Soccerstoriesbook's Blog


ADIOS, CHIVAS USA

Major League Soccer has purchased the troubled Chivas USA from Jorge Vergara and Angelica Fuentes and will operate the team until an owner is found who will build a new stadium for it in the Los Angeles area.

Sale price was a reported $70 million.  The original bill Vergara, wife Fuentes, and Antonio and Lorenzo Cue paid MLS to create Chivas USA 10 years ago was $10 million; Vergara and Fuentes bought out the Cues 15 months ago for $40 million.

New owners figure to re-brand the team with a new name and logo.

“Certainly, it hasn’t worked out as well as anybody expected,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber.  “I don’t think this is the fault of ownership, per se.  There’s a lot of issues that we, the league, take responsibility for.  Now we are just very focused on a new beginning.”

Chivas USA will begin its 2014 season next month under new coach Wilmer Cabrera, the club’s 11th field boss, a list that includes Thomas Rongen, Preki, future U.S. National Team coach Bob Bradley and current national team assistant Martin Vasquez.  Chivas’ best season was its third, when it topped the Western Conference with a 15-7-8 record but fell in the conference semifinals.

In 2013, the Goats finished last in the West at 6-20-8, the second-worst mark in the 19-team league.  Its attendance for 17 regular-season games at the Stub Hub Center was an abysmal 8,366, a nearly 36 percent drop in the gate from 2012.  That was the worst in MLS, which averaged 18,608, the second best in league history.  No other MLS club was below five figures in average attendance.  Chivas’ co-tenant at Stub Hub, the Los Angeles Galaxy, averaged 22,152, a drop of 4.25 percent in its first David Beckham-less campaign in seven years.  The Seattle Sounders led all at 44,038 a match.  [February 20]

Comment:  About time, and farewell to a failed experiment and a drag on Major League Soccer.

Despite its good intentions to lure Southern California’s thousands and thousands of transplants from Jalisco state, Chivas USA was neither Chivas nor USA.  Or maybe it was too USA to be a second Chivas–the 2014 roster shows 18 Americans and just two Mexicans, one fewer than the number of Argentines on the list.

It all looked good on paper, but league rules prevented Chivas USA from fielding the predominantly Mexican side ownership sought, and it was all downhill from there.  This secondary version of Chivas Guadalajara quickly became an afterthought and a team damned to stand in the shadow of the older and much more successful Galaxy.

Although the league’s efforts to get to this point were months in the making, it was long overdue nonetheless.  Garber adds expansion teams to MLS like a desperately spawning salmon, while he should have been devoting his attention to this weak sister.  The concept of a two-team rivalry in a major market remains an enticing concept.  MLS will add New York City FC and Orlando SC in 2015, swelling its ranks to an unwieldy 21 teams.  It will be interesting to see if New York Red Bulls versus the new NYCFC ignites local passion.  In the meantime, MLS is left with the lesson out of Los Angeles that it takes two to make a rivalry.

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IN THE END, A SUCCESSFUL EXPERIMENT

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.



MLS: DRAWN AND MORE THAN QUARTERED

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.



THE REVOLUTION WILL BE TELEVISED

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.