Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, American Soccer League, American Youth Soccer Organization, beIN Sport, Brian's Song, CBS, Fox Soccer Channel, God!, GolTV, KHJ, Mario Machado, NBCSP, North America Soccer League, Oh, Public Broadcasting System, Rocky III, Scarface, Shanghai, Soccer Corner, St. Elmo's Fire, Star Soccer, West Hills
Long-time television personality and soccer champion Mario Machado has died of complications of pneumonia at a West Hills, CA, convalescent facility. He was 78.
Born in Shanghai to a Portuguese father and Chinese-Portuguese mother, Machado began his broadcast career at KHJ in Los Angeles as a television news reporter, a first for a Chinese-American. He went on to serve as reporter, host and producer for a number of shows on TV and radio, winning eight Emmys in the process. He also appeared in several motion pictures, usually as a new anchor or reporter, including “Brian’s Song,” “Rocky III,” “Scarface,” “Robocop,” “St. Elmo’s Fire,” and “Oh, God!”
A father of four, Machado had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease. [May 4]
(Personal) Comment: When it came to soccer, Mario Machado was a man ahead of his time. Today, he’d probably be a studio host or leading play-by-play man on Fox Soccer Channel, beIN Sport, GolTV or NBCSP, and would be getting high marks for his knowledge of and passion for the game, all delivered in that smooth baritone.
Instead, he came along in the late 1960s–unfortunate for him but fortunate for the smattering of soccer fans around the U.S. starved for any coverage of the game. A former college player who continued to play well into middle age, Machado was probably best known to audiences here as the host of “Star Soccer,” a weekly English League highlights show–back when there was no Man U or Chelsea glamour–on the Public Broadcasting System for six years, and he was play-by-play man for CBS’s telecasts of the North American Soccer League. He briefly served as commissioner of the ill-fated American Soccer League in the 1980s, published Soccer Corner magazine from 1976 to 1986 and, as a founding member of the American Youth Soccer Organization, successfully pushed for AYSO to allow girls to play.
I met Machado early in 1984. He had been named ABC’s play-by-play man for its coverage of the Los Angeles Olympic soccer tournament, and he needed a researcher. The job was particularly challenging for three reasons. First, Olympic soccer was not very important in many countries, and thus not very important to the national soccer federations that were the source of team information. After all, the players were supposedly amateurs–players not good enough to have turned professional. It didn’t help that the best mode of international communication wasn’t e-mail but the telex machine (ask your grandfather about that). Second, it was unknown whether the countries that usually won the medals–communist bloc nations and their state-supported “amateurs”–would play tit for tat and boycott Los Angeles ’84 the way a U.S.-led coalition had sat out Moscow ’80. And third, it was uncertain what kind of teams the 16 finalists–whoever they were–would send here. The lead-up to the tournament was rife with rumors that FIFA would, for the first time, allow professionals to play in the Olympics, and sure enough, with weeks to go before kickoff, it was announced that all were welcome except players from Europe and South America who had World Cup experience. For their part, the host Americans, who had been preparing a proper all-amateur team for more than a year, dumped the whole lot–with the exception of UCLA’s Jeff Hooker and Columbia’s Amr Aly–and replaced them with players from the NASL. And in the end, the communist qualifiers, save eventual bronze medalist Yugoslavia, dropped out.
As a result, up until Olympic soccer kicked off July 29, I spoon-fed Machado what I could. When it came to finalists like Qatar, Iraq and Morocco, the amount of advance information was pitiful. Some of the powerful Western nations, like Italy and West Germany, weren’t very forthcoming, either. Nevertheless, Machado slogged on. He called all 32 matches for ABC, in-person or via monitor (matches were played in Annapolis, MD; Palo Alto, CA; Harvard University in Boston and Pasadena’s Rose Bowl). That would be, with overtime, 2,910 minutes, but Machado’s total air time on ABC amounted to about 20 minutes–20 damn minutes–during his 14-day stint, culminating with France’s 2-0 victory over Brazil in the Rose Bowl final.
ABC had obviously concluded that soccer was a TV buzz kill. Maybe, in 1984, ABC Sports supremo Roone Arledge was right. However, with the Los Angeles Olympic soccer tournament drawing an average of 44,548 a match, he helped suppress one of the major stories of the L.A. Games. The country that apparently didn’t like soccer not only turned out 101,799-strong for the gold medal game but 100,374 for the third-place game. Soccer, with its mishmash of amateurs, semipros and marginal professionals (with the possible exception of Brazil captain Dunga, Italy’s Vierchowod and a handful of others), had easily out-drawn the Olympics’ signature event, track and field.
