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.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup, Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Boston, Canadian Soccer Association, Chicago, Homare Sawa, Kansas City, Major League Soccer, Marta, Megan Rapinoe, Mexican soccer federation, NBA, New Jersey, new women's soccer league, Portland, Seattle, Sunil Gulati, U.S. Soccer Federation, Washington DC, western New York, WNBA, Women's Professional Soccer, Women's United Soccer Association
A new eight-team women’s pro soccer league will kick off next spring, two years after the demise of Women’s Professional Soccer (2009-11) and a decade after the Women’s United Soccer Association (2001-03) folded.
The league will have teams in Boston, Chicago, Kansas City, New Jersey, Portland, Seattle, western New York and Washington DC.
It reportedly has a handshake agreement with one national sponsor; television coverage is a question mark. [November 21]
Comment: After Women’s Professional Soccer went under last January, the reaction in this space was, please don’t come back with another women’s pro soccer league unless there’s a new, inventive approach behind the effort. Otherwise, the notion of a high-profile women’s pro circuit might be killed off for the foreseeable future. (To see the original admonishment, go to May 28.)
Thankfully, on the eve of Thanksgiving, the powers that be have chosen not to exercise that classic example of insanity, in which the patient, happily doing the same thing over and over, expects a different result.
In this incarnation, the league will get considerable support from the U.S., Mexican and Canadian soccer federations, whose national team players will benefit from the week-in, week-out competition the league will provide from March-April to September-October. In a women’s sports sense, the outside help recalls the launch of the WNBA, which would not have been possible without all of its original teams being owned by NBA franchises.
While the clubs in this currently unnamed league will be privately owned, the U.S. Soccer Federation will not only pay the salaries of up to 24 of the league’s American players but fund the league’s front office as well. The Mexican and Canadian soccer federations, with an eye toward the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada, will pay the salaries of some of their players who play in the league. As a result, each club will be off the hook for the salaries of up to seven of its most valuable players.
Most of the players will be semipros, and gone will be high-priced talent from beyond North America, like Brazil’s Marta and Japan’s Homare Sawa, but U.S. mainstays like Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe won’t be faced with the prospect of plying their trade in leagues overseas.
As USSF President Sunil Gulati put it, “What we need is a sustainable model: less hype, better performance. The hype will come if we have the performance.”
Major League Soccer wouldn’t have gotten off the ground without turning sports management on its ear with the single-entity concept. Give League Jane Doe credit for trying to turn it on its other ear.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: 1980 Moscow Games, 1980 Winter Olympics, 2010 World Cup, 2014 World Cup, ABC, Aleksandr Kerzhakov, Argentina, Bear, Brent Goulet, Cold War, Commonwealth of Independent States, CONCACAF, Costa Rica, Czechoslovakia, Detroit, Eagle, East Germany, Egypt, England, European Championship, European Group "F", Fabio Capello, FIFA, FIFA World Rankings, Frank Klopas, Huntington Sheraton Hotel, Iran, Italy, John Doyle, John Harkes, Joseph Blatter, Juergen Klinsmann, Kevin Crow, Krasnodar, Kuban Stadium, Lake Placid, Libya, Los Angeles Olympics, Miami, Miracle on Grass, Miracle on Ice, Moscow, North American Soccer League, Norway, Orlando, Palo Alto, Pasadena, Paul Caligiuri, Peter Vermes, Port of Spain, Rick Davis, Roman Shirokov, Rose Bowl, Russia, San Francisco, Seattle, Seoul Olympic Games, Stanford Stadium, Tab Ramos, Taegu, Trinidad & Tobago, U.S. National Team, USSR, Victor Faizulin, West Germany, Zenit Saint Petersburg
The U.S. National Team will close out 2012 with a Wednesday, November 14, friendly against Russia at Kuban Stadium in Krasnodar.
