance to shine. The waiting game goalkeepers go through is so often overlooked. So many netminders in this country have to either battle their way up the ladder proving themselves in the lower divisions or bide their time on the bench hoping for an injury. I don’t have the numbers, but I would venture to say the goalkeeper position is the one in MLS with the highest percentage of them having played in the second division at some point.

Patience in Politics: It can’t be easy being patient in the nation’s capital. DC United announced today a renewal of its lease at RFK stadium for the 2012 and 2013 seasons. It comes, essentially, 48 hours before their home opener. The club’s additional two-year commitment is another act of patience with the city that has continually dragged its feet in the effort to work with the club to build a new facility in the area. Personally, I have never understood why DC politicians feel RFK is so sacred and can’t be replaced. Would they rather have the monument for one of the nation’s beloved leaders continue to fall to pieces when they could build something even better and more useful in its place. For instance, why not make it a multi-use facility available for the Special Olympics, an organization founded by RFK’s sister, Eunice.  

Fear: Another good feature from MLSsoccer checks in on the NASR’s MLS Player of the Week honoree Kalif Alhassan. The story discusses Alhassan’s hard work during the offseason and the depth of competition on the squad in the midfield, placing him in a situation where he would have to show that the hard work was worth all of the effort and made a difference.

Focus: A great piece from Michael C. Lewis of The Salt Lake Tribune details the veteran response to a whirlwind first week by a rookie, noting that RSL’s Sebastian Velasquez has not changed from when he came to Sandy, UT right out of junior college despite a first week in which he… “started his first professional game against the star-studded Los Angeles Galaxy. Took the shot that turned into the rally-igniting equalizer. Swapped jerseys with Landon Donovan — his mother’s favorite player — and drew favorable comparisons to the legendary David Beckham in at least one British newspaper.” 

Thursday, March 15

Stories Of the Day: Eye Opening CCL Action

The CONCACAF Champions League definitely grabbed the headlines for the day.

SHOCKING Results: Part I - Sure, it is difficult to win in Mexico, but all the Sounders needed to do was earn a draw to win the series. Instead, Seattle became the first Major League Soccer team to allow six goals in a game under the new format of the Champions League, home or away, as they fell, 6-1 on the night and 7-3 in the series. In fact, it was only the fourth time an MLS club has allowed five or more in a game – see list below – and tied a Columbus group match as the worst margin in a loss.  

It was the 12th time a Mexican club, however, has tallied at least six in a game, reaching seven on two occasions. In knockout stages, however, it was only the second time in the four years of the event a Mexican club has run up such a large victory as Pumas drubbed Marathon of Honduras, 6-1, in the 2009-10 Quarterfinal second leg after a 2-0 road loss.

Part II – In general terms, Seattle’s loss to a Mexican club was not as surprising though as the Galaxy falling to Toronto FC. The Canadian club has definitely taken advantage of its MLS peers in Champions League play to reach the Semifinals. They downed FC Dallas, 3-0, in Frisco to close out the Group Stage in second. And although many would have expected the star-studded Galaxy to cruise, they needed to rally from two down in Toronto a week ago to keep the series level for the return leg. And tonight, an own goal was their only tally with a lineup featuring Edson Buddle, Robbie Keane, David Beckham and Landon Donovan – and that was just to level the series once again since Toronto had scored first again. In the end, the 2-1 result sends TFC onto to face what will more than likely be two Mexican powerhouses as they will take on Santos Laguna next. And in the Final they would face either Monterrey, who destroyed league peer Morelia 7-2 on aggregate, or the winner of the Pumas (MEX) and Metapan (El Salvador) series, which concludes Thursday with Pumas at home surprisingly trailing 2-1. 

Goals Not Only Thing Missing:
Following the match center on, I noticed something kind of surprising. I am not one who typically follows all of the nationalities of the players, but the little flags the site places next to the players made it extremely noticeable. Who would have expected years ago that an American MLS team would field a lineup of only three American-born players in a Champions League game against a Mexican club with a much greater percentage of domestic-born players.

I am not making any judgement on the situation. As far as I am concerned this comes with expansion, either the quality of play is either going to lag as the domestic talent pool adjusts or the overall talent pool widens with supplements from abroad. I discussed this quite often at USL in regards to what the Premier Development League offered its players. It is to the benefit of the younger developing players to play alongside and against better, more experienced older players. The same holds true in MLS. As the league expands, it is good for the American game that quality players are more prevalent in the league because that means with the relatively new Academy programs the younger players are battling with and learning from the foreign competition for places in the roster and for the game-day lineups.  