Afterwards, Machado expressed no disappointment, at least not to me, over what amounted to what could be described as TV sportscasting’s version of more than 48 hours of shadow boxing. He was a consummate professional, and as a soccer fan he probably reveled in that total gate of 1,425,541.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: 2010 World Cup, ABC, Aguera Ander Herrera, Alexis Sanchez, Athletic Bilbao, Atletico Bilbao, Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich, beIN Sport, ESPN, FC Barcelona, La Liga, Lionel Messi, Martin Tyler, MLB, MLS, NBA, NFL, Phil Schoen, Purple Heart, Ray Hudson, Real Madrid, UEFA Champions League
Aguera Ander Herrera scored on a low shot in the final minute to give host Athletic Bilbao a dramatic 2-2 draw with FC Barcelona and prevent Barca from clinching its 22nd Spanish league championship with five games remaining.
That same day, second-place Real Madrid won, 2-1, at crosstown rival Atletico Madrid to draw to within 11 points.
Bilbao was nursing a 1-0 lead in the 67th minute when Lionel Messi, who missed Barca’s last three La Liga matches with a hamstring strain and was ineffective four days earlier in his team’s shocking 4-0 loss at Bayern Munich in the opening leg of the UEFA Champions League semifinals, scored a breathtaking equalizer. The Argentine striker turned three Athletic defenders inside out at the top of the penalty area in the process. Alexis Sanchez then put Barcelona ahead three minutes later. (April 27)
Comment: Breathtaking, particularly for beIN Sport color commentator and former MLS coach Ray Hudson:
No, that was not a man being torn apart by a thousand rabid squirrels.
Hudson, whose outbursts have produced some verbal gems (in this case, the Bilbao defense, truly, had to have felt “emasculated”), has his loyal fans and his bitter critics going back nine years to his days with GolTV.
But this nuclear explosion has to have TV viewers here examining exactly what they want from an announcer.
For those who compare American soccer announcers with their Spanish-language counterparts, the Americans are sorely lacking in passion. And how can they not be? Some Spanish-language announcers work themselves into a lather, screaming into the microphone, while the two teams are simply standing on either side of the halfway line, waiting for the referee to whistle for the opening kickoff. Try that approach calling an NFL, MLB or NBA game on TV here and viewers will storm the network’s corporate offices.
On the other hand, there’s the thoughtful, understated, library-quiet Martin Tyler, the Brit who probably converted few American viewers to soccer with his sleepy work during ESPN and ABC telecasts of the marquee games of the 2010 World Cup.
The right approach, as in everything in life, lies somewhere in between. At present, for those who relished Hudson’s verbal meltdown, leaving him with nowhere to go if he has to call something even more amazing/dramatic: God help you. In the meantime, beIN Sport should issue Hudson’s partner, solid–and Job-like–play-by-play man Phil Schoen, combat pay. Or a Purple Heart. Schoen, at this point, surely must be hearing impaired.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Bayern Munich, Brasil '14, Brian Straus, Carlos Bocanegra, Clint Dempsey, CONCACAF, Costa Rica, Denver, Fabian Johnson, FC Hollywood, France '98, Honduras, Joachim Lowe, Juergen Klinsmann, Landon Donovan, March Madness, Martin Vasquez, Mexico, Mexico City, Steve Cherundolo, Steve Sampson, The Sporting News, Tim Howard, Timmy Chandler, U.S. National Team, World Cup qualifiers
On the eve of the U.S. National Team’s World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica on March 22 in Denver and Mexico on March 26 in Mexico City, The Sporting News ran an article that has called into question USA coach Juergen Klinsmann’s ability to lead the team.
Coming off the USA’s lackluster loss at Honduras on February 6 in the opening game of the six-nation CONCACAF finals for Brasil ’14, TSN writer Brian Straus quoted numerous present and former U.S. internationals–anonymously–who questioned Klinsmann’s tactical acumen, communication skills and controversial personnel changes, including a reliance on German-born newcomers.
Citing the Honduras match, Straus wrote, “The performance that day, as well as a lack of obvious improvement during his 19 months in charge, has alarmed the American soccer community and unearthed considerable discontent.” [March 21]
Comment: Is this France ’98 all over again, when then-U.S. coach Steve Sampson lost his team and sailed it directly into the rocks? Is Klinsmann the fellow who, with the highly regarded Joachim Lowe as his right-hand man, led Germany to a highly unlikely third-place finish at the 2006 World Cup? Or is he the ex-genius who, with current U.S. assistant Martin Vasquez at his side, crashed and burned three years later as coach of the German giant known as FC Hollywood, Bayern Munich?