The Russians, No. 9 in the current FIFA World Rankings, are coming off a frustrating first-round exit at this year’s European Championship, while the Americans, ranked 27th, are 9-2-2 in 2012 and a tie away from posting their best single-year record in their history. [November 12]
Comment: This could be a useful exercise for both sides. Russia, led by the Zenit Saint Petersburg trio of Victor Faizulin, Roman Shirokov and Aleksandr Kerzhakov, leads European Group “F” in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup and has gone 4-0-0–all by shutout–under coach Fabio Capello, who last faced the U.S. at the 2010 World Cup as England boss. As for the U.S., coach Juergen Klinsmann will use the opportunity to tinker yet again before his side begins the final round of CONCACAF qualifiers for Brasil ’14 in February.
But this game will hardly go down as historic. The Cold War is a distant memory, and the two countries now keep one another at arm’s length, a frozen smile on their faces. There have been meetings, but nothing of consequence:
o February 3, 1979, U.S. 1, USSR 3, in Seattle
o February 11, 1979, U.S. 1, USSR 4, in San Francisco
o February 24, 1990, U.S. 1, USSR 3, in Palo Alto, CA
o November 21, 1990, U.S. 0, USSR 0, in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago
o January 25, 1992, U.S. 0, Commonwealth of Independent States 1, in Miami
o February 2, 1992, U.S. 2, Commonwealth of Independent States 1, in Detroit
o February 13, 1993, U.S. 0, Russia 1, in Orlando
o February 21, 1993, U.S. 0, Russia 0, in Palo Alto, CA
o January 29, 1994, U.S. 1, Russia 1, in Seattle
o April 26, 2000, Russia 2, U.S. 0, in Moscow
All friendlies, of course, with the Soviets/CIS’ers/Russians holding a solid 6-1-3 advantage. The only competitive match between the Eagle and Bear was played September 22, 1988, in Taegu during the Seoul Olympic Games. The U.S., featuring North American Soccer League old-timers Rick Davis and Kevin Crow and up-and-comers like Paul Caligiuri, Tab Ramos, John Harkes, Frank Klopas and Peter Vermes, had played Argentina and host South Korea to ties but needed at least a high-scoring draw against the Soviets to advance to the knockout round for the first time in its Olympic history. Despite goals by John Doyle and substitute Brent Goulet, the USA lost, 4-2.
There might have been a game of real significance, however–a real Cold War potboiler–had the stars not mis-aligned four years earlier.
In 1984, the U.S., as host, held an automatic berth in the Los Angeles Olympic soccer tournament. At the draw conducted that spring by FIFA at the plush Huntington Sheraton Hotel in Pasadena, CA–a stone’s throw from the Rose Bowl, site of the final–media members and guests gasped when it was revealed that the USA had been drawn into the same first-round group with the Soviet Union. Visions of a Miracle on Grass, a redux of the Americans’ titanic upset of the USSR in ice hockey at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, NY, immediately danced through many a head.
When the media questioned draw emcee Joseph Blatter, then general secretary of a FIFA even less transparent than the one he heads today as president, the shifty Swiss was characteristically oblique. The U.S. and USSR landing in the same group didn’t happen by sheer chance, he allowed. On occasion, said Blatter, FIFA will honor a host nation’s “request.”
In the end, the behind-the-scenes shenanigans that set up the American-Soviet clash were all for naught. On May 8, the Soviet Union, still smarting from the U.S.-led boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games, announced that it was boycotting the Los Angeles Games. Thirteen other communist bloc nations followed suit, plus Iran and Libya. As for the ’84 soccer tournament, it meant that all three medalists from Moscow ’80–Czechoslovakia (gold medal), East Germany (silver) and USSR (bronze)–would be no-shows. They were replaced by three nations that fell short in Europe’s Olympic qualifiers: Italy, West Germany and Norway.
That summer, the U.S. thumped Costa Rica, 3-0, in its opener at Stanford Stadium, then lost to Italy, 1-0, at the Rose Bowl and missed the quarterfinals with a 1-1 tie with Egypt back at Stanford. It appeared to be a golden chance lost, because for this tournament FIFA had changed the rules to allow players, regardless of amateur/professional status, to take part if they hadn’t played in a World Cup for a European or South American country. Thus, this American team was loaded with NASL players, not raw amateurs. And the absence of a marquee match like U.S.-USSR allowed ABC, the Olympic broadcaster, to choose to limit its coverage of the 16-nation, 32-game tournament to all of five minutes.