Kicked Out in Wisconsin: Overlooked in January 30, Eric Anderson reports on the revocation of the Wisconsin Adult Soccer Association’s membership in the US Soccer Federation, an extremely rare circumstance. While the organization is apparently free to re-apply, they now have competition from their youth equivalent, the WYSA. USSF would not disclose why, but one would have to figure it is largely over financial issues if they are being given the option to re-up (and/or pay the bills possibly) by the May 1 deadline.

Potential unknown financial issues aside, the WASA has not exactly been the most organized of state associations. Reportedly, the WASA is virtually non-responsive to media inquiries according to editor Josh Hakala. And last year, the state association embarrassed itself in US Open Cup qualifying, allegedly losing the check and application submitted by the Milwaukee Bavarians, regular participants, to play in the Open Cup. The organization subsequently forgot to submit the Bavarians, as the only team that applied, to the Region II management for inclusion in the regional tournament, denying them the opportunity to qualify for and play in the US Open Cup.


Major League Soccer Losses
Dallas 3-5 @ Tauro (PAN) Group 2011-12
RSL 4-5 @ Cruz Azul (MEX) Group 2010-11
Columbus 0-5 @ Cruz Azul (MEX) Group 2009-10

Mexican Primera Division Wins
Santos Laguna 6-0 v Isidro Metapan (SLV) Group 2011-12
Cruz Azul 6-0 v San Francisco (PAN) Prelim 2010-11
Cruz Azul 6-0 @ Arabe Unido (PAN) Group 2010-11
Santos Laguna 6-1 v Municipal (GUA) Group 2010-11
Cruz Azul 6-2 @ Herediano (CRC) Prelim 2009-10
Pachuca 7-1 @ Jalapa (GUA) Prelim 2009-10
Pumas 6-1 v Marathon (HON) Quarter 2009-10
Toluca 7-0 Marathon (HON) Group 2009-10
Cruz Azul 6-0 v Hankook Verdes (BLZ) Prelim 2008-09
Cruz Azul 6-0 @ Hankook Verdes (BLZ) Prelim 2008-09
Pumas 6-0 v San Francisco (PAN) Group 2008-09

Tuesday, March 13

Stories Of the Day: Executive Decisions

Looks like today ended up being all about the men behind the desk, most of them with powerful wallets:

Where have you been? The following was the comment from Jon Miller, President of Programming for NBC Sports, during the Portland Timbers match Monday night’s contest:
"I’ll be honest with you, I’ve been in the sports business, I’ve been with NBC for 34 years, and I have never seen anything like this tonight. This has blown me away,” Miller said to a media scrum at halftime of Portland’s 3-1 win. “I’ve been to NFL playoff games, and World Series game sevens, and this fanbase should be really proud of itself.”
That is a great testament for the boisterous MLS faithful that are continuing to grow around the league. The shame is that Miller seems completely shocked by this, something you would not expect of a top executive of a sports network that bid on purchasing the television rights to the league. To me, that does not seem very well informed. Granted, sports programming is driven by the numbers – ratings, butts in seats, advertising dollars, etc – while news programming, far too often, is driven by vivid imagery. I guess the good news is that perhaps the impressive audio and visual display made Monday night will have a long-term impact on the ratio of games aired on NBC versus NBC Sports – a significant difference. After all, they air a dozen hockey games currently on the ‘mother’ station as opposed to the three regular season MLS contests.       

Unfair Scheduling amidst CCL: Bubbling beneath the surface with the Los Angeles Galaxy seems to be a little bit of jealousy… or maybe just plain old disgust. You can’t really blame them, for some reason they were the lone team of the three MLS clubs playing in the CONCACAF Champions League that had a league match this weekend. You could argue Santos Laguna probably is a little jealous the Seattle Sounders had the weekend off between their first and second league games, but the issue is that the Galaxy are playing league foe Toronto FC in the two-game series. If you had to pick one team of the three to make idle, you would think that would fall on the Sounders so that you are making sure that among your own clubs, you are keeping the additional competition fair and balanced as well as you can. At least the Galaxy are home Wednesday with a 2-2 draw from the first leg and have an entire season to make up for the opening weekend defeat.

Show me the money: Major League Soccer may not have the ratings, following and revenue that the other big league sports do yet, but one area where it stands out is in the bank accounts of those in the owners’ box. Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy owners Paul Allen and Philip Anschutz rank second and fourth, respectively, among the richest soccer owners in the world. Even bigger, they are in the top six world-wide among all sports team owners.