Much will be revealed over the next few days. The USA goes into these two qualifiers without the soul-searching Landon Donovan, as well as injured goalkeeper Tim Howard and injured defenders Timmy Chandler and Fabian Johnson. The defense, whose biggest absentee is venerable right back Steve Cherundolo (knee surgery), could be the most inexperienced in recent memory. The captain, meanwhile, will be attacking midfielder Clint Dempsey in place of center back Carlos Bocanegra, whose advanced age and lack of speed finally prompted Klinsmann to drop him from the roster altogether.
The day before the Costa Rica match, Klinsmann reminded the media of where he stood: ”If we do things exactly the same way, we are not improving.” Indeed, and that’s what Klinsmann was hired not to do. If he succeeds in “taking the players out of their comfort zone” (his mantra since assuming the U.S. helm) and gets results, this early hexagonal angst will have been worth it. If he doesn’t, it will, among other things, reveal the suspicion that, no matter the coach, the U.S. player pool remains woefully thin–too thin to experiment with.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Major League Soccer, North American Soccer League, Pele, New York Cosmos, NBA, NHL, Supporters Shield, FIFA, NFL, American Soccer League, Major League Baseball, 2013 MLS opener, United Soccer Association, National Professional Soccer League, USFA, Great Depression, Phil Anschutz
Major League Soccer will kick off its 18th season Saturday, March 2, with 12 of its 19 clubs in action. Another six will play the following day.
Aside from the usual player moves and coaching changes, the league remains relatively unchanged from 2012, although the start date marks the earliest kickoff in MLS history. A record 87 matches will be televised nationally on seven different channels, and the league will be out to top last season’s attendance figures as it drew 6,074,729 fans and averaged a record-18,807–ahead of the NBA and NHL and behind only the NFL and Major League Baseball at the turnstiles. [February 28]
Comment: MLS, wisely, has never been a league to look back; given the alphabet soup of leagues that have crashed and burned over the past century, there never was a reason to remind anyone that it has been trying to be the very first one to fly.
But if it did publicly point to the past, it might … discreetly … modestly … pop a very quiet champagne cork and take a quick sip.
Season 18 makes MLS the oldest professional soccer league in American history. Eighteen is one year older than the North American Soccer League (1968-84), the league formed by the merger of a pair of one-year-old circuits, the long-forgotten United Soccer Association and National Professional Soccer League. The NASL was down to five clubs in 1969, then rode the Pele-led New York Cosmos gravy train to 24 teams and a national TV contract in the late ’70s, only to over-spend itself into oblivion a handful of years later. The only other notable pro league in the U.S. was the original American Soccer League, which was founded in 1921 and was out-drawing the NFL until battles with the USFA (forerunner to U.S. Soccer) and FIFA and the Great Depression killed it off in 1933, although it reorganized and limped along on a minor-league basis until 1983.
MLS, now just three years away from full adulthood, still faces many challenges, not the least of which are poor TV ratings in a sports landscape ruled by the tube, plus too many clubs operating in the red. And there would not have been an 18th birthday were it not for the likes of Phil Anschutz, who at one point propped up half the clubs in the league. But while the NASL in its 17th season was in its death throes, hemorrhaging money as its number of franchises had dropped to nine and average attendance to a tepid 10,759, MLS is not far from adding its 20th club (a reconstituted New York Cosmos? Orlando?), and the fan base in many of its cities is made up of young adults who are loyal, knowledgeable and loud. While NASL clubs shoehorned themselves into all manner of baseball stadiums and pro, college and even high school football stadiums, 14 MLS clubs play in new or relatively new soccer-specific stadiums. MLS has proven to be one of the most competitive soccer leagues in the world–nine different clubs have lifted the MLS Cup and eight have claimed the Supporters Shield–and the quality on the field continues to improve (though some critics would ask, how could it not?). And while the NASL tried to build itself on the backs of big-name, high-priced foreigners, the MLS this season loses the world’s most recognizable star in David Beckham but has attracted enough stars from abroad to make itself interesting.
With the MLS now old enough to vote, should it gloat? Nope. Would Major League Soccer’s cautious, spendthrift approach, without a legion of Internet-driven 20-something hipsters in the stands, without its soccer-specific stadiums, without the explosion of television-exposure options, have survived back in 1968-84? Of course not. In short, after ASL I, ASL II, the International League, USA, NPSL, NASL, MISL, AISL, USL, WSA/WSL, ASL III, APSL and A-League, Major League Soccer can thank the soccer gods that it has proven itself to be the right league at the right time.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: 2010 World Cup, 2018 World Cup in Russia, Angel Di Maria, CBS, Cristiano Ronaldo, Danny Welbeck, English FA Cup, Eric Shanks, ESPN, Fox Soccer Channel, Gus Johnson, Madison Square Garden Network, Manchester United, Old Trafford, Real Madrid, San Jose Earthquakes, Santiago Bernabeu, UEFA Champions League, Warren Barton, Wayne Rooney
Manchester United escaped the Santiago Bernabeu with a precious away goal as it battled Real Madrid to a 1-1 draw in the opening leg of the UEFA Champions League’s round of 16.