The ’84 Olympic soccer tournament drew a record 1.4 spectators to lead all sports–track and field included–and enable the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee to turn a $40 million surplus. And that turnout prompted FIFA, four years later, to award the 1994 World Cup to the United States.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: diving, English Premier League, flopping, Jim Boyce, Liverpool, Luis Suarez, Major League Soccer, National Basketball League, Stoke City
A FIFA vice president has labeled diving in soccer “a cancer” and demanded that players found guilty of simulation be punished retroactively.
Jim Boyce made his comments in response to an incident three days earlier involving Liverpool striker Luis Suarez, a player with a reputation for diving, in an English Premier League match with Stoke City.
“I watched the latest Suarez incident two or three times, and to me it is nothing less than a form of cheating,” Boyce said. ”It is becoming a little bit of a cancer within the game, and I believe if it is clear to everyone that it is simulation then that person is trying to cheat and they should be severely punished for that.
“It can be dealt with retrospectively by disciplinary committees, and it is done so in some associations, and I believe that is the correct thing to do,” added Boyce, a Northern Irishman and Britain’s representative to the world soccer governing body. [October 9]
Comment: Boyce is only the latest in a long, long line of critics who have slammed the play-acting that has become routine down on the field, but his labeling the problem “a cancer” was the strongest, most incisive, most welcomed comment from a person in power possible.
This blog long ago (scroll down, there’s only 10o posts) urged soccer authorities to appoint panels to view videos and take appropriate action against divers after the fact. With so much at stake, it’s awfully tempting for divers to go for the Oscar, but for the same reason, it’s long past time for the guardians of the game–such as they are–to act. Divers should hear a little voice–make that a booming voice–every time they are challenged anywhere on the field and feel the need to hit the turf unnecessarily rather than try to continue what just might be a successful run with the ball.
It’s a global problem, of course, but in a way it’s an American problem in particular.
American sports fans hate play-acting, and just six days before Boyce’s comments, the National Basketball Association announced that it would crack down on what it calls “floppers” under a new policy that would assess the first flop with a warning, a second with a $5,000 fine, the third, $10,000, the fourth, $15,000, and the fifth, $30,000–this in an NBA world in which players earn an average salary approaching $6 million.
Basketball players, of course, don’t flop as often as soccer players dive. It’s easier to “go to ground,” as the British put it, when the ground is nice, soft green turf, not varnished wood. And it’s easier to get caught when the referee is 10 feet away, not 20 yards. Besides, why flop early in the second quarter when another 150 points are bound to be scored? So while the average American sports fan knows basketball as the sport in which simulation occurs, he/she knows soccer as the sport in which simulation–with its clumsy fall, followed by a dramatic roll and obligatory cry of agony–is a constant aggravation.
Major League Soccer could take a significant step in improving soccer’s image among the non-believers in its midst if it would institute an aggressive program to eliminate diving. Appoint a panel, give it Inquisition-like powers to hand out retroactive yellow cards and fines, then deliver the video each week. It might serve as an example to world soccer, and it just might improve soccer’s image among the sport’s critics here who have long held the impression that–based on the incessant diving they see–it takes as much courage to play badminton or golf as it is to play the wimpy sport of soccer.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Chicago Fire, Chicago Fire Department, DC United, firefighters, MLS Cup, NBC, paramedics, Syfy, U.S. National Open Cup, Windy City
“Chicago Fire,” a television series that follows the lives of firefighters and paramedics at a Chicago Fire Department station, will debut on NBC on October 10, airing Wednesdays at 10 p.m. Eastern/9 p.m. Central. [October 1]
Comment: So the Windy City now has two Chicago Fires. One is a soccer team that’s won an MLS Cup (1998, its inaugural season), and four U.S. Open Cups (’98, 2000, ’03 and ’06). The other is a network TV show.
With the national election fast approaching next month, perhaps TV can come up with a politically themed show called “DC United.” It would be pure fantasy and ideally made for the Syfy channel.