Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Akron, American Professional Soccer League, Big West Conference, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Dominic Kinnear, Eric Wynalda, Gauchos, Harder Stadium, Indiana, La Playa Stadium, Louisville, Major League Soccer, Marcelo Balboa, Martin Vasquez, Maryland, Miami Fusion, NASL, NCAA Division I, Real Santa Barbara, Robin Fraser, Romania, Santa Barbara City College, Tim Vom Steeg, U.S. National Team, UC Santa Barbara, UConn, USL, Virginia, Western Soccer League
A crowd of 13,822 was on hand at Harder Stadium to see the host UC Santa Barbara men defeat Big West Conference rival Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, 2-0. [November 4]
Comment: Absolutely anywhere in America can become a soccer hotbed, even the laid-back, sunsplashed, tony beach town of Santa Barbara, CA.
Consider that when Harder Stadium played host to the most significant soccer match in its history, just 9,127 showed up to see the U.S. National Team–16 months ahead of the 1994 World Cup it would host–hold Romania to a 1-1 draw.
This match’s significance was along the lines of, perhaps, a game in the French fourth division. In winning, the Gauchos clinched the No. 3 seed in the Big West Conference playoffs and avenged a loss at Cal Poly earlier in the season. Hardly anyone in U.S. collegiate soccer noticed. But those among the 13,822 who hadn’t made the trip down the coast from San Luis Obispo went home happy and will be back again.
Somehow, Santa Barbara has become a soccer hotbed, at least on the collegiate level. Last year, Harder Stadium was site of six of the season’s 10 best-attended men’s matches. An early-season game against UCLA drew a throng of 15,896; followed by Duke at 11,242. UCSB hosted the 2010 NCAA Division I men’s final between Akron and Louisville, and that attracted 9,672. In all, the Gauchos, in 12 home games, led NCAA soccer in total attendance, 70,471, and average turnstile count, 5,873. By comparison, the late, unlamented Miami Fusion could muster only an additional 1,500 per home game before it was booted out of Major League Soccer.
There are other collegiate soccer hotbeds, like reigning champion Akron, and long-time powers Maryland, UConn, Virginia and Indiana. Like those schools, UCSB men’s soccer is a winner and represents a school far from any bright lights, but it has the additional advantage of not having to compete for attention with a gridiron football team. Regardless, most NCAA Division I men’s teams are lucky to break four figures on a regular basis, and nearly every NASL and USL club would kill for the Gauchos’ box office numbers.
Gaucho coach Tim Vom Steeg must be left marvelling at it all. When he was a younger man, standout defender Vom Steeg was a member of the now-forgotten Real Santa Barbara (1989 and 1990), then of the Western Soccer League and American Professional Soccer League. It was the highest level of soccer in the U.S. at the time. Playing a few miles down the coast at La Playa Stadium on the campus of Santa Barbara City College, Real Santa Barbara faced the likes of Marcelo Balboa, Eric Wynalda, Robin Fraser, Martin Vasquez and Dominic Kinnear. Announced attendance was always in the neighborhood of 830, but reality said that there were no more than a hundred souls in the stands, and most of them could be caught gazing beyond the field, past the gently swaying palm trees and marina to the blue Pacific. The prospect of any Real Santa Barbara game being televised nationally–like the UCSB-Cal Poly match–would have been both laughable and embarrassing.
Obviously, things have changed in Santa Barbara. But there is the suspicion that the biggest change involves the rise of a generation of soccer-savvy young people who are willing to rally around the right team at the right time and who realize that those good times they see beamed from major European stadiums can be replicated here in the U.S.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Albuquerque Geckos, Arizona Cotton, Central Florida Kraze, Chicago Shoccers, Cincinnati Kids, Cleveland Crunch, Colorado Springs Ascent, Connecticut Bicentennials, Dallas Burn, Dallas Sidekicks, Des Moines Menace, Everett BigFoot, FC New York, Hamburger SV, Indiana Kick, Kalamazoo Outrage, Kansas City Wiz, Kansas City Wizards, Los Angeles Salsa, Miami Fusion, Minnesota Kicks, Mobile Revelers, Myrtle Beach Boyz, Myrtle Beach SeaDawgs, New Orleans Jesters, New York Capital Alleycats, New York Kick, Ohio Xoggz, Oklahoma City Slickers, Pennsylvania Stoners, Phoenix Pride, Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Premier Development League, San Diego Jaws, San Diego Sockers, San Francisco Fog, San Jose Clash, Sporting Kansas City, Sporting Lisbon, Springfield Demize, Tampa Bay Mutiny, Toledo Pride, United Soccer Leagues, USL Pro, Washington Diplomats, West Virginia Chaos
FC New York of USL Pro has forged an affiliation with the Springfield, MO, Demize of the fourth-division Premier Development League, Tampa-based United Soccer Leagues has announced. The Demize will serve as a feeder club for the third-division FC New York. [November 24]
Comment: American soccer has a long history of dreadful official team nicknames, conjured up by fan votes, focus groups, wrongheaded marketing types, headstrong club owners who aren’t as creative as they think they are, and other guilty parties.