Midfielder Danny Welbeck put United ahead in the 20th minute against the run of play, heading home a corner kick by striker Wayne Rooney. Ten minutes later, forward Cristiano Ronaldo equalized for the Spanish giants with a powerful header off a cross by winger Angel Di Maria. Ronaldo, in a nod to his six stellar years with the English club, did not celebrate his goal.
The two sides meet in the second leg March 5 at Old Trafford. [February 13]
Comment: A minor epic, but what might be the most notable aspect of the match for American viewers was that it marked the Fox Soccer Channel debut of play-by-play man Gus Johnson–notable because Johnson, relatively unknown among soccer fans, has been anointed by Fox Sports President Eric Shanks as the network’s No. 1 soccer announcer. That means he will be the man at the microphone for Fox’s telecasts of the English FA Cup final and UEFA Champions League final in May, and much, much more. Like … the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Johnson, 45, cut his broadcasting teeth calling basketball, football, hockey and boxing for, among others, ESPN, CBS and the Madison Square Garden Network. His on-air soccer experience consists mainly of radio broadcasts of San Jose Earthquake road games last year, which served as a warm-up for his Fox gig. Apparently, Shanks’ grand experiment is a counterpunch to ESPN’s all-Brits, all-the-time coverage of the 2010 World Cup. He wants someone speaking American English when it covers Russia ’18, and like ESPN three years ago, he’s thumbed his nose at the country’s experienced soccer play-by-play men.
What was heard during the Real Madrid-Manchester United telecast was not surprising. Johnson, who’s tried to make up for lost time by playing in pick-up soccer games near his New York home, simply showed no feel for the sport. Nice voice, seemingly well-prepared with plenty of factoids to share, but there was no comfort level or ready insight that comes with a lifetime of exposure to soccer. It forced color commentator Warren Barton to repeatedly deal with loose ends and point out subtleties that would ordinarily have been taken care of smoothly by an experienced play-by-play man. Over two hours, Barton, who usually looks like he’s just learned that his daughter has run off with a motorcycle gang, maintained his composure despite being the hardest working man in the Fox booth. Low point: With United sweating out its gritty draw on the road, Johnson asked Barton if Sir Alex Ferguson would be pleased with the result.
Best of luck to Johnson, for the sake of America’s soccer TV audience. Somehow, over the next five years he will have to make himself smarter and more perceptive than his viewers, a majority of whom have been playing, coaching and/or officiating the game much of their lives. At the moment, the thinking behind Shanks’ needless gambit remains a mystery.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Alan Mayer, American Youth Soccer Organization, Baltimore Comets, California Surf, concussions, ESPN, head trauma, Inglewood, John Underwood, Las Vegas Quicksilver, Lore and Amazing Feats, Major League Soccer, Malia Obama, Muscular Christian, National Collegiate Athletic Association, National Football League, New England Revolution, New Republic, Oddities, President Obama, San Diego Jaws, San Diego Sockers, Sasha Obama, Soccer Stories: Anecdotes, Sports Illustrated, Taylor Twellman, The Death of An American Game, Theodore Roosevelt
President Obama jumped into the growing debate over concussions in gridiron football, saying in an interview with the New Republic that if he had a son he would think twice before allowing him to play the sport. The remarks were released days after his second inauguration and days before the Super Bowl.
Thousands of former National Football League players have sued the league, alleging it took steps to conceal links between contact and brain trauma.
“I’m a big football fan, but I have to tell you if I had a son, I’d have to think long and hard before I let him play football,” the President said. He added that gridiron football fans “have to wrestle with the fact that it will probably change gradually to try to reduce some of the violence. In some cases, that may make it a little bit less exciting, but it will be a whole lot better for the players, and those of us who are fans maybe won’t have to examine our consciences quite as much.”
Obama expressed greater concern for college players than those in the NFL.
“NFL players have a union; they’re grown men, they can make some of these decisions on their own, and most of them are well-compensated for the violence they do to their bodies,” he said. ”You read some of these stories about college players who undergo some of these same problems with concussions and so forth and then have nothing to fall back on. That’s something that I’d like to see the NCAA think about.” [January 27]
Comment: Perhaps the President would have encouraged his fictional son to play soccer. (Real-life daughters Malia and Sasha do.) It wouldn’t mark the first time that soccer has been presented in America as the reasonable alternative to gridiron football.