Stories Of The Day: Red, White, Blue & Green colors of the day

An unusually busy Monday with MLS action in the evening preceded by big news at the international level. Here are my top story selections for today:

No Real Change in Composition of Olympic Hopefuls: Sure, it seems like the world of US Soccer has changed a lot over the past couple years – in fact it looks reversed. The MNT is led by the German Jurgen Klinsmann and the U23 Olympic team by the American Caleb Porter while four years ago it was an American at the top and the Polish Peter Nowak heading up the Olympic team. But looking at the team heading into Olympic qualifying, surprisingly the composition has not changed very much. Campared to the 20-man roster for the 2008 Olympic squad, the 19-man list released today by Porter has the same number of MLS players in the mix: 13. Those coming in from abroad are a little more concentrated with three of the six coming in from Germany (1 each from Norway, Belgium and Mexico). Four years ago six players came in from five different foreign countries: Germany (2), Mexico, England, Portugal, Sweden. While Nowak has moved on to coach in MLS, ironically his Philadelphia Union player Freddy Adu is yet again on the U23 squad since he was 18 the last time around.
2008 Olympic Qualifying Roster By Position
GOALKEEPERS (2): Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire)
DEFENDERS (6): Josh Gatt (Molde), Perry Kitchen (D.C. United), Ike Opara (San Jose Earthquakes), Kofi Sarkodie (Houston Dynamo), Zarek Valentin (Montreal Impact), Jorge VillafaƱa (Chivas USA)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Freddy Adu (Philadelphia Union), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Mix Diskerud (Gent; Oslo), Jared Jeffrey (Mainz), Amobi Okugo (Philadelphia Union), Michael Stephens (LA Galaxy)
FORWARDS (5): Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls), Terrence Boyd (Borussia Dortmund), Teal Bunbury (Sporting Kansas City), Joe Gyau (Hoffenheim), Brek Shea (FC Dallas)
2012 Olympic Qualifying Roster By Position
GOALKEEPERS (2): Dominic Cervi (not under contract), Chris Seitz (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS (7): Hunter Freeman (New York Red Bulls), Kamani Hill (Vfl Wolfsburg), Patrick Ianni (Houston Dynamo), Michael Orozco (San Luis), Jonathan Spector (West Ham United), Nathan Sturgis (Real Salt Lake), Marvell Wynne (Toronto FC)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Freddy Adu (SL Benfica), Maurice Edu (Toronto FC), Eddie Gaven (Columbus Crew), Stuart Holden (Houston Dynamo), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA), Dax McCarty (FC Dallas), Sal Zizzo (Hannover 96)
FORWARDS (4): Jozy Altidore (New York Red Bulls), Chad Barrett (Chicago Fire), Charlie Davies (Hammarby IF), Robbie Findley (Real Salt Lake)

Corruption Comes Up Again with FIFA: Speaking of Olympic soccer, its organizing association FIFA was back in corruption headlines today for improper activity by its members surrounding the World Cup. In a case of old news resurfacing, Amadou Diakite and Ahongalu Fusimalohi saw their appeals of two-year suspensions fail today. There were caught by The Sunday Times of England instructing undercover journalists how to bribe FIFA officials. The bigger news, though, was the resignation today of Ricardo Teixeira, who has been the head of Brazilian soccer the past 23 years and, recently, the 2014 World Cup organizing committee. Though never officially charged with corruption, scandal has followed him for quite some time, making him a controversial figure in one of the sports’ most successful nations.

Brazilian great Romario, who was the co-leading scorer in the USL First Division in 2006 while playing for Miami FC, stated on Facebook and Twitter: “Today we can celebrate. We exterminated a cancer from Brazilian football. Finally, Ricardo Teixeira resigned.”

Timbers trump Philly in second half: In the final match of Opening Weekend, the Portland faithful did not disappoint on Monday Night Football… and neither did the team on the field. A lackluster match gave way to a dynamic night six minutes into the second stanza when Gabriel Gomez put the visiting Union on the board. The Timbers responded with three unanswered to match RSL as the only 3-goal outings on the weekend. Jack Jewsbury set up two goals, finding defender Andrew Baptiste for the equalizer and Kalif Alhassan for insurance. The second-year Alhassan set up much-heralded newcomer Kris Boyd for the winner in the 3-1 Portland victory.

Monday, March 12

Stories Of the Day: HDC - Home Depression Center?

Does First Kick apply to the whole weekend or was actually it Second Kick for MLS today? Anyway, here are my top stories from Sunday…

Home Depression Center?: With one game remaining for the Opening Weekend of the 2012 MLS season, the only clubs that have lost at home are the Los Angeles Galaxy and Chivas USA. It is not exactly a surprising story for young, developing Chivas USA squad as they dropped seven games at home each of the past two seasons. However, the Galaxy were unbeaten at the Home Depot Center a year ago (12-0-5) and fell at home only four times the year before. The Goats see their last-minute heartbreak loss as a good sign they are headed in the right direction while Bruce Arena took the blame for the champions' defeat.    

