Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: 2013 MLS opener, American Soccer League, FIFA, Great Depression, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, National Professional Soccer League, NBA, New York Cosmos, NFL, NHL, North American Soccer League, Pele, Phil Anschutz, Supporters Shield, United Soccer Association, USFA
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: 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: Associated Press, Brooklyn Beckham, Chelsea, Chris Kirkland, Cobham, Daily Mail, David Beckham, English Premier League, ESPN, Freddy Adu, Lore and Amazing Feats, Los Angeles Galaxy, Major League Soccer, Nike, Oddities, Philadelphia Union, Soccer Stories: Anecdotes, Twitter
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 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: 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: Abby Wambach, Hope Solo, magicJack, Major League Soccer, Marta, U.S. National Women's Team, USL, W-League, Women's Premier Soccer League, Women's Professional Soccer, Women's United Soccer Association
Women’s Professional Soccer, home to such top U.S. internationals as Abby Wambach and Hope Solo and Brazilian star Marta, folded, four months after the league cancelled its 2012 season in hopes of returning in 2013.
League officials cited an ongoing battle with the owner of the Boca Raton-based club magicJack as the primary reason for the decision, but WPS also had been plagued by a lack of capital and low attendance (3,535 average in 2011). The league limped through its last season with six teams, all of them on the East Coast.
The demise of WPS leaves the U.S. with two second-division women’s circuits, the USL’s W-League, which has 30 teams, and the 67-team Women’s Premier Soccer League, which broke away from the W-League in 1997. [May 18]
Comment: To those who think they can succeed where the Women’s United Soccer Association (2001-2003, R.I.P.) and WPS failed, please don’t step forward unless and until you have the right formula and the financial muscle to weather years of struggle, a la Major League Soccer. (Note: Financial muscle means more than the $100 million the WUSA lost during its brief lifetime.)
These vain attempts only sully the sport of women’s soccer in the eyes of the general public and undermine what is one of American sports’ few ongoing feel-good stories, the U.S. National Women’s Team.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: 2008 Beijing Olympics, 2012 London Olympics, American Outlaws, Andres Flores, Athens, Bill Hamid, Brian McBride, Canada, Chile, Clint Dempsey, CONCACAF Gold Cup, CONCACAF Olympic qualifiers, El Salvador, FIFA Women's World Cup, FIFA World Youth Championship, Freddy Adu, Honduras, Jaime Alas, Joe Corona, Kansas City, Landon Donovan, Lester Blanco, Los Angeles Times, Major League Soccer, Mexico, Nashville, Rose Bowl, Sam's Army, Sean Johnson, Spain, Sydney, Terrence Boyd, Tim Howard, U.S. National Team, U.S. National Under-20 Team, U.S. National Women's Team, Will Kuhn
The United States surrendered a goal by Jaime Alas four minutes into added-on time, giving El Salvador a 3-3 tie in Nashville that knocked the Americans out of contention for the 2012 London Olympics. The Salvadorans finished atop their first-round group and advanced along with Canada to the semifinals of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifiers in Kansas City, where they will face Mexico and Honduras with two berths in London on the line. The U.S., at 1-1-1, landed in third place.
After taking a lead on a goal by Terrence Boyd in the first minute, the U.S. was sent reeling by goals by El Salvador’s Lester Blanco and Andres Flores in the 35th and 37th minutes. Boyd scored an equalizer in the 65th minute and Joe Corona, whose mother is Salvadoran, put the U.S. ahead, 3-2, three minutes later with a header off a cross by captain Freddy Adu, who had also set up Boyd’s second strike.
The Americans, however, couldn’t hold off the relentless Salvadorans. On a quick counterattack, Alas’ seemingly harmless 25-yard shot squeezed under U.S. goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who had replaced the injured Bill Hamid (ankle) in the 39th minute. [March 26]
Comment: A disturbing setback, coming as it does on the heels of three other American stumbles in regional or world championship competition over the past 12 months. A year ago, the U.S. National Under-20 Team gives up a second-half goal against the run of play and is eliminated by host Guatemala, 2-1, in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF qualifiers for the FIFA World Youth Championship. In June, the U.S. National Team scores twice early, only to give up four unanswered goals to Mexico in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final at the Rose Bowl. The following month, the U.S. National Women’s Team is unable to protect a one-goal lead in regulation and again late in overtime and loses to underdog Japan on penalty kicks in the FIFA Women’s World Cup title match in Germany. And now this.
It’s no time for Sam’s Army and the American Outlaws and their brethren to panic, of course. The U.S. women, despite their confounding defeat at the hands of Japan last summer, are still No. 1 in the FIFA World Rankings. And with CONCACAF’s 3 1/2 berths up for grabs, the U.S. men head into 2014 World Cup qualifying this summer with perhaps the two most accomplished attacking players in their history, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, still in their prime. For the U.S. men, however, it would have to be concluded that, given the U-23s’ disappointing loss to Canada and tie with El Salvador in Nashville, there are no wholesale reinforcements on the horizon.