The first proved to be soccer’s near-undoing.
It was late in the turn of the century–the 19th century–and the gridiron game, the sport of the Muscular Christian, was in the ascendant on the college campuses of America. The new football, however, had a problem with its image: by 1905, another 18 young men were killed playing this sport. According to “Soccer Stories: Anecdotes, Oddities, Lore and Amazing Feats”: … An appalled President Theodore Roosevelt threatened to ban the gridiron game, thus prompting its backers to scramble and create what would become the National Collegiate Athletic Association. In this atmosphere soccer was being viewed in a better light, and it began to be promoted in some quarters as the safer alternative for America’s young men. But that campaign only helped paint the kicking game as a benign exercise for physical education classes rather than a sport to be taken seriously. Already damned as an ethnic pastime, soccer became regarded in the United States as a game for those not tough enough for the manful, masculine, and manly game of gridiron football.
The second time, in the 1970s, with football eclipsing baseball as America’s national pastime, the American youth soccer boom was well underway–and confounding soccer’s critics across the country, including Sports Illustrated senior editor John Underwood. Here, in his 1979 book, “The Death of An American Game,” Underwood ponders the future of sports in the U.S. with a friend identified only as “B”. To B., gridiron football’s violence will prove to be its undoing, and soccer is poised to take full advantage:
“Don’t be gulled by those of us who believe football will survive no matter what. Football people have a colossal mental block on that point. Some of us don’t even understand soccer, and what we see of it we can’t imagine anybody preferring it to American football. But … there’s a whole generation of kids out there who see things we don’t see. Eight-, ten-, and 12-year-olds, flocking to the soccer fields. Kids who found organized football at that level a drag, and soccer fast and fun and skillful–and physical, too, without being brutal.
“I’ve got one myself who’s into it now, and I go and watch and I’m bewildered. But he’s not. He’s having fun. He loves it. And he can play it without having to listen to some knee-jerk facsimile of a Lombardi tell him to bury his tiny little helmeted head in somebody’s groin so we can all get a trophy and be number one.
“Suburban kids are fleeing organized football. Check it out, you’ll see. If we don’t curb the injuries, do something about the trend, it may be irreversible. Football may well become a game for the lower classes. A ghetto game for young gladiators desperate to get a leg up and willing to sacrifice their bodies to do it. It would be a terrible tragedy, but it would be our own doing. Our legacy.
B. paused. In the diffused shore light, I could see only his outline. I imagined that his face was a somber as his voice, which was grim as mourning weeds.
“The injuries, the brutality, the dubious pro influence, the swarming lawyers–and soccer, too. Do you know the statistics on the growth of soccer in this country?” he said with sudden intensity. ”Ten years ago, this guy, the founder of the American Youth Soccer [Organization], walks into a sporting goods store in Inglewood, California, to buy a soccer ball The owner tries to sell him a volleyball. He didn’t know the difference. Do you know that last year that same store sold a million dollars’ worth of soccer equipment? It’s time we got to know our enemies.”
“You forgot one,” I said.
“The toughest one of them all. Your most implacable foe.”
“Mom. Every kid football player’s mother. She has always fought the game, always distrusted it. She never understood football in the first place. She doesn’t know a first down from a first inning. But it always scared hell out of her, the prospect of baby boy getting his head cracked. Now when she reads the casualty lists, and remembers the sad examples on television and at the little-league park, she is liable to become relentless. Soccer gave her an alternative, clean and practically injury free. It’s her kind of alternative.”
“The hand that rocks the cradle,” B. said.
“Something like that. Don’t underestimate the power of maternal enmity.”
B. promised he wouldn’t.
Will soccer now take further advantage of the violence of football, on the backs of players who have, at worst, been driven in retirement to suicide because of repeated blows to the head on the gridiron?
Public perception of soccer in this country places it among basketball and volleyball on the team-sport danger scale. Among its detractors, soccer–to its everlasting shame, they claim–takes about as much guts to play as golf or tennis. To the contrary, of course, with its torn knees, head injuries and broken bones, it probably ranks behind only gridiron football and ice hockey as a contact sport.
Soccer has its own head injury issues to deal with. Before Underwood’s book, there was English international striker Jeff Astle. A playing career spent heading heavy, water-logged leather balls in the 1960s led to his death in 2002 at age 59. The West Bromwich Albion striker scored 137 goals in 292 games–many of them with his head. The coroner determined the cause of Astle’s death as a buildup of protein in blood vessels in the brain, a condition exacerbated in his younger days by heading. The damage was at the front of the brain, similar to that of a boxer. With the ruling, the death was officially attributed to “industrial disease.”