Big Moves, Big Payoffs… sort of: Arguably the two biggest move of the offseason, Sebastien Le Toux and Kenny Cooper both scored in their opening games of the campaign with their new clubs. Le Toux led Vancouver to victory at home Saturday and Cooper, coming off the bench late, gave the Red Bulls some hope trailing on the road in Dallas by two, but his tally proved not quite enough. 

Wave Keep on Rolling: Does it really count if you win a championship without playing against the Wave. It seems like they are in the title game every year. Sunday night they won their three-game series with a Game 2 win against the Missouri Comets to reach the final for a third consecutive year – the 10th appearance in the last 15 years. They will play either the Baltimore Blast or Rochester Lancers. The defending champs are looking for their sixth title, having won the first 15 years ago in the 1997-98 campaign. Baltimore has five titles in the last 10 years while the Lancers are a relaunch of the old NASL club.

Sunday, March 11

Stories Of the Day: SOD Debuts with MLS First Kick & more

I am back with a new regular feature that will nicely balance what I have been doing for and North American Soccer Reporters. This feature, Stories Of the Day (S.O.D.), will be a nightly recap of what I think the top or most interesting stories of the day were... whether they be news items that come up or a specific story written by one of my colleagues in the NASR. Often times they will be both.  Hope you enjoy. Here is the first installment...

MLS Kicks Off 17th Season: With all of the build-up to the league’s 2012 campaign, it has been quite a week. Two thrilling CONCACAF Champions League contests Wednesday proved to be a nice preview of what was in store on Opening Day in league play. Three items stood out for me on the day.
  1. Vancouver off to another highlight start. Sure, last year’s fantastic start was followed by a difficult debut campaign. This year’s start was monumental because of the ‘new beginnings’ theme. The club, in just its second MLS season, is starting over with new coach Martin Rennie, who has worked his way up the lower divisions, and a lot of new players, many whom he has brought in from coaching at the second division flight. Also making a new start was Sebastien Le Toux, who was pleased to depart Philadelphia to return to the Northwest, where he tormented the second division and MLS while playing for Whitecaps rival Seattle Sounders. It was perhaps a perfect storyline that Le Toux scored the opening tally, setting a league record for fastest season opening goal, as the team won, 2-0, against another former second division rival, the Montreal Impact, as they make their MLS debut. 
  2. Quite the dramatic finish in DC. Just when it looked like the contest was going to be a scoreless draw after a pair of earlier 2-0 contests, Sporting Kansas City’s CJ Sapong found himself open in the middle of the box on a corner, heading home the thrilling header for the win three minutes into stoppage time.
  3. In a great nightcap to Opening Day, Real Salt Lake and the LA Galaxy, picked by virtually all in the NASR Preseason Poll to finish in the top 3 in the West, played an exciting contest. A back-and-forth stalemate gave way to a barn-burner with 20 minutes left. David Beckham delivered a perfect, long cross to Edson Buddle for the opening goal in the 71st. Two minutes later it was level again on a disastrous Sean Franklin own goal off a Sebastien Velasquez cross. Javier Morales then stunned the home fans in the 80th and Fabian Espindola made it 3-1 in the 85th with plenty more action on both ends as the clock wound down to the final whistle. 
MISL Postseason Kicks Off: While Major League Soccer kicks off the 2012 season with plenty of buzz and attention, the Major Indoor Soccer League silently creeps into the postseason. The defending champion Milwaukee Wave dominated in the opening game of the postseason.

Joe Warren finally retires… again: Often overlooked in the storied history of the Minnesota Thunder, Joe Warren has consistently been one of the top netminders of the second division. It appears he has absolutely played his final match in Minnesota. The standout keeper has thrived in the shadows of his predecessor John Swallen, who retired in 2001, and the notoriety of Thunder players like Tony Sanneh, Amos Magee, Johnny Menyongar, Marco Ferruzzi and the Lagos brothers Manny and Gerard. He joined the club in 1996, but toiled as a reserve until Swallen’s retirement. He then became one of the top keepers in USL-1 before retiring in 200 as the longest tenured player in club history. Four years later he was lured back between the posts for the newly forged NSC Minnesota Stars, where he has played the last two seasons and won the inaugural NASL championship last season despite another retirement. He made the announcement in January only to lace ‘em up yet again six weeks later. In addition to the NASL title, his other highlight moment is likely the 2005 campaign in which he helped lead the Thunder on one of the best lower division runs in the US Open Cup. The club opened with a 2-1 win over the PDL Chicago Fire Premier before knocking off three consecutive MLS teams. The first was a 6-4 thriller versus Real Salt Lake. They then shocked the Colorado Rapids, 4-1, and Sporting Kansas City, 3-1, before falling to the eventual champion LA Galaxy, 5-2, in the semifinals.