The list begins with, in no particular order, the Ohio Xoggz, Minnesota Kicks, New York Kick, Indiana Kick, Tampa Bay Mutiny, San Francisco Fog, Central Florida Kraze, San Diego Jaws, San Diego Sockers, Chicago Shoccers, Los Angeles Salsa, Mobile Revelers, Miami Fusion, Pennsylvania Stoners, West Virginia Chaos, Washington Diplomats (a.k.a. Dips), Colorado Springs Ascent, Dallas Burn, Cleveland Crunch, Arizona Cotton, Connecticut Bicentennials (who played their only season a year after the U.S. bicentennial), Kalamazoo Outrage, Dallas Sidekicks, Oklahoma City Slickers, Cincinnati Kids, Phoenix Pride, Toledo Pride, Myrtle Beach Boyz, Myrtle Beach SeaDawgs, Pittsburgh Riverhounds, New York Capital District Alleycats, San Jose Clash, Des Moines Menace, Albuquerque Geckos, New Orleans Jesters, Everett BigFoot . . . and extends far over the horizon.
The champion for a time, of course, was MLS’s Kansas City Wiz, which mercifullychanged its name to Wizards after a couple of seasons. Earlier this month, it drew jeers for changing its name yet again, this time to a masterstroke of incongruity: Sporting Kansas City (or, according to other accounts, Sporting Club Kansas City). Never mind that, unlike Sporting Lisbon (Sporting Clube de Portugal) or Hamburg SV (Hamburger Sport-Verein), the Kansas City Wizards under any name is not a major traditional European sports club with thousands of dues-paying members who cheer on the big-time soccer team and also engage in club activities like volleyball, basketball, athletics, weightlifting, gymnastics, rugby, aquatics, etc. Sporting Kansas City just sounds . . . European-ish, soccer-ish. What’s the sense in making sense?
But back to New York and Springfield. Until a pro soccer team comes along with something like “suicide” or “felony” in its nickname, nothing can top “Demize.” After all, with the exception of the more durable Sporting Lisbon and Hamburger SV, plus the Wiz/Wizards/Sporting KC, Kraze, Chaos, Outrage, Riverhounds, Menace and Jesters, the clubs mentioned above, are no longer with us. They’ve met their . . . y’know.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Argentine Primera Division, BMO Field, Brazilian Campeonato Serie A, Colorado Rapids, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Denver, Dick's Sporting Goods Park, Dutch Eredivise, Earthquakes, English Premier League, FC Dallas, French Ligue 1, German Bundesliga, Giants Stadium, Italian Serie A, J-League, Kansas City, Lockhart Stadium, Major League Baseball, Mexican Primera Division, Miami Fusion, MLS, MLS Cup final, National Hockey League, NBA, New York Red Bulls, NFL, Pizza Hut Park, Qwest Field, Red Bull Arena, San Jose, Seattle Sounders, Spanish La Liga, Tampa Bay Mutiny
Two clubs that have never won a league championship, the Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas, will meet Sunday, November 21, at Toronto’s BMO Field in the MLS Cup final. [November 20]
Comment: The MLS report card came in last month and the results were mixed as TV ratings remained flat while attendance improved by 7.7 percent.
Average league attendance was 16,675, thanks in part to the Seattle Sounders, who increased Qwest Field capacity and saw its attendance jump from last season’s 30,897 to 36,173 in ’10. The New York Red Bulls, who moved from the cavernous, lifeless Giants Stadium (12,490 average last season) to the sparkling Red Bull Arena (18,441 this year), also helped get MLS above its overall average of 16,037 in 2009. In all, the 2010 numbers were the third-best in the league’s 15-year history, behind the novelty-inspired 17,406 of 1996 and 2007′s 16,770.
Where does this place MLS as a gate attraction? It’s far behind the world’s best-attended soccer league, Germany’s Bundesliga (42,790), but as soccer leagues go, it’s not far down the list. Next is the vaunted English Premier League (34,088), followed by Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A, Mexico’s Primera Division, Argentina’s Primera Division, France’s Ligue 1, Holland’s Eredivise, the J-League, the Campeonato Serie A of soccer-crazed Brazil, and MLS. And in the U.S., the NFL, whose teams play eight home games a year, leads at 67,508 in 2009, followed by Major League Baseball (81 home games per team, 30,213 average in 2010). The battle for third is tight, with the NBA (41 home games per team, 17,110 in 2009-10) ahead of the National Hockey League (41 home games, 17,004 in 2009-10) and MLS. (You could pick nits, regarding number of games and stadium/arena capacity, but it would have to start with baseball’s total attendance of nearly 80 million compared to pro football’s 17.4).
Not bad for a league that nearly shuttered its doors after the 2001 season, when its winningest team, the late, unlamented Miami Fusion, averaged an abysmal 11, 177 at Ft. Lauderdale’s Lockhart Stadium, a converted high school football stadium. MLS contracted that winter, killing off the Fusion and its other poorly supported Florida cousin, the Tampa Bay Mutiny.
It is hoped, then, that a win by Colorado or Dallas inspires a spin at the turnstiles in 2011 for at least one of the finalists. Despite each being blessed with new, soccer-specific stadiums, only 13,329 a game turned out for Colorado at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park this season–12th-worst in the 16-team league–and just 10,815 supported Dallas at its Pizza Hut Park. After Sunday night, soccer fans in Dallas-Ft. Worth or Denver can’t use a lack of a champion as an excuse not to support the home town team.
[A note regarding MLS's bottom-feeders: Kansas City (10,287), which played its home matches in a minor league baseball park, and San Jose (9,659), confined to a small college football stadium, brought up the rear. K.C. (2000) and the original Earthquakes (2001, 2003) have each won the MLS Cup, so a title isn't a cure-all at the ticket window.]