While Underwood was completing his book, there was Alan Mayer, a U.S. international goalkeeper who sustained seven concussions while playing for the NASL’s Baltimore Comets, San Diego Jaws, Las Vegas Quicksilver, San Diego Sockers and California Surf. He ended his career wearing a hockey-style helmet rarely seen in soccer.
Now there’s Taylor Twellman, another U.S. international who’s probably as well known presently as a commentator for ESPN as for winning two Major League Soccer scoring titles while with the New England Revolution. Twellman, whose father Tim played against Mayer in the NASL, scored 101 goals in 174 matches, but his career was cut short at age 30 in 2010 because of a series of concussions, and he has now made the study and prevention of brain injuries in sports his personal cause.
It’s hard to imagine soccer outlawing headers. It’s hard to imagine all 22 players wearing a version of Alan Mayer’s crash helmet. But soccer–especially here in America–needs to get ahead of this issue. Globally, there are thousands and thousands of future head injuries to be prevented. If that can be done, here and abroad, soccer in this country will continue to be seen, to an even greater degree, as the safe and sane version of this contact sport known as football.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Los Angeles Galaxy, David Beckham, Freddy Adu, Major League Soccer, Nike, Associated Press, Chelsea, English Premier League, ESPN, Philadelphia Union, Soccer Stories: Anecdotes, Oddities, Lore and Amazing Feats, Twitter, Brooklyn Beckham, Cobham, Daily Mail, Chris Kirkland
Is the world ready for another Beckham?
According to the Associated Press, David Beckham’s teenage son might be the next person in his family to play in the English Premier League. Brooklyn Beckham, at 13 the oldest of Beckham’s four children, is having a tryout with Chelsea and played in an under-14 game at the club’s Cobham training center.
Chelsea tried to keep Brooklyn’s trial a secret, the Daily Mail reported, but some of the club’s academy players couldn’t resist posing for photos with Dad, who watched from the sidelines. Those shots, of course, were posted on Twitter.
The Beckham family has moved back to England following the elder Beckham’s departure from the Los Angeles Galaxy, his six-year stay in Major League Soccer culminating with a second consecutive league championship. Among the 37-year-old’s suitors are rival clubs in the United Arab Emirates, Al Jazira and Al Nasr. Brooklyn, who is scheduled to continue to play at Cobham in the coming weeks, was a member of the Galaxy’s youth team while he was in Los Angeles and still appears on that club’s Web site as a member of their U-14 team. [January 22]
Comment: From “Soccer Stories: Anecdotes, Oddities, Lore and Amazing Feats,” at the end of an item that included the tale of Chris Kirkland, whose father put down a 100-pound bet that his boy, then 10, would play for England before his 30th birthday (Chris did, playing in goal for the English at age 25):
“One of the players on the field … was English superstar David Beckham, whose toddler son, Brooklyn, has been established as a 100-to-1 shot to one day play for the national team. London bookmakers had started Brooklyn out at 1,000-to-1 not long after his birth, but they slashed the odds in August 2001 when Beckham was quoted as saying his son was a better soccer player than he was at the same age.”
Known as punters, the British betting sickos who have become fascinated with the news out of Chelsea should bear in mind that when it comes to soccer prodigies, happily, there are no sure things. The day before Brooklyn’s trial, one of the surest of all sure things, Freddy Adu, the kid who signed a $1 million sponsorship deal with Nike and made his MLS debut at 14, was released by the Philadelphia Union. He was–and is–23.
For those who don’t believe the crystal soccer ball can get cloudy: http://espn.go.com/sportsbusiness/s/2003/1119/1665998.html
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: 1994 World Cup, Al Jazeera, Argentina, baseball, basketball, Blatter criticizes MLS, Brazil, Commissioner Don Garber, English Premier League, FIFA, FIFA President Sepp Blatter, Genoa, German Bundesliga, gridiron football, Italian Serie A, Italy, Jamaica, Kingston, Major League Soccer, MLB, National Hockey League, NBA, New York Times, NFL, Spain, Spain's La Liga
Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber was struggling to remain diplomatic in the wake of recent comments by FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who criticized MLS for its lack of progress.
Blatter told Al Jazeera television, in an interview broadcast December 28, that “there is no very strong professional league” in the U.S. ”They just have the MLS. But they have no professional leagues which are recognized by the American society.”