On the eve of the Olympic qualifiers, MLS spokesman Will Kuhn was on message, telling the Los Angeles Times, “It’s a strong statement about our league and the development of young players that the Olympic tournament–a reflection of the strongest young players in each country–includes so many that are on our clubs. It draws a lot of attention to the natural progression of our league. The level of play keeps advancing each year. The Olympics gives an opportunity for lots more people to see that progress.” We’ve heard that sort of thing from MLS for several years now, but it might be time for the league to tone down the rhetoric.
If there’s been progress, it hasn’t be reflected in the play of recent U.S. U-23 teams. The 2000 U.S. men’s Olympic team qualified for Sydney, where it went 1-0-2 in the first round, defeated Japan on PKs in the quarterfinals, lost to Spain, 3-1, in the semifinals and bowed to Chile, 2-0, in the bronze-medal game–their best showing in an Olympic soccer history that goes back to 1924. In 2004, the U.S. failed to make it to Athens, the decisive blow a humiliating 4-0 loss to host Mexico in the CONCACAF semifinals as the locals taunted the Americans with chants of “O-sa-ma, O-sa-ma.” Four years later, the U.S. reached the Beijing Games, where it went 1-1-1 and failed to advance to the quarterfinals.
No one wants to see a return of the 1980s and ’90s, when young American players had two hopes: star in college, then head to Europe, where there might be an opening with a Scandinavian club or a German regional division side. And there’s no denying that since 1996 MLS has become an international springboard for several top native sons, from Brian McBride to Tim Howard and Donovan and Dempsey. Nevertheless, if the Olympics are some kind of reflection on the improvement of MLS, that progress has been decidedly uneven.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Chicago Fire, ESPN, FC Dallas, Fiorentina, Italian Serie A, Major League Soccer, MLS Commissioner Don Garber, MLS Cup, Montreal Impact, NBC, New England Revolution, New York Red Bulls, North American Soccer League, Philadelphia Union, Toronto FC, Univision
This Saturday, Major League Soccer will kick off its 17th season, tying it with the old North American Soccer League (1968-84) as the country’s longest tenured national pro soccer league. With the addition of its 19th club, the expansion Montreal Impact, the league will play 323 regular-season games, 17 more than in 2011. The climactic MLS Cup is scheduled for Saturday, December 1, making this the league’s longest campaign in its history. And for the first time, every match will be televised, thanks to ESPN, Univision, new partner NBC and various Canadian networks. [March 7]
Comment: Another set of milestones for a league that a dozen years ago was in danger of falling flat on its back, but for those who care about what goes on down on the field, perhaps we’ll see some improvement in the standings, where wins and losses are in danger of being surpassed by ties, draws and deadlocks.
Last season, with 18 MLS teams each playing 34 regular-season games for a total of 306, a whopping 106 of those matches ended in a tie. That’s 34.6 percent, or more than a third. The New York Red Bulls and Chicago Fire registered 16 draws apiece, breaking the record of 14 set the previous season by FC Dallas. Toronto FC and the Philadelphia Union were next at 15, and another nine teams posted 10 draws or more. In fact, 11 teams finished with more ties than victories, including all those who made up the bottom nine.
Is there a trend in place? In 2010, in a 16-team MLS, only three clubs hit double digits in ties, and just one club, the New England Revolution (5-16-13), had more ties than wins. Teams each played 30 games that year and they racked up 58 draws–24.1 percent of all results.
To a disdainful general American public, soccer and ties are almost synonymous. But compare MLS with the Italy, the land where, as popular perception would have it, the scoreless tie was invented, and games are so tight, oftentimes so negative, that the players walk onto the field hoping for that one, blissful penalty-kick call. Yet in 2010-2011, Serie A’s 20 clubs, each playing 38 matches, had 97 ties in 380 games–25.5 percent, just more than a quarter of all results. Half of the teams tied at least 10 games, led by Fiorentina, with 16.
“We’re not going to eliminate ties from Major League Soccer, but we have way too many ties and way too many zero-zero ties,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber told the Newark Star-Ledger in July, as the draws were piling up at an alarming rate. “What could we do as a league to make it more valuable for a club to play to win every game as opposed to playing for just a point? We’re looking at what those initiatives could be. And that is a league initiative.”
[For the record, Commissioner, of those 106 ties last year, 27 were scoreless.]
What’s troubling here is that not only has MLS not taken concrete steps to reverse the trend (meaningful player bonuses for victories, perhaps?), it has offered little in the way of explanation beyond praising its parity and competitiveness.
MLS is catching up with the rest of the world when it comes to intimate stadiums and boisterous followings, thus creating in many cities the home-field advantage factor that was so missing in the league’s first decade. As a result, however, is MLS also becoming yet another league in which teams are more than happy to escape most road games with a single point? If that’s the case, it’s all the more reason for the league to take the necessary steps to foster a climate in which those large, loud and loyal followers go home happy on a more regular basis.