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: 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: 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: ABC, Chelsea, Chris Smalling, English Premier League, ESPN, ESPN2, Fernando Torres, Fox, Fox Soccer Channel, Manchester United, MLS Commissioner Don Garber, Nani, NBC, NBC Sports Network, New York Times, NFL, Old Trafford, U.S. National Team, VERSUS, Wayne Rooney
In the first-ever regular-season European soccer match televised by a major American television network, Manchester United strengthened its grip on the top spot in the English Premier League by knocking off Chelsea, 3-1, at Old Trafford. Chris Smalling, Nani and Wayne Rooney scored to give the Reds a three-goal lead at halftime. Chelsea’s Fernando Torres scored a consolation goal but later missed when presented an open net. Rooney also misfired on a penalty-kick attempt. [September 18]
Comment: Do not adjust your set.
Those guys in shorts on your screen really were playing football, on an NFL Sunday. And it came courtesy of Fox–not Fox Soccer Channel, its cable offspring. The game was aired in the U.S. on a delayed basis, either before or after Fox’s regional NFL telecast, thus creating an unprecedented football-gridiron football doubleheader.
The Manchester United-Chelsea game was the first of four Sunday EPL matches that will be aired this fall on Fox, the network no doubt encouraged by the number of viewers–2.6 million–it drew for its live telecast of last May’s UEFA Champions League final between FC Barcelona and Man. U.
Nearly 20 million Americans routinely tune in to watch NFL games. Whether that means that many of them tuned in to see the New Orleans Saints beat the Chicago Bears, then stuck around to watch the doings in the Theater of Dreams, is very questionable. Joe Six-Pack isn’t easily converted, whether it’s politics, religion or, more important, sports. Nevertheless, Fox’s gambit sends a warning shot across the bow of those who continue to dismiss soccer as a sport with no future on American TV.
A month ago, NBC and Major League Soccer announced a $36 million, three-year deal that basically shifts MLS coverage from FSC, which reaches approximately 40 million homes, to the NBC Sports Network (known at present as VERSUS) and its 76 million homes. Beginning in 2012, NBC and the cable NBC Sports Network will show a total of 49 MLS games a season, including four U.S. National Team matches. Of those, the NBC network will air two U.S. games, two MLS regular-season matches and two MLS playoff games.
ABC/ESPN/ESPN2 remains in the game: it still holds the rights to MLS games, including the MLS Cup, through 2014. But as MLS Commissioner Don Garber told the New York Times, “The three-year deal [with NBC] allows us to align all our TV relationships [ESPN, Univision and newbie NBC] to end concurrently at the end of the ’14 season and provides us with a potential opportunity to have a more exclusive relationship with a broadcaster.”
By then, the ratings numbers from another World Cup, driven by that coveted 18- to 34-year-old demographic, will be in. Then the fight over that admittedly modest-but-growing TV soccer pie will begin in earnest.
Hard to believe that when MLS launched in 1996, it had to pay ABC/ESPN for air time. In a country where a sport’s worth is measured by its TV contract, that’s a bit of progress.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Seattle Sounders, Colorado Rapids, NBA, English Premier League, NFL, MLS, Kansas City, Red Bull Arena, Giants Stadium, Tampa Bay Mutiny, Miami Fusion, FC Dallas, BMO Field, MLS Cup final, Qwest Field, New York Red Bulls, German Bundesliga, Spanish La Liga, Italian Serie A, Mexican Primera Division, Argentine Primera Division, French Ligue 1, Dutch Eredivise, J-League, Brazilian Campeonato Serie A, Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, Lockhart Stadium, Dick's Sporting Goods Park, Pizza Hut Park, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Denver, San Jose, Earthquakes
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.]
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: 2022 World Cup, AFL, Australia, CFL, Congressional Soccer Caucus, FIFA, FIFA Executive Committee, GoUSABid, Japan, Millonarios, NFL, Qatar, Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, Rep. Dave Reichert of Washington, Rep. George Miller of California, Rep. Jack Kemp (R-NY), Rep. Mary Bono Mack of California, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), Soccer Stories, Sonny Bono, South Korea, Sunil Gulati, U.S. House of Representatives
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution in support of the efforts to bring the 2022 World Cup to America. Introduced in late September, the resolution was sponsored by the chairpersons of the bipartisan Congressional Soccer Caucus: Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, Dave Reichert of Washington, and two House members from California, George Miller and Mary Bono Mack, the widow of Sonny Bono.
“We welcome today’s House resolution as another example of the overwhelming endorsement our bid effort has received from all levels of government throughout the process,” said Sunil Gulati, president of U.S. Soccer and chairman of the USA Bid Committee. “This resolution further reinforces our country’s commitment to FIFA that we will meet all requirements for a World Cup hosted in the United States.”
The USA’s presentation to the FIFA Executive Committee in Zurich is scheduled for the evening of December 1; the committee will vote the next day. Also contending are South Korea, Qatar, Australia and Japan. [November 17]
Comment: It’s been a long time since the USA’s first successful bid to host a World Cup, nearly a quarter-century ago. From “Soccer Stories”:
Soccer for years has been a favorite target of gridiron football types, from prep coaches lamenting the defection of their school’s best athletes for the soccer field to the likes of Rep. Jack Kemp (R-NY), a former NFL, CFL and AFL quarterback and vice presidential candidate.
In 1987, Kemp, prior to what should have been a routine House vote endorsing the USA’s bid to host the 1994 World Cup, told his fellow Congressmen, in part, ”I think it is important for all those youngsters out there, who someday hope to play real football, where you throw it and kick it and run with it and put it in your hands, a distinction should be made that football is democratic, capitalism, whereas soccer is . . . European socialist.”
Throw it, run with it, put it in your hands . . . yes, Kemp was referring to a game called “football.”
It should be noted that the late Kemp got it wrong on both counts. It’s pro football that has a player draft and salary restrictions, devices put in place to foster parity among its franchises. Meanwhile, it’s international soccer, where player drafts are unknown and the deepest pockets reign, that’s a model of dog-eat-dog capitalism. Kemp evidently never noticed that soccer is the sport with a club called Millonarios.
Update: The U.S. Senate passed a resolution in support of the U.S. bid, giving GoUSABid the full support of Congress. Even the most conservative member of the upper chamber, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), who represents a state where males have been known to be born wearing helmets and shoulder pads (ouch), did not run interference during the vote. [November 19]