He added that MLS was “still struggling” to lift soccer to the level of gridiron football, baseball and basketball in America. ”We had the World Cup in 1994,” Blatter said. ”But we are now in 2012–it’s been 18 years. It should’ve been done now.”
Countered Garber in an interview with the New York Times: ”We still have a lot of work to do–we understand and accept that. But arguably there’s probably not another sports league in the world that has achieved as much as we have in the last 20 years. [January 2]
Comment: Blatter’s latest blatherings triggered a firestorm of criticism among American fans of MLS and Americans who simply believe the man should have been unseated when his first term as FIFA chief ended in 2002. What was disappointing was how a man who, as FIFA general secretary, held America’s hand as it prepared for and pulled off World Cup USA ’94, could still have such a dismal understanding of this country.
Mainstream America really doesn’t know what to make of soccer. An estimated 18 million of their countrymen and countrywomen and countrykids play the sport. Its women’s national team is usually No. 1 in the world while its men’s national team, usually ranked around No. 30, is capable of beating Spain in the FIFA Confederations Cup and Italy in Genoa, then losing to Jamaica in Kingston. And its official national league, whose average attendance of 18,807 last season topped the NBA and NHL for the second year in a row, making it third behind the NFL and Major League Baseball in average gate, remains a television bust, stuck at 0.1 and 0.2 in the ratings.
What Blatter and mainstream America need to understand is that MLS is no measuring stick of soccer here. America loves the NFL, Major League Baseball and the NBA a whole lot more than MLS, not because they’ve had a 74-, 152- and 47-year head start, respectively, on MLS, but because the NFL, MLB and NBA are the best at their craft in the world. The NFL, MLB and the NBA play their game like they invented it because, well, they have. Even the National Hockey League can make the same claim, if, for the sake of this argument, we co-opt our Canadian friends. As for MLS, everyone in America knows that it’s not the best soccer league in the world, even those who know nothing about the English Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, the Italian Serie A, Germany’s Bundesliga or the Brazilian and Argentine championships. And it’s hard to imagine a time when an MLS, which has gone from crawl to hobble to jog in those 18 years, will have the means and talent to challenge those leagues.
MLS will continue to be a symbol, a happy, regular rallying point, for soccer here, but it will never be the heart–or reliable barometer–of our sport. While the NFL can boast of astronomical television ratings and Major League Baseball can point to its tremendous total attendance figures, soccer in the U.S. quietly moves forward with a balance that should be the envy of the so-called “big four” pro team sports: a professional league that continues to grow and improve, a competitive men’s national team, a world-class women’s national team, and those millions and millions or participants of all ages and both genders. All underscored by a patience that Blatter doesn’t seem to possess.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: 2012 Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year, Alfredo Di Stefano, AP, Argentina, associated press male athlete of the year, babe didrikson, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Babe Ruth, Bayern Munich, Carl Lewis, Circulo de Periodistas, cyclist lance armstrong, Diego Maradona, Eusebio, FC Barcelona, Ferenc Puskas, Franz Beckenbauer, George Best, Gerd Muller, Jim Thorpe, Johan Cruyff, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., Lance Armstrong, LeBron James, Lionel Messi, London Olympic Games, male athlete of the year, Michael Jordan, Michael Phelps, Michel Platini, Muhammed Ali, Olimpia de Oro, Pele, Roberto Baggio, Sebastian Crismanich, Secretariat, Sergio Martinez, soccer, sports, Tiger Woods, Usain Bolt, Wayne Gretzky, WBC, West Germany, Zico
Olympic swimming great Michael Phelps has been named the 2012 Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year, the AP has announced.
Phelps, who won six more medals at last summer’s London Olympic Games to bring his career medal haul to 22, including 18 golds, got 40 votes in balloting by 100 U.S. editors and broadcasters to out-poll basketball’s LeBron James, with 37, and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, with 23.
Phelps joins track’s Carl Lewis as the only Olympic-related athlete to win the AP honor twice. Golfer Tiger Woods and cyclist Lance Armstrong have won the award four times each, and basketball’s Michael Jordan is a three-time winner. [December 20]
Comment: The elephant not in this room, of course, is Argentina and FC Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi, whose 91 goals for club and country in all competitions during the calendar year broke the 40-year-old record of 85 set by West Germany and Bayern Munich poacher extraodinaire Gerd Muller.
The AP has been doing this since 1931, and it has rarely looked beyond its own shores, let alone smiled on a soccer player. This is a group of sports editors and sportscasters that in 2000 voted on the best 100 athletes of the 20th Century. The only soccer player was Pele, who was No. 15–six places below female multi-sport standout Babe Didrikson Zaharias. No Alfredo Di Stefano. No Ferenc Puskas. No Eusebio. No George Best. No Franz Beckenbauer. No Johan Cruyff. No Zico. No Michel Platini. No Diego Maradona. No Roberto Baggio. (For the record, at the top of the AP heap was Babe Ruth, followed by Jordan, Jim Thorpe, Muhammed Ali and Wayne Gretzky. The race horse Secretariat came in 81st.)
But before outraged soccer fans here throw up their hands, there’s this story, released a day before the Phelps announcement, by the same Associated Press:
BUENOS AIRES (AP) — Argentine journalists don’t think Lionel Messi is the country’s best athlete for 2012.
Argentine boxer Sergio Martinez was awarded the title of “Olimpia de Oro,” given to the South American country’s top athlete in voting by the Circulo de Periodistas–or association of journalists.
Martinez defeated Mexican boxer Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. earlier this year in their WBC title fight.
Barcelona star Messi, who has had a record-breaking year with 90 goals, didn’t even finish second in the voting. That went to Sebastian Crismanich, the taekwondo fighter who won Argentina’s only gold medal in the London Olympics. Messi finished third.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: 2012 MLS Cup, Australia, Beckham Rule, David Beckham, DC United, Glasgow Celtic, Home Depot Center, Houston Dynamo, Landon Donovan, Los Angeles Galaxy, Major League Soccer, MLS Commissioner Don Garber, Montreal, NBA, NHL, Philip Anschutz, Queens Park Rangers, The Beckham Experiment, Thierry Henry, Toronto FC
David Beckham closed out his Major League Soccer career in triumph as the Los Angeles Galaxy defeated the Houston Dynamo, 3-1, at the Home Depot Center in the 2012 MLS Cup, making defending champion Los Angeles the second club, after DC United, to capture four league titles.
Beckham has not revealed his next move, although he has been linked to clubs ranging from Queens Park Rangers in his native England and Glasgow Celtic to teams in Australia. A clause in his current contract gives him the opportunity to become part-owner of an MLS club. [December 1]
Comment: Beckham exited the championship game in stoppage time to chants of “Thank-you, Beck-ham!” by Galaxy fans, a far cry from the first half of his stay. He arrived in 2007 as damaged goods and started just two matches in his first season. The Galaxy lost on a regular basis. He alienated captain Landon Donovan and other teammates. He managed to get himself loaned to AC Milan in a cynical and vain attempt to keep alive his England career.
It was all chronicled in the 2009 book, “The Beckham Experiment”–which appears to have been premature by at least three years.
Much has been made in the media of Beckham’s 5 1/2-year stay since he announced his MLS retirement a couple of weeks ago. In 2006 BC (Before Beckham), MLS had 12 clubs, the latest of which, Toronto FC, paid $10 million for the right to lose money. Average attendance was a stagnant 15,504 (2.97 million total) and only four of the league’s stadiums were designed for soccer. This year, Montreal, having paid $40 million, became the league’s 19th club. The San Jose Earthquakes broke ground on MLS’s 15th soccer-specific stadium. Average attendance was 18,807 (6.07 million total)–better than the NBA and NHL for the third straight year. Each team has a youth academy, up from zero in ’06, and thanks to the so-called “Beckham Rule,” there are 31 star players scattered throughout a previously faceless MLS whose pay, in effect, doesn’t count against a team’s miserly-but-sensible salary cap.
Is it all Beckham’s doing? Commissioner Don Garber, in his state of the league address five days before the game, went so far as to say, “I don’t think anybody would doubt that he has over delivered …. There’s arguably not a soccer fan on this planet that doesn’t know the L.A. Galaxy and Major League Soccer, and David played a significant role in making that happen.”
So how much credit does Beckham deserve? The truth, of course, lies somewhere in between. Clearly, there’s no one like him–think a superstar like Thierry Henry, playing in the nation’s biggest market, could have had the same impact on his own? What Beckham did–thanks to his splash, flash and the Beckham Rule that was necessary to make his arrival possible–was to show fans, the media, potential investors and corporate America that MLS was through treading water after 10 modestly successful seasons and finally meant business. Mere survival was no longer an option.
Beckham will be missed. No sane person ever expected him to lift soccer in the U.S. to the same plane as gridiron football, baseball and basketball, and he didn’t. He merely moved the ball forward, his customary 35 yards at a time, and on so many fronts soccer now eclipses ice hockey as North America’s fourth-most popular team sport.
What remains for the immediate future is what Beckham left on the field at the Home Depot Center: a cup final between two clubs owned by the same man, Philip Anschutz. As Becks departs, that sort of arrangement remains a necessity in an MLS still at the toddler